Church ministry and leadership

Thoughts on the elderly and the ecclesia

As a broad classification the elderly seem to fall into two main classes. Those who believe they are old and those who don’t seem to think about it at all and while conceding they are getting older are never old! The reasons are varied for such mind sets but strong factors are, ill health, no longer feeling wanted, loss of vision and goals, sitting back and letting the young ones do it, being overwhelmed by the newness and the speed of change, nostalgia and living in the past (mostly because it represents security) inertia and indulging the slowing up of function, emotional or physical tiredness and the very literal speed of presentation within the ecclesia environment. There are many other factors which are perhaps more personalised to each individual but there is no doubt that eldership must keep these needs of the older members in mind at all times when guiding the organism which is the local ecclesia.

To begin at the beginning, consider the first moment of the presentation of the ecclesia to the elderly. A new guest arrives at the ecclesia door usually expecting something different. Even more so if a nominal ecclesia member from a traditional background BUT they carry with them a strong pattern of what a ecclesia is supposed to be like even if they have had little or no real experience. It is a big jump from there into the full on Pentecostal service. A small bridge is needed if a local ecclesia is out of the usual cultural expectation and there is great need for them to be made welcome in depth.

The doorkeeper ministry as first contact is always essential. This is a Ministry that needs to be trained and called and every endeavour made to establish it as a very important and serious calling on a particular person’s life. Such a ministry should be appointed by a laying on of hands by the presbytery before the whole ecclesia together with a teaching message as to the place and importance of this essential calling. It is never just a rostered job for any of the saints who are not busy. As with Deacons the Elders select the Doorkeepers; they are not just volunteers.

One way of bridging the gap mentioned and form a bridge is to train a group of welcomers. (Of all ages) Their task would be to receive a visitor after the Doorkeeper’s welcome and

a. Find out the person’s name and address
b. Give them any printed material needed
c. Make up a little name tag and pin it on
d. Explain a little if there is time.
e. Take the guest to their seat
f. Sit with them if necessary and they came alone.
g. Pick them up after the service and check they are being made welcome. Stay close enough to introduce a variety of people to the guest.
h. Take the name and detail to the presiding elder so he/she can welcome the guest.

Essentially this is a host/hostess function. Eldership also does this but they have many calls on their time and often guests slip through the net. For growth this must not happen!!! In my visits to ecclesiaes over the years it has happened to me many times.

A better alternative to f. above is to establish a recorder who could jot down the details and get them to the eldership ASAP (a welcome is best coming from the highest in the land ! (The new guest is a VIP) Later the details go to the follow up team. (This team has a very important function particularly with the elderly)

Following on from this and again as an aside I personally favour all members wearing a nametag.

Considering a point made earlier about how we carry a cultural picture of what a ecclesia is/does and add to this the words of Jesus “My house shall be a house of prayer”. I do think the elderly are more comfortable and I suspect everybody is, if a service and particularly the morning service begins from silence and prayer. Quiet music during the time of assembling is fine but at the moment of starting there is I think a need and in the case of the older members an expectation that the gathering will become focussed and quiet before the Lord.

As an aside Song Leaders should at this point be all attentive to the HS and it is hard to do if you prempt his moving by having a habitual “stirring up” musical attitude.

While on the subject of music/sound etc After the service older folk like to talk I’m sure; but their ears, voices etc can’t cope with loud music while trying to talk At best this is tiring, at worst irritating. Music in general is a special subject for consideration in depth but note it has particular relevance to the elderly.

It is likely that the one thing that is common for all elderly folk, they are, or have been members of a family and this may well be the part of their life that has diminished or no longer exists. Ecclesia life needs to fill this space and to do this there must be interaction between the generations. To some extent dividing the ecclesia into age groups has a practical and almost essential side but the opposite is true we need/must have, the bonding as a family. This requires we interact, be one, function as one, touch each other in the spiritual realm, know each other, worship together, share a spiritual communion at the feet of Jesus and most of all pray together.

Central to achieving this is the family service. At such a gathering and it should be a regular gathering, ALL of the living stones which make up the local ecclesia should be present, right down to the babes in arms. They (the babies) out of all of us most need the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

This togetherness can be a time of impartation such as we perhaps have never seen before, this can be a time when young minister to old, and old to young, a very special bonding in the Spirit.

Such a gathering however needs to become part of the ecclesia ethos, a looked forward to and expected part of the life of the family ecclesia NOT a special item. It could extend to include the whole of one Sunday, say monthly and perhaps be enhanced by having a meal together but this would be a logistics problem and is not essential.

Here is an opportunity for drawing various groups into the ministry life of the ecclesia also.

