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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Younger Pastors Discipling Older Members

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The following is a guest post from Brian Croft. Brian serves as the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to contributing to the 9Marks blog, Brian also writes regularly on his own blog called Practical Shepherding. Brian is married to Cara, and they have four children.


How does a younger pastor seek to disciple older members?

I was recently emailed by a younger pastor seeking counsel on how to disciple older members in his church. This is a common scenario as more younger pastors go to pastor existing churches where the church is predominantly elderly. First, I want to affirm the general biblical principle that the older are to teach and mentor the younger (Titus 2).

Yet, there are other examples where the younger are not to shy away from challenging the older with the Word of God and the call to godly living. Paul exhorts Timothy not to let anyone look down on him for his youthfulness, but to be an example to all who believe (1 Tim. 4:12). Likewise, Paul exhorts Titus to teach older men and women to live godly and to mentor the younger (Titus 2:1-10).

So then, seeing the biblical imperative for a pastor to teach, disciple, and shepherd both young and old in the church, we must acknowledge the challenges that a younger pastor faces when pursuing to disciple one old enough to be his grandparent. Here are 3 tips I have found helpful from myself going to pastor a church at the age of 29 where most the members were between the ages of 70 - 90 years old:

Go on their turf. Like any discipleship relationship, there must be trust made that the pastor indeed cares for them. The best place to start is to go do what they do, where they like to do it. If they like to hunt and fish, go with them. If they like to garden, show up at their house with work clothes on and work in the garden with them. If they like to walk the neighborhood early in the morning, set up a time where you can come walk with them. Do not underestimate the progress made with older members when they see a simple effort made like this.

Seek to learn from them. Your first effort as a younger pastor should not be to try to instruct them, but allow yourself to learn from all their years of life and experience. Go and ask them questions about marriage, parenting, working the same job for 40 years, dealing with loss, and how they served the church before you were potty trained. There is much to learn from them and they will be more eager to learn from you after you acknowledge the wealth of life experience they can offer you.

Engage them in spiritual conversation. If you do these first two suggestions, I think you will find that spiritual conversations will flow from them. If not, bring spiritual conversations into your interactions when appropriate. Then, challenge them to pursue a spiritual discipline with you. Reading and memorizing Scripture, praying for certain things, reading a small book together, or stewardship of time. They actually may appreciate someone offering to try to grow in godliness with them. Do not assume it has been offered to them before.

My fellow younger pastors, my hope if you take this counsel will be not just a greater understanding on how to disciple older members in your church, but it will show to be what Paul says it should be…a means of growth in godliness for your own soul (Titus 2:1-10).

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Pastor Croft,

Thank you for this. As a young guy heading into ministry, I found this very helpful. Thanks.

Thank you for your advice; however, I have been employing these three tips (especially the third one!) for more than two years, but none of them have availed me much.

More specifically, I face rampant ageism (I'm 32, not 22!). How would you address this?

Spot on! Great practical thoughts for us young shepherds.

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This is actually a tremendous web site.

I am a young pastor of a congregation with a median age of 60+. So I've been thinking through this very thing for a while now.

Here are 3 advantages to having an older congregation that I have come up with in relation to thinking through this issue.

1.) Love: Say what you want, but the "senior" adult Christians in most churches have the market cornered on loving on others. Our folks are really good at loving on each other and embracing all the younger folks that come in.

2.) Wisdom: Obviously they've "been there, done that" many times over and so they'll typically be able to offer up helpful insights on the ideas of the Pastor. I understand that there are those in every crowd who are just "naysayers" and they want to say no to everything, but it is foolish on the part of the Pastor to qualify every disagreeing elderly member as a naysayer...

3.) Resistant to quick change: I realize this is the unpopular point. But I think that the resistance to quick change can actually be a very very good thing sometimes.

I know that every new pastor, especially ones who are 45 and under, come in thinking that as we find things that need to changed we need to do it as quickly as possible. And I'll concede that sometimes there are really pressing issues that are matters of Gospel purity that need to be dealt with promptly.

But let's be honest, a great majority of the changes we want to make when we begin a new church aren't pressing primary matters, they are secondary preference issues.

However, Paul's word to Timothy on how to apply the Word to his flock was "patient instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2). Overtime, it may become possible for you to make those secondary changes. But you must remember that pastoring any church is like navigating a large vessel. If you try to force a turn very quickly you will risk tearing the ship in half.

But if you set your course, an end goal, then turning is more gradual (patient) and no damage is being done. Patiently instruct your people with a course set, an end goal, of Christ-conforming discipleship.

An "older" congregation is typically more resistant to quick change, BUT they are open to more slow change over time.

It can be a very good thing because it will help you, the pastor, to be a thorough and deliberate teacher, a caring and thoughtful shepherd, and I'll speak for myself here when I say that it helps me to think through what changes are needed verses my preferences. Some hills simply aren't worth dieing on.

Hey Ben,I enjoy your site every time I visit. Thanks for your ministry to the chucrh today.I've sent our chucrh business administrator the link to your site. We'll see what happens next!Serving Him Together,Randy

I envy your capability to publish wonderful article on www.9marks.org simply wanted to say I like this ! Great!

Hahah, My laptop crashed when I was browsing www.9marks.org last time I was here. And for the past 2 months I have been looking for this wephorum, so thankful I located it once again! :D Wonderful!

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