Jump Start # 2339
Philemon 9 “yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you– since I am such a person as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”
Paul the aged, that’s how Paul described himself. That doesn’t fit well in our thinking today. We do everything we can to hide the looks of aging. Ours is a youthful society and when you are no longer youthful you find out that you may not fit in, be needed or are useful. The images of sitting in a wheel chair in a smelly nursing home frightens most of us.
Recently I had a discussion with a few different preachers who are in their sixties or more. I’m among them now. The topic was how brethren take care of older preachers. The discussion wasn’t much better than the image of the wheel chair in a smelly nursing home. This is something that many have not given much thought to. I even mentioned this from the pulpit recently in a place I was holding a meeting. The local preacher is in his 70’s. It’s time for conversations, I said, about what to do with our aging preachers.
Here are some things I see. Many of these older preachers were never paid much. Some weren’t very good at finances. They are at a point in life where they must preach because they need the income. Also, many are not able to keep up with technology and fast paced, large congregations. They are simply left behind and often the only places that will have them are small, struggling congregations that cannot afford anyone else. Many of these grand old soldiers have preached for more than fifty years of their life. And, they see reality. Congregations want these younger fireballs. Like the old work mule, they are worn out and replaced and never used, nor thought of again. A few of the best are still used, but for the most part, you never hear of these old giants anymore. They move slowly. Some look fragile. They struggle with computers, powerpoint and they do not understand social media. Yet, they have a wealth of Biblical knowledge. They have tons of experience. They have been through spiritual battles and wars and have come out on the other side. But now, they are old. They stand with Paul the aged.
What are we to do with the old preachers? Here are some thoughts:
First, find ways to use these old soldiers of Christ. They may not be able to keep the pace of a fast moving congregation, but they can teach. Let them teach. Many can still write. Let them write. Many have years of great class material. Dig them out, put a fresh face on them and use them.
Second, companies learned a long time ago that simply paying a daily or weekly wage wasn’t enough. They started pensions and retirement programs. Through the years that progressed to 401’s that companies added to as well as the worker. It’s time for the church to start thinking that way. What better way to honor and older servant of Christ than promising to take care of him the rest of his life. A church has to be forward thinking with this and making plans, but it can be done. Simply replacing a man after fifty or sixty years of service seems rather cold and heartless.
Third, help the younger preachers learn about finances and retirement. Put things in his salary that will be exclusively used for retirement. Try to prevent the situation of someone having to preach late in life because he is broke. Include life insurance with the package for the preacher. This helps his wife in the case that he passes. I’ve known several preachers who died and they had no life insurance. Shame on them for not being better stewards. In one situation, the preacher and his wife lived in a house that was owned by the church. A month after his death, the elders showed up and told the widow that she had to move out because a new preacher was hired. She had nothing. It was a pitiful situation. Talk about these things and be transparent in what is needed.
Fourth, as the preacher ages, there may be areas that he is better suited for beyond the daily tasks of a local work. Maybe he wants to preach on the road more. Maybe he wants to focus upon overseas work. Find what excites him and he is good at and work with him. Use him and his wisdom to better the kingdom.
Fifth, find ways to honor the old servant of Christ. In many ways, the old preacher feels like life has passed him. What the younger people talk about, he doesn’t understand. He feels out of touch. He often feels no longer needed. I know this because I have talked to some of these men. With real tears in their eyes, they confess that they never thought their careers would end this way. Forgotten. Unwanted. Put out to pasture. I know a couple of congregations that periodically brings in these older preachers. They make it a special deal. These grand old voices aren’t cranky, critical, or judgmental. They have a special way of reminding us of Biblical promises and truths that we have long forgotten.
Finally, there comes a time when age, the ability to connect, and health issues finally forces the old preacher to retire. It’s hard on him. For more than half a century he has been preaching every Sunday. The congregation as well as the preacher who replaces him must never throw the old preacher under the bus. The old preacher often wonders if he has done any good. He has simply tried to bring Christ before the eyes of the people throughout his life. Be kind in this transition. Be helpful to the old preacher. Most that I know are humble and want to get out of the way. They don’t want to be the focus of any attention and they don’t want to hinder the work of the Lord. They would rather just fade out quietly, and for most, that is what will happen to them.
What to do with an old preacher? Have you ever discussed that? Do you have any plans? Have you given him any assurances or hope? While many of us enjoy retirement, for the old preacher, it is often a silent struggle with finances, emotions, self-esteem and wondering what value he is to others.
I believe it’s time we gave some serious thought and had some real conversation about what to do with an old preacher. I hope this helps. I hope some changes begin to take place.