In my earlier posts in this series, I queried pastors and church leaders about their experience pastoring those over 40. (Click here if you’d like to have a peek at those posts.) Those responsible for shepherding their congregations are stretched in dozens of different directions on any given day. A discussion about how to effectively minister to older congregants may sound as though I’m suggesting adding another half-dozen tasks to that impossible to-do list.
As several respondents to that survey noted, some in this demographic tend to be the ones that utter that darling phrase that almost always sucks all the air from a room: “But we’ve always done it that way”. While some pastors noted that older members were key participants and leaders in their congregations, many other leaders expressed at least mild frustration with their perceptions of rigidity and immaturity among older members.
Each one of us is responsible for cultivating our individual relationship with the Lord. (Going to church every time the doors are open doesn’t automatically confer maturity on us. On the other hand, nor does avoiding any sort of corporate connection with other believers. We are not a constellation of disconnected individuals – we are all part of the Bride. One Bride. Singular.) That noted, our life together as believers is meant to form us as individuals as well as in expressing Christ’s love to the world he came to redeem.
It was a bit surprising to me when I surveyed pastors to hear that some of them really didn’t have a clear sense of how to nurture growth and spur toward spiritual maturity in their congregations. While a number cited things like church service attendance, programs, or sticking around for coffee hour after church (?!), quite a few confessed that they really hadn’t given the questions the attention it deserved. When some of these leaders express frustration that they’re dealing with immature older members, while sharing that they haven’t thought through at a deep level what spiritual maturity is or considered what they can do to cultivate a culture of maturity beyond program attendance and coffee hour banter, I can understand where friction and frustration would set in on both sides of the equation.
A couple of notable posts have crossed my screen in the last twenty-four hours that address these issues. I commend both to you:
(1) Dr. Peter Enns reflects on his experience of “outgrowing” a particular congregation or faith tradition.
(2) The Barna Group’s latest study about whether we Americans believe church helps us grow in our faith.