While visiting churches in Eastern Europe, I met a preacher who had left Eastern Europe and spent 30 years living and working among the Swedish people. This was interesting because I had been encouraging a young preacher and his wife to do the opposite, and stay in Eastern Europe to work with the churches there. I wanted this couple to prayerfully discern the will of God for their lives, I wanted them to be assured that we would provide financially for them, and I wanted them to know that the local church would benefit from their presence. The only thing I did not bring up was that well-known expression “the future of the church is the youth.” We did need young ministers to start preaching to the people of Eastern Europe, but I believe that the future of the church is Jesus and all His people, regardless of their age.
The preacher who had spent his time in Sweden focused on a demographic we sometimes neglect. During that trip, he was holding a seminar for people 60 and older. He was inspired by a Swedish sociologist who gave a presentation for senior citizens and had thousands of people show up. My new friend was pleasantly surprised by the response and from that time onward, he had been speaking in Sweden and internationally about displacement among retired people. He discovered that many retired people feel displaced, pushed to the margins, and considered a burden by society.
This preacher, however, believed that the experience and knowledge of the older generations were imperative for younger people. He found out that the majority of people who become pastors in their twenties and thirties only last about six years in the ministry. They experience burnout, they leave their church, or they become heretical because they do not know church history. He also found out that these pastors have no spiritual mothers or fathers, because they surround themselves with people who think exactly like they do. They have no previous church leadership experience and no one to talk to when they encounter problems, so they either dislike the people in their congregations, move to another church, or leave the ministry altogether. They need the insight and experience of the generations before them.
That afternoon in Eastern Europe, the preacher invited the people who were in their sixties or older to become involved in the Kingdom of God again through their local churches. He implored them to share their wisdom and gifts with the young people in their families, their churches, and their communities.
As I left that meeting, I was thankful for the older brothers and sisters who invested in my life when I was young. They protected me and supported me, challenged me to think differently, critiqued the style and content of my sermons, and they shared of themselves with me. As a matter of fact, as I preached that weekend, I analyzed my sermons by remembering who taught me a specific concept or where I first heard a certain phrase.
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As someone who has children and grandchildren who love the Lord, and as someone who pastors both young and old in the church and teaches people pursuing a first or fourth career in the seminary, I remember the apostle John said that there was no greater joy than to hear that his children are growing in the faith and in love for the Lord. James tells the young and old alike that they are strong in the Lord. The strength of God should be evident in the church, as we share our wisdom and strength from one generation to another, old to young and young to old.