I emailed more seasoned pastors and professors. I called friends. I ordered books and downloaded articles. I needed to get my hands on anything to help bridge a generational gap I was beginning to feel was too big.
When I was called as pastor of First Baptist Church in the small town of Gustine, Texas, I was only twenty-four years old. The congregation was much older than me. The responsibility of this calling I had just accepted began to feel overwhelming, to say the least.
The church was filled with delightful middle-aged men. It had servant-hearted middle-aged women. A number of faithful blue hairs sat in the same pews each week. There weren’t many around my age in the church or the surrounding community.
I thought to myself, “How in the world do I disciple, teach, and lead men and women old enough to be my parents or grandparents?” People who have lived not just years but decades longer than I’ve been breathing.
The men and women I was called to lead had more life experiences, had walked through more valleys, and had loved Jesus longer than I had been alive. What did I have to offer them? How could I lead them to be more like Jesus? I wanted a silver bullet. I wanted an easy answer.
But the work of being a pastor doesn’t come with easy answers. It’s about relationships, loving God’s people, and equipping them for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-14). Pastoring requires building trust, regardless of age. Though there are not many easy answers, there are things we can do as young pastors to disciple older members well.
One of the ways we disciple people well is to be faithful with the word of God (Psalm 119:105; Matt. 24:34; Luke 11:28; 2 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 10:23; James 1:22; Jude 3). We may not have the life experience. There is always more we can learn. But we certainly can be faithful with what we have come to know (1 Tim. 4:12). We will grow in our understanding the longer we are in the ministry, but we must always seek to be faithful to God’s word.
When we rightly handle the word of truth we build the foundation for discipleship in our church (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Cor. 3:11-15). We are not called to have all of the answers. We can’t microwave life experiences. Yet, we can preach the word of God faithfully. We can build our ministries on the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:19-21) and the revelation of Jesus Christ found in scripture (John 1:18; Col. 1:15).
A church isn’t looking for a pastor to have all of the answers; they are looking for a pastor who will point them to Jesus and apply the truth of the Gospel into every area of their lives (1 Cor. 16:14). They will trust you if you are faithful in preaching, in speaking the truth in love.
Though there is so much we can’t do—so much we don’t know how to do as young pastors—however, we can preach the word of God faithfully. We can ensure our sermons are centered on the finished work of Christ. We can point people, young and old, to the hope we have in Jesus.
Ministry can be taxing. Be faithful with the word. Preach in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). Faithfully point hearts to Jesus.
One of the best ways to gain trust and disciple well is simply to show up. Being there when others are in need, when they need someone to simply listen, or when they need to be reminded God is still sovereign. To disciple people, they have to trust you and for them to trust you they have to know you care about them.
We show our love for our church when we are present in their lives. When they are in the hospital, when they are making plans to bury loved ones at the funeral home, when they are weary, or when they celebrating the joys of life, we can show the faithful presence of Jesus to them.
Being present says so much more than our words alone can communicate. We can say we love our people over and over, but they will know we love them when we rush to their bedside in the hospital, when we make a visit to their mother or father who is home-bound, or when we are there when their children and grandchildren are born.
The work of discipleship does not just happen behind a pulpit or in our office. We must show up in our people’s lives.
Showing up consistently teaches our church to be present to those around them in the body of Christ as well (1 Cor. 12:18-27). It disciples them to show the love of God in practical ways in common, everyday places.
To truly gain the trust of our church and to build a ministry where we can disciple and speak into the lives of older members, often requires we stay in the same location. Churches are too well acquainted with pastors coming, preaching for a few years, and going, especially in small rural churches like the one I pastor. Since gaining the trust of a church is difficult, some pastors grow weary in the process and simply do not stay long enough to see any kind of deep trust fostered.
Now, God may call you to another church and there are times where it may be unhealthy for you to stay; however, overall, we need more pastors playing the long game. Folks committed to planting their lives in one church for many, many years.
I get to speak into the lives of the men and women in my church afforded to me simply because I have remained when others have fled. God is faithful, steady, and unshakable (1 Cor. 1:9; Heb. 6:19, 12:27-29). God blesses stability in ministry.
If you want older members to trust you and allow you to lead them spiritually, they have to know you will be there, that they are not just a stepping-stone to a bigger platform. Discipleship happens over the long-haul. You have to be ready to play the long game.
This flies in the face of so much of our culture telling us to keep moving on to bigger and better things. We can’t believe the lie that our value is found in success that can be numerically measured. Our call is to be a part of the building and advancing of the kingdom of God and to do this by making and maturing disciples.
To be faithful to this calling we need to plant our roots deep and love the church where God has placed us. We must fight the urge of longing for greener pastures, in order to be a place of stability for others.
EARNING THE RIGHT TO DISCIPLE
We have to earn the right to speak into the lives of the older men and women who make up the church.
When we are faithful to proclaim God’s word, consistently present in the peaks and valleys of their lives, and committed to stay and plant ourselves and our families among them for the long-haul, God opens doors for us, as young pastors, to disciple those older than us.
Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, TX. He is husband to Shandra and daddy to Evahlyn and Jameson. You can find him on Twitter @ZHarrel.