I wrote this article a long time ago and just recently found it again. So this isn’t about my current church, but I thought the stuff is still relevant so I figured I would post it.
Senior Adults Important to Student Minstry?
Up until a couple of years ago when I get together with my youth pastor friends one of the common topics of discussion is how the church just “doesn’t get” what the youth ministry is doing. We would say things like, “Can you imagine what would happen if we tried that in big church?” and “That would get me fired for sure.” We complained that our churches weren’t forward thinking enough and that no one wanted to change. And like most youth pastors most of our criticism fell at the feet of senior adults. I now realize that none of my complaints about the senior adults in my church were true. In fact the senior adults in my church are a vital part of my ministry with students.
I work in a small church (around 200 in Sunday school) in the Deep South. For a while I thought that it was your typical resistant to change small church. Until one day one of my senior adult ladies came up to me before church and asked if she needed to move back a row. She told me that she had been sitting on the 3rd row of that church for 35 years, but the youth who were sitting in the front two rows seemed cramped and she wanted to know if she needed to move back a row. She wasn’t mad that she had to move; she wanted more people to come to church and was willing to change in order to accommodate them. This was just the beginning.
I was preaching for a little while and on Sunday nights. I decided to use drama and storytelling instead of the traditional sermon. Afterwards, It wasn’t my youth who came up to tell they appreciated the change; it was a couple of senior adult men who would come to me with tears in their eyes after each service. Just recently we had a month of prayer and closed the month with a Sunday night worship service dedicated to prayer. We set up prayer stations around the room that used letters, art, candles, and even food to help focus our prayers. The church members move about the room and prayed at them for the whole church time. Again after it was finished it was senior adults who came up to me and asked to do it again.
I have to admit I am bragging a little here. Our church has some great people. I don’t know if I just hit the senior adult jackpot, or if in every church there is are a multitude of senior adults waiting to wake up and worship, waiting for someone to reach out to them and invite them to new ways of encountering God. I would hope that the latter is true. I’m not an expert and I don’t know if any of these ideas will work with your church, but here are a few things that helped our senior adults become more involved in the life of students and in the forward movement of our church.
- You need to spend time with them. As a youth worker you need to build relationships with your senior adults. If they have a monthly meal find a way to get invited. If they are sick go and visit them. Go to the nursing home and talk to them. Get on your church’s prayer chain between two senior adults so you get to talk to them often. Make sure you go out of you way to speak to them before and after church. Join their Sunday school class for a quarter and build some relationships that way. Don’t worry about knowing all of them at one time. Spend time with a few of them and word will get around that you care about them and their needs.
*author’s note: I learned this one the hard way. In my first youth pastor job I thought my job was students not seniors. I didn’t spend much time with them and as a result I had several conflicts. Finally one of them said. “We don’t even know you.” and I realized my mistake. At this church I tried hard not to make the same mistake again.
- Keep them informed on the “why’s” of your ministry. Sometimes senior adults see youth ministry as just a time of playing games. The fun stuff gets lots of publicity, and the spiritual stuff can sometimes get lost. When you are talking to your seniors be sure to include why you are doing what you are doing. Let them know that the guys you have been playing basketball with for three months finally came to a youth event. Tell them how the games you are using relate to the gospel. Fill them in on the spiritual side of what you are doing.
- Tell them stories about your youth. Get them personally involved by sharing stories with them. When you are talking to them before church and a student walks by tell about what is happening in that student’s life. A short sentence like “Wow, he said one of the most profound things in small group last week and he never talks.” can change a senior’s prospective about your ministry. Remember people respond to stories so tell stories more than you tell facts.
- Use their strength as prayer warriors. You probably have a group of people who meet to pray at your church already. Get them involved in your ministry by giving them students to pray for. Remember they will respond to stories about people more than just requests for an event. A simple note saying, “please pray for Jennifer she is stressed about school and what she is going to do after graduation” or “could your remember Rebecca as you pray? He parents are against her being a Christian, but she is here every week and it is a struggle for her.” can involve your seniors in the lives of your students. Also, go to individual members and ask them if they would be willing to pray. The simple fact that you are coming to them will compliment them and they will feel more useful. You also get the added bonus of their prayers.
- Give them jobs to do in your ministry. Probably the music at your youth events will be too loud, but you can use their talents in lots of other ways. Use seniors to make blindfolds, bake cookies, make banners, and other little things like that. In each case I was sure to tell them the spiritual side of what we were doing and also careful to give a good report after the event. Seniors can be involved in your every week meetings too. I have had seniors come and talk about marriage and being respectful. Getting seniors involved lets them not only see what you are doing, but it also give them ways they can help with ministry.
- Use your students in your weekly church meetings. This may be harder if you don’t have support from your senior pastor, but put students in front of the church as much as possible. Let them sing specials, do creative readings, take up the offering, and pray during church. Don’t separate them from the rest of the congregation. You will be using their talents and letting the church see how they are maturing.
- Get your students involved in community service. Seniors appreciate hard work and one of their big complaints about students is that they don’t know how to do any. Get your students out into the community. Have a free car wash, pass out popcorn at a movie rental place, give away water at a park, just get out and serve your community. It will benefit your students, but it will also be nice when someone gets up and complains about your trip to Six Flags – you will be able to list all of the service projects they have been involved in.
- Get your students involved in serving your church members. At least once a year you should take students to the local nursing home. Those three hours of service will be talked about for months by your senior adults. Put together leaf raking or house cleaning parties and go out and help your seniors. Take a group in the van with hoses and buckets and go house to house washing cars. Clean out gutters or wash storm windows. Serve your seniors adults in love and they will respond. Not only that your students will learn to love them as well.
- Brag about your senior adults to your students. Never put them down in front of your students. You need to create a culture in your church where the senior adults are honored for their wisdom and abilities. If a student is having trouble, send them to a senior adult for counseling. When students respect senior adults the adults will respond.
- Integrate your students and senior adults as much as you can. Have a quarter where you join a senior adult and student Sunday school class. Host intergenerational banquets and teas. Place senior adults and students on ministry teams together. However you do it find ways to help students and senior adults to connect with each other. When they stop seeing each other as just a group of people and start seeing each other as individuals they will find new love for each other.
If you use these principles you should be on your way to better student-senior adult relationships. You can’t do all of these at once, but you can begin now to build relationships. Remember your church isn’t a battleground between students and senior adults. You need them to survive and they need you. If you take the time to stop looking at them as the enemy and start seeing them as a vital part of your ministry I think you will find that they will want to support you too.