Old age has its challenges. The way we serve may have to change, but God has some special assignments uniquely suited to elderly Christians.
God gave us temporary bodies.
It’s pretty easy to ignore that truth for the first couple of decades of our lives, but eventually the aging process catches up with all of us.
That process can be a depressing one. Sure, these might be temporary bodies, but they’re our temporary bodies. Watching them slowly become less efficient and less effective is hard.
As we get older, everyday tasks start taking more time to finish. Injuries take longer to heal. Aches and pains come without warning and refuse to leave. Eyes and ears see and hear less than they used to. The gap between what we want to do and what we can do begins to widen. The world feels like it’s changing faster than we can keep up with it.
Even in a congregation full of God’s people, there comes a point when it’s easy for elderly members to feel like a burden, unable to contribute the way they used to.
Maybe you’ve felt that. Maybe you’ve wondered, as you’ve gotten older, if you really have anything left to contribute at all.
All members have a role to play
That was never a question in Paul’s mind. He wrote that the Church, the spiritual Body of Christ, is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share” (Ephesians 4:16).
“Every part.” There are no qualifications in that verse. Paul didn’t write that “every part does its share—unless it has nothing to contribute.” The very fact that you are in the Body of Christ means you do have something to contribute—that God Himself decided you have something to contribute. “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
Anticipating that some members would feel unequal to the task, Paul added, “Those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (verse 22), explaining that God placed us where He did “that there should be no schism [or division] in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (verses 25-26).
So, there it is. You have a role to play in the Body of Christ.
What does that role look like?
How elderly Christians can serve
It would be impossible to write an exhaustive list of all the ways elderly Church members can serve their congregations. Every member is different, every situation is different, and every congregation is different.
And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m writing this from an outsider’s perspective. If you’re an older Christian, I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be where you are. I can’t pretend to fully understand what you deal with on a day-to-day basis, and I won’t insult you by acting like I can.
What we can do is look at a few broad strokes. The Bible has plenty to say on the subject, and while I’m not where you are, I can’t count the number of older Christians who have had a positive impact on my life through the years. That means I understand the impact you can have too.
The following are three specific ways you can serve your congregation—and while most Christians can do most of these things, you have the opportunity to do them in a special way.
1. Elderly Christians can build relationships
You might be thinking, “Okay, sure, but can’t everyone in the congregation do this?”
You’re not wrong. Everyone in the congregation can (and should!) be making a concerted effort to build and strengthen relationships with those around them—but your effort can make the biggest difference of all.
If you want to understand why, roll the clock back a few decades and think back to your coming-of-age years. How did you feel when people older than you welcomed you, accepted you and asked about your thoughts and opinions? How did you feel when they ignored you, snubbed you and mocked the things that mattered to you?
There’s the answer.
The average congregation is made of multiple generations of Christians, and you have the ability to bridge those generational gaps in a way few others can. Paul wrote, “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:20-21).
You can reach out to someone with less life experience than you and say through your actions, “I see you. I hear you. You matter.” That sort of approach could tear down generational divides and strengthen a congregation more than any single sermon ever could.
It also opens the door to giving advice and sharing wisdom. You’ve spent more time on this planet than many people in your congregation, and as a result, you’ve seen and experienced quite a bit. You’ve learned valuable, hard-won lessons and gleaned pearls of insight into how life works.
But wisdom, advice and correction (especially correction) rarely translate well from one stranger to another. It’s a lot easier to hear, “That’s a bad idea,” from someone who knows you and loves you than it is to hear it from someone who hardly knows you at all.
That’s part of what makes relationships so important. Building those bridges first makes it easier to give (and sometimes even receive) both constructive criticism and advice in general.
2. Elderly Christians can set the example
Of course, advice only counts for so much. What matters even more than your input is the way you live your life.
You are, first and foremost, a Christian. A disciple of Jesus Christ. The longer you’ve been living this way of life, the more apparent that should be in the things you say and do. When it is, others will notice. And when it isn’t, others will notice that too.
As an older Christian—especially if you’ve been following God for decades—you represent something. You are a living example of who a person can become after a lifetime of obedience to the Word of God.
Will others see a template they’d like to emulate? Or will they see a warning of what they’d like to avoid?
You don’t need to be perfect. No one’s expecting you to be. You’re a Christian in progress, just like the rest of us. But to many people in the congregation, you are a forerunner—someone who helped scout the trail the rest of us are walking. What others need to see from you is someone who is making an effort to do the right thing and whose life shows evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul told the Philippians, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17, English Standard Version). One of the best ways you can serve your congregation is by becoming an example others can follow.
3. Elderly Christians can pass the baton
“Passing the baton” sounds a lot like “becoming obsolete,” but nothing could be further from the truth.
In an actual relay race, as one runner approaches the end of his lap, the next runner starts running before the baton is passed.
Why? It helps keep the pace going. If the incoming runner had to grind to a halt while passing the baton to another stationary runner, the team would lose valuable seconds in their race. Instead, the baton is passed at a crucial moment—once both runners are in sync, running the same direction at the same speed.
In a spiritual sense, passing the baton isn’t about removing ourselves from the picture or becoming irrelevant. It’s about equipping the runners ahead of us to run their race—running in sync with them as we prepare them for the day when our portion of the race is finished.
You won’t be here forever. Neither will the experiences, lessons and insights you’ve gained during your lifetime . . . unless you pass them on. That’s your baton; that’s the gift you can hand to the runner in front of you.
You’ve learned so much during your race (both how to do things and how not to do things), and now you have the opportunity to share what you’ve learned with those setting out to run their race.
As Paul approached the end of his race, he told Timothy, “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:5-8).
Paul cultivated a relationship with the young Timothy, he set an example Timothy could emulate, and he shared both hard-won lessons and encouragement with his “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). As he neared his own personal finish line, he knew he had done everything in his power to pass on the baton God had given him.
Like Paul, you have the opportunity to confidently finish your race. God uniquely positioned you within the Body of Christ so that you can contribute to your congregation in a special way. Build relationships, set the example and, as often as you’re able, pass the baton to those who are starting to run. No one else can do these things quite like you.
This article was written at a reader’s suggestion. If you’d like to suggest a topic for future editions of “Christianity in Progress,” you can do so anonymously at lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas. We look forward to hearing from you!