Who among the children, young people, elderly can pray? Make opportunity for them to pray for various needs of the ecclesia during such a meeting. During communion there is an opportunity to give thanks for the bread & the wine. Two more chances for someone among the elderly particularly, to seek a short word of thanks and bring it to bless the ecclesia. There is an opportunity for some to testify to the goodness of God in their lives. A possibility for a songster to bless the ecclesia. (But make this limited …it is not a concert.) A time perhaps for a budding preacher to try their wings (even very young children can share a word very effectively) or a wise elderly to share a word. And certainly a time when all, and this particularly includes the children, bring their offerings unto the Lord. (Parents need to be prompted to organise their children in this regard.) A flight of imagination is needed in creating the family atmosphere and it’s by no means an easy task. The true obedience to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to work in such a gathering requires a skill and openness not easily achieved. The singers (here I mean the true ministry of a singer not someone who sings) are very important in leading the ecclesia into worship, song leading becomes vital and balance between the word, song & music critical in bringing edification & comfort to such mixed generations. Also the drawing out of those who are able to move in the gifts is needed….perhaps a pastoral role is to directly lead and guide in the early stages, particularly in Word of Knowledge, Word of Wisdom, Healings, Prophesy

This has only been a brief outline but discussion could develop the idea further.

The intention is create a feeling of participation and togetherness, a practical example of the oneness of the ecclesia the family. Family is something that many of the older generation no longer have ready access to.

Note that in most cases the pastoral team need to seek out those who will be ministering and ask them & always train them in the essentials (eg. sticking to the clock)/be prepared to move in and correct error, be willing to suffer error???, but its worth the risk and in any case it’s a family and families almost always mess things up here and there.

The greatest threat I think is to develop a type of meeting that becomes just a litany. Once eternal sameness descends the Holy Spirit flies out the window. He is “Always fresh, always new …?” If we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us it will be just that … the Spirit’s blessing is ever new.

Another area of the elderly I have noticed is their reluctance to “impose” as I have heard it put. This creates reluctance to “call for the elders of the ecclesia” and a sliding away from any contact in their home and quite often when they are in the most need. Fair enough, but it can be difficult. In line with this it is very easy to miss an elderly person’s absence and find that much later they have been sick or in need. The problem then, is how to keep tabs on the absent saints.

One method is to develop small groups in localities; each headed up by a group monitor who has the particular ministry of caring. They need to

a. check to see that their group members are at ecclesia as usual
b. if absent deliver the newsletter personally and make sure all is OK.
c. let the pastoral team know if there is a need
d. offer any support if able
e. have a few words with each person in their group during ecclesia times

These groups are another opportunity for involving people in ministry. Once again they are appointed and publicly set in their ministry by the presbytery. As with all ministry a regular “chat with the Pastoral oversight” is very important as is training in their function. The relationship needs people who are sensitive and able to give and get help without seeming pushy or nosy. For some of the elderly this type of visitation can spell caring and loving family response and for a few unfortunately it is very difficult to evoke acceptance ?????

It goes without saying that once the ecclesia is used to this setup a follow up visit gets to be expected and accepted as part of the pastoral care but once again the idea must be taught over and over.

Another aspect that may need to be considered is the use of appropriate names. In the older generation there are some that by virtue of their background tend to feel that the use of Christian names is somewhat lacking respect when used without consent. It’s a delicate field, but with new people this lack of old fashioned courtesy could be off putting. Does no harm for all young people to be aware of the rules of etiquette. It is also true that the young and the old more often than we realise just do not know how to behave towards one another. This is a very large area for pastoral teaching. How to talk to each other, how to help and receive help are some of the simple things that people stumble over and become bewildered at their own clumsiness. Bringing up such a large family is very much a Fraser…”life wasn’t meant to be easy” Without our dear Lord…impossible.

The responsibility of the saints is:

(1 Cor 14:26 KJV) How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
(1 Cor 14:26 NRSV) What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

This is the foundation Scripture from which much of the above thinking develops. But if the eldership fails to make room for the people to move in such, fails to encourage and guide, they will soon stop seeking and come to ecclesia empty. Once again teaching … training … over and over!

Moreover, the elderly are not exempt from this. The oversight cannot afford to let the elderly get “old”

The responsibility of the Eldership is:

(Eph 4:12 NIV) to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
(Eph 4:12 KJV) For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
(Eph 4:12 NRSV) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

Clearly this work of ministry is to involve all who are members of the local ecclesia and because of this all elderly folk should be in some way contributing to the works of service. Hence the emphasis on the Eldership seeking out and appointing individuals to works of service rather than living in hope that someone will offer. This service does and should involve the elderly (side by side with a young person is good value) and as a spin off this makes them feel a real part of the ecclesia family and needed, which is a powerful influence in maintaining an older person’s interest and spiritual development..

Another aspect of the Eph.4:12 teaching in regard to the elderly is the need to offer guidance to those who have become limited in their ministry by the aging process. E.g. one who can no longer develop the endurance to perform in some function in which they have been a tower of strength has to be helped to find and develop an alternative to the work that they have been contributing to date. Just being elderly must never be a “put them on the shelf” but a refining of function so that the experience and wisdom can continue to enhance/adorn the ecclesia and provide role models for younger members. Elderly folk who are functioning like this will be strong in upholding the local ecclesia.