You’d like to prod them with a swift kick to the posterior, but you can’t afford to lose them.
What do you do with change-sensitive older adults in your church who are paying your salary and keeping the lights on?
You may have read Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald. But that was fictional. You have a real life dilemma staring at you, and you’re feeling tentative. Rattle their cage too vigorously, and these tithe-paying, hymn-loving tigers may slip out through a backstage door. Do nothing, and you risk losing the next generations.
A third of your instincts say “Let the tigers go.” A third of your instincts say appease them. And the best third of your instincts say, “Come, Holy Spirit. I need you.”
First off, while praying, get off the stage and into their cage. You can’t rattle the cage from the outside looking in. These older tigers may have a ferocious roar, but they won’t bite.
They need to know your heart. They need to know they aren’t simply an obstacle you’re trying to work around.They need to know you sincerely love and value them, not just for their past and certainly not just for their tithes/offerings, but for their present friendship, wisdom and serving potential as well.
Second, invite young leaders into the tiger cage with you. And like Paul’s endorsement of Timothy and Titus, entrust young leaders with full authority to both encourage and rattle cages (re-direct, correct, rebuke, challenge). Imagine the extra challenges these young leaders had, rattling cages of older men and women, in cultures where respect deepened as you grew older. They challenged older adults to live lives in the present that were worthy of respect, moving beyond their entitlement to respect by age alone.
Third, invite mature tigers to be a part of your planning teams, not just for whole church or older adult ministry, but for other specialized areas of ministry in the church as well, like youth and children. No age group wants to feel the insult of being unconsulted, caged in, irrelevant or blindsided. Changes that follow prayer and cross-generational collaboration are more likely to unify the whole body.
Finally, recognize that a cage is a lousy landing spot for any generation in the Church. It's not a biblical metaphor describing the body of Christ, the family of God, or our call to freedom. Specialized ministry by peer group has its place, but watch for jealous growls when over-emphasis creates cage/age envy. Rattle your own multi-generational cage mentality by giving more emphasis to intergenerational relationship and collaboration. Lead your tigers to freedom!
In our work with YES, 50+ adults easily appreciate the positive affirmation of the first part, 'YES! I’m Young Enough.' The tricky part is the re-directing call—'to Serve.' Now we're rattling cages (correcting, rebuking, challenging)!
But once we reaffirm it’s Jesus calling us to be His servants, it becomes more about Him and less about us.