Shepherding senior saints

By Adam Wyatt

I am not quite sure that any pastor dreams of leading a church full of senior saints. Maybe some do, but the majority of us probably don’t, especially in the earlier stages of ministry. Senior saints have a bad reputation in ministry circles for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad. But in many—if not most—replant contexts there will be a majority of seniors in the congregation. Because of this, a pastor must be able to successfully navigate the challenges to ministry within a senior congregation.

Often, a replanter seeks to grow a church from outside with the goal of reaching young adults and families. This is a noble aim, but if one is not careful they will do it at the expense of the senior adults that are there. The challenge is to navigate this in a way that is faithful to the gospel and also faithful to their faithfulness in their church. Diversity should be the goal. If you ignore dear senior saints, you will miss out on the beauty of the church and quite possibly your biggest opportunity for replanting and personal pastoral growth.

They Are Not Foes.
The biggest thing that we must understand is that senior saints are not the enemy; they are sheep that must be shepherded. I believe that one of the biggest background reasons that makes for the need of church replanting is a consistent lack of biblical shepherding. Years of neglect and poor biblical exegesis makes for unfed and unhealthy sheep. A good shepherd sees neglected sheep not as a burden to overcome but as a calling to embrace. If you are going to lead in change you must embrace your role as a shepherd who loves his sheep…all of them. If you can replant your church and do so at the expense of the seniors, then you have failed as a replanter and a steward of the calling of pastor.

They Do Not Need to Be Ignored.
Once you have come to terms with the fact that senior saints are not the enemy you must come to realization that they are not to be ignored. Many replanters have a heart to go to the community in order to make potential connections for ministry and outreach and this too, is noble. However, you cannot do this without spending time with your saints.  They have served the longest, given the most, and are more invested in the church’s success than anyone, including you. If we consider that they often been the victims of poor shepherding it is a miracle that they are still committed to the church. This should be seen as a gift to the church. Do not ignore them! Love them. Serve them. Spend time with them. Ask them questions. Learn from them. You will be surprised what you can learn about the current church culture simply by spending time with them. Additionally, I have found that you can steer more change by visiting your seniors and having conversational discipleship over meaningful cups of coffee. Don’t ignore them…see them for that they are, valuable members of your replanting efforts and vision.

They Are Partners.
One thing that has humbled me as a pastor of an older congregation is that they are the visible expression of a local church that really does love Jesus. They have not been to seminary. They might not know the “hip” ministry terms like some of us, but they really Jesus and want their church to be effective in reaching their community. They just need some leadership in how to do it. If I were a betting man, I would put money on the fact that the senior saints in your church want to do the same. Your job as pastor is to equip the saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:12) and the knowledge, experience, and spiritual maturity that your senior saints have can easily amaze you if you will only take the time to invest in them. If you can do this, you can them equip them to be a gospel centered expression of the Church.

Replanter love your sheep. Even the older ones. You cannot be a good replanter without being a good shepherd; you cannot be a good shepherd if you are selective in who you consider sheep worthy of your time.

Published April 6, 2017

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Adam Wyatt

Adam Wyatt is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Leakesvile, Mississippi. A second-generation pastor, he has developed a love for the rural church in the Southern context. He loves his wife, his three beautiful daughters, good conversation, books and coffee. He is also pursuing his PhD in Biblical Theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Connect with Adam @pastor_adam