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 37!)
As a new Pastor’s Wife, 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 our women were old enough to be my grandmother… or great-grandmother. As a PW in a small church I was automatically elected to lead the women’s group since I was the only one who felt comfortable praying aloud. But even though I was officially the leader, it was rather intimidating to be leading or giving advice to women who had lived twice as long as I.
Also, it was hard to find ways to connect with people who didn’t share my 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… but I’ve also learned a lot about leading in a church where most of the members are much older than you. Here are a few of my thoughts:
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 teaching 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 those things show them that you love them. 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.
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 town their whole life, dropped out of school after the 8th grade, or never worked outside their home, but they know a lot of things that my well-traveled, college-trained life has yet 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 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 for 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 beneficial to everyone. Ask advice 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 your child’s arm, or 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 about not taking it.
3. Lead them like your Sister. In childhood the oldest person in the group gets to be the leader. But that’s not how it works with adults. It’s OK to take charge of situations and give direction to get things done in ministry even if you are the youngest person in the room. 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, with kindness, love, and respect, they will follow you. You can 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 be skeptical at first but they will follow even if it’s just 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 as you form those bonds over time.
Doing these things probably won’t get your elderly ladies to take a white water rafting trip this summer or join you at Winter Jam. But perhaps you will find that they will want to do more to help you draw younger people into the church now that you’ve shown them that younger people are nothing to be afraid of. Besides, the Gaither Vocal Band has great hair, and knitting is surprisingly fun once you get the knots out of the yarn!
If you’re a PW, what have you learned about leading women of different ages? If you’re a church lady, what advice would you add to this list? If you’re reading this and feel as if you’ve heard it before… you have… it’s a re-post from several years ago… but thanks for reading all the way to the end again! 🙂