What do all these people have in common?
They have all appeared on the cover of AARP Magazine. They are the new face of senior Americans.
I don’t know about you, but when I saw that list, I was a little surprised. What a difference from the image of Wilfred Brimley on the cover when I was growing up in the 1980’s! Yet here’s an interesting fact: When Wilfred Brimley played the grandfather on “Our House” in 1986, he was 52 years old. That’s only one year older than Brad Pitt is right now.
Absorb that for a moment and you’ll realize that A LOT has changed for those who are over fifty in our society. Thanks to technology and advances in modern medicine, people are living longer, healthier, fuller lives than they did even just 30 years ago. The over-50 crowd has become a powerful demographic in modern society.
The government recognizes it.
Advertisers really recognize it.
Even the dating industry has dedicated specific websites to the idea that life begins at 50.
If we are going to have a serious discussion about expanding the circle of Women’s Ministry, than we need to take some time and talk about redefining the role of and our expectations from these amazing women.
Have no doubt about it—50+ women are an incredible asset to the church and to women’s ministry. Just as the Millenials bring new ideas and new life to a women’s ministry, our more mature members bring years of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. Women’s Ministry is at it’s best when we choose to purposely combine the unique perspectives of all ages, weaving together a tapestry of vigor and experience, excitement and wisdom.
When each age group gives the best they have to offer, we find that we bring out the best in each other.
So how can Women’s Ministry purposely welcome, include, and benefit the most from the older women in our community?
I believe the first thing that we need to do is lay aside the old stereotypes of what it means to be a “Senior Saint” and replace it with a Biblical view.
Have no doubt; the Apostle Paul had some very strong opinions about the role of older women in the church.
Titus 2:3-5: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
The Bible is very clear that there is a very important place for a mature Christian woman in the body of Christ: She is to be a mentor.
A women’s ministry that relegates their senior ladies to social gatherings, bus trips, and hanging out with the other older women in the church is simply wrong. It was never God’s intent that anyone—men or women—retire from playing a valuable role in His kingdom. Instead, a healthy women’s group with see the value in its more mature members and help them find their significant place serving and mentoring within the body of Christ.
What are some practical ways we can do this?
Value the presence of older women.
Recently, I heard the story of a youth pastor who asked an older woman in his church for a favor. He didn’t want her to lead a group or head up a committee---he simply asked her to stand in the hallway as the youth entered the church building on Wednesday nights and welcome them. Knowing that she had a very loving heart and the ability to talk to anyone, he was sure that she was the right person to help young people---church kids and visitors---feel welcome in the church.
He was right.
As this woman continued to just show up every week and talk to the kids, she became one of that group’s most valuable members. Soon young women were coming to her with problems. It wasn’t uncommon to see her counseling a crying young woman on a Sunday morning, or helping a teen make a decision.
Even without deep theological answers or outrageous ideas for how to attract teens to the youth group, the fact that this woman showed up and cared enough to start a conversation drew younger people to her. Why?? Because she was THERE to fill the deep needs in the hearts of young people who desperately needed a Mom, Grandma, or just someone who cared in their lives.
Today we live in a society that is filled with women who the same needs. Many women are in desperate need older women who’ll say, “You’re special. You can do it. I believe in you.”
Others need someone to listen to them and play the role of Mom or Grandma.
Some just need an older person to hold them accountable in a loving way.
Leaders in Women’s Ministry need to be careful to never lose sight of the value of having older women present in the group. Even if their only job is to listen and love, they are playing a significant role in the kingdom of God. While women may forget the teaching, the food, or even the activities, they will never forget connecting with someone who let them know they were special and they were loved.
Value the knowledge of older women.
Just as young women are coming into our women’s groups with deep emotional needs, they are also coming in with some really down-to-earth practical needs. Many women desperately need someone to teach them basic life skills. This is where an older woman with practical life experience can step up to the plate and say, “Honey, let me show you how it’s done.”
