A recent conversation about older adults brought to mind a friend who died a couple of years ago. I got to know her best on a mission trip to India when she and her husband joined my wife and me, together with a few others. What I came to learn was that this lady whom everyone called “Mamma Dawn” was a real “mother hen.” On that trip I became one of her baby chicks as she made sure that I did things right. Mothering was something Momma Dawn did well. She raised four children of her own, and grand-mothered many more, including the girls she taught in her youth Sunday school class.
Momma Dawn’s relationship with teenage girls in Sunday school contains a lesson for every church. What I heard from her girls was that she loved them. When they came to church, and especially to Momma Dawn’s class, they knew they were going to be treated special and receive love. I would say that they were grand-mothered. She taught them God’s Word, shared her experience, and loved them.
Grandparents have a relationship with children different from the parent’s. Two words that typify the difference are love and grace. Godly grandparents are free to express these because they have walked with Jesus longer and He has knocked off some of the rough edges. Also, they are free from some of the disciplinary responsibilities of parents. Grandparents often know God’s Word better and can apply it with a wisdom born of age and experience.
As I think about it, my observation of Momma Dawn’s effectiveness with young people is not unique to her. Many of the best Sunday school teachers and ministers to young people and young adults that I have seen are grandparent types. One I know retired from working with young people at the age of 88! He was a legend for the impact he made on thousands of lives. His ministry to teenagers spanned over 40 years, resulting in hundreds coming to know Jesus and serve Him as members of His Body. Retirement only came with failing health, not decreased effectiveness or passion for Jesus and young people.
I was speaking with a handful of pastors about the importance of looking to grandparents as we consider who will work with the younger folks. I told them that I have a growing conviction that churches error when they think younger adults are more effective with teenagers and other young adults than grandparent types. As we spoke, one of the men asked a young woman about this. She is a single woman in her mid-twenties. Her response was most enlightening. She said, “In my church, the person assigned to teach my age-group is only a few years older than us. This person doesn’t have much life experience or wisdom in comparison to an older adult. They think young adults are about games and fluff. But I want to be taught the Bible. I want wisdom. That’s why I attend an older ladies class and not the class for my age-group. They can quote the Bible and relate it to life without even trying – simply through their natural conversation as a by-product of their many years following Christ.”
Is this young woman unique? I don’t think so. I firmly believe, and research bears this out, that young people want to be mentored and loved on by older people. And more important than anything I think, or research reveals, is that Scripture instructs the older to mentor the younger. Older women are to train the younger women, and men are to set an example for young men (Titus 2:3-8).
It’s no secret that Americans are living longer which is one reason our churches are aging. The average 65 year-old will live an additional 18.6 years. Churches are responding to this by increasing ministry for older adults. This is appropriate. But do not forget that the most mature and experienced servants in the church are our older adults. Godly seniors want their retirement years to count for Jesus. You already understand this, I suspect. But what you may not have considered is that older adults need to be teaching teenagers and young adults. Older adults can connect with young adults. In many cases they can do it best.
Those who understand life best are those who have lived it most. And in many cases they have a lot of love to give. It’s a grandparent kind of love, like that of Momma Dawn.