I cannot believe that I just described myself as “almost 40” just to get you to read today’s blog! This statement was actually made by a PW friend of mine and she asked me to write my thoughts on the subject. (For the record I am a very young 34…and currently the youngest adult in the church…)
Though technically the youngest adult currently at our church, I’m only the youngest by a couple of years, so it’s not very noticeable. However, as a new PW, I found myself leading in a church where the next youngest woman in the church was old enough to be my mom (no offense Mama) and the majority of them were old enough to be my grandmother… or great-grandmother. This was difficult on so many levels. First, it is rather intimidating to be leading or giving advice to women who have lived twice as long as you have. As a PW in a small church you are automatically charged with leading the women’s groups since you’re the only one who feels comfortable praying aloud. But it’s hard for the more “experienced” ladies to follow you if they think you’re too young to know what you’re talking about.
Another issue with having a big age difference in the church is that it’s hard to find ways to connect with people who don’t share your interests or stage in life. I’ve been to many rocking chair/knitting/tea party events when I would rather have been to a playground/roller skating/Dr.Pepper event. I’ve listened to many a “Gaither Gathering” concert when I would rather be totally rocking out to Toby Mac…
So how do you deal with that? How do you handle being in leadership when most of your congregation is much older than you? I was thinking about this the other day while I was taking a shower…it’s a great place to think…unless you run out of hot water…And I came up with the following advice. (I must have been using my husband’s shampoo, too, since the points came out in alliterated form…)
What to do when most of your congregation is much older than you:
1. Love them like your Grandma. I know it’s frustrating when you & your husband want to do something creative and modern in the church, but you can’t because the “little old ladies” will have a cow. It would be easier to ignore their feelings based on the greater good, or cast them aside because they can’t contribute to the church by keeping nursery or leading music at VBS…but is that how you would treat your grandmother? More than anything these ladies want to be loved. Talking to them, visiting them, getting to know them, letting them share about their life experiences, all of that shows them you love them. And when they feel loved, they will love you back. And since “love covers a multitude of sins,” they will become much more flexible when it comes to church things. When you show them that you respect the things they love, they will come to do the same for you. They might not ever rock anything but a rocking chair, but they will love you enough to not balk when you try to make some changes.
2. Learn from them like your Mom. The ladies in your church have had many more life experiences than you. They may have lived in the same place their whole life, dropped out of school at the 8th grade, or not even worked outside their home, but they know a lot of things that my well-traveled, college-graduate life has failed to teach me. When we refuse to listen to ladies with this much experience, some of them decide that they must not be speaking loudly enough. So they become the squeaky wheel that you dread running into on a Sunday morning because they’re coming to tell you how to change the thermostat, the volume of the music, or how you dress your kids. That kind of advice is annoying and subjective. However, I’ve learned that if you take the time to ask them advice about the things they know, it makes them feel valued, and they get the “advice-giving” itch out of their system in a way that is good for everyone. These are the kind of ladies that I ask advice from about how to make a layer cake that doesn’t fall, how to trim my bushes where they will still bloom in spring, what to do about the mysterious rash on my child’s arm, even how to get the kids in Sunday school to settle down for the lesson. These ladies have a lot to offer, so take the initiative to ask for the things you want advice with so that when they give advice about other things, you don’t feel bad ignoring it.
3. Lead them like your Sister. This has been the hardest part for me. I always have felt like leadership comes with age…the oldest person in the group should be the leader. And that’s how it works often when you are a child. But it doesn’t work that way with adults. I’m learning that it’s OK to take charge of situations and give direction to how things are done. I try not to dictate with a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude. But people are often relieved when someone else takes charge. Statistically, most of the women in your church are followers looking for a leader.You will find that if you lead them like you are their sister (i.e. with kindness, love, and respect) they will follow you. You must lead with confidence, knowing that God has put you in a position of leadership and he will equip you to lead even if you don’t have experience doing so. Ask advice from the godly ladies in your group, show love to the ones most resistant to your leadership, and then LEAD. They may follow skeptically at first because they don’t want you to quit and leave all the work in their laps…but as you continue to show love, respect, and confidence, they will love you, trust you, and follow your leadership.
Doing these things probably won’t get your elderly ladies to take a white water rafting trip this summer, but you will find that they will want to do more to help you draw younger people into the church because you’ve shown them that younger people are nothing to be afraid of. And besides, knitting is surprisingly fun once you get the knots out of the yarn.