The truth is that neither the Food Network, a Youtube video, or a blog will have the value of an older woman taking the time to pass on a life skill. (And that’s hard for me, a blogger, to admit!)
For instance, I have a fifty-something friend who was telling me that one of the ways she ministers to the young women in her church is by having them over to dinner and letting them help her cook the meal. As they talk and laugh and get to know each other better, they are also learning a valuable life skill. Recently, she told me that she even taught them how to iron! She recognizes that they have more than just spiritual needs and she’s doing her part to help them learn life skills as well.
This is an example that can be followed over and over again.
The 50+ woman who in charge of the church’s hospitality committee should have younger helpers that she is training and mentoring on the ways of hospitality.
Mom’s groups should include a few Grandmoms from time to time that can give mothers practical tips about raising children.
Of course, we can’t make this just about domestic skill. Many of our 50+ women have valuable experience in the workplace, in business, and in finances. A wise leader will know the expertise of her more mature women and give them opportunity to share their years of experience with the group.
Can you imagine the dynamic results we’d see if we combined the years of knowledge from our mature women with the new ideas for how to apply that knowledge from the young? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a group like that?
Value the experience of older women.
They say that there is nothing new under the sun. Everything that is happening has happened before. If this is true, why aren’t we taking full advantage of the women who’ve been there done that and learning from their experiences rather than trying to learn every lesson on our own?
Every woman who has lived 50+ years has had her share of experiences. She’s had triumphs and tragedies, victories and losses. A wise leader will provide opportunities for a mature godly woman to share these experiences as a way to encourage other women to make good choices.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the older women have to formally speak to the group (although from time to time it might). It could mean mixing up the discussion groups to include a mix of age groups or even simply asking the question, “Does anyone have a personal experience they’d like to share to help the group?”
Whatever method works for your group, a wise leader will take full advantage of the experience of older women and use it a source of advice, support, and an avenue for mentoring.
Value the time of older women.
I recently heard someone say, “You should never retire from something…you should retire to do something else.”
Many women who have retired from work or whose children are grown are looking for new avenues to use their gifts and talents. A wise leader will help these women find their passion and specialties and provide them with opportunities to serve the kingdom of God.
One thing to remember about this point is the word VALUE. It’s important that we don’t see a woman will free time and simply fill her schedule with the things that no one else wants to do. Instead, we need to value her enough to help her find what she is CALLED to do.
Even when she finds her significant place in the kingdom, we need to remember to appreciate her efforts. Don’t just expect her to be there because she’s retired. Realize that she’s volunteering and choosing to serve and let her know how much you value her contribution.
Too often, we act like mentoring just happens. Then we wonder why no one is being mentored.
Mentoring takes effort. It takes initiative from the mentor, the mentoree, and the leader of the group.
Mentors need to be trained on how to mentor. It isn’t a skill that comes naturally to many. Because it’s not a skill that’s common in our society, it isn’t something that will be learned by osmosis.
If a Women’s Ministry wants the older women in your church to play their Biblical role of mentoring younger women, than the leadership in Women’s Ministry is going to have to provide training for those who seek to be mentors.
Some churches have even put together entire curriculums for mentors and mentorees to work through together. (If you’re interest in learning more, email me and I’ll help you connect with these amazing Women’s Ministry leaders.)
The reason they are putting forth all of this effort is because they see the value in mentoring. They understand the value of presence, knowledge, experience, and time between those who have gone before and those who are following in their footsteps. That’s why they are investing so much time and attention and placing so much value on training mentors who will then train others.
Because ultimately, that’s what Women’s Ministry is meant to be: Women helping women grow in their relationship with Jesus and walk through this life in a way that glorifies Him and produces fruit in His kingdom.
Women’s Ministry isn’t meant to be a social club…it’s supposed to be a ministry.
A place where women come together and bring out the best in each other---like iron sharpens iron---producing strong, healthy women who will change their world for Jesus.
This happens when we expand our circle, welcoming all women, valuing all women, and helping each woman find her significant place in the kingdom of God.