Dorothy, a sweet member of my congregation that I have the privilege to serve, recently said to me while I sat in her home, “I have grown in the Lord through the years. Even at 94, I am still learning!” I smiled and said, “I’m going to quote you.” Lately I have been pondering this question: How can “older” members of the congregation grow in faith? I will let you decide if you fall into the category of “older” member, okay? There, now I don’t have to feel guilty for age discrimination! But I wonder if people who have been believers in Christ and church attenders for years slip into the mindset that there no more room for growth. I don’t know too many people who would say to themselves, “Yep, I’ve reached perfection!” But I do see Christians who don’t seem to strive to grow in their faith. They aren’t reading the Bible on their own and they aren’t attending a Bible study or small group with other believers. If we are not careful, we can slip into a “coasting” mode in our faith, where simply showing up on Sunday mornings is all that happens in our life with Christ.
How does this happen? Maybe it has something to do with the structure of the Bible studies in general. There is a scope and sequence to Christian education in most churches. A student is in 3rd grade Sunday School, then 4th grade Sunday School. This movement from one stage to the next continues through high school youth group, and perhaps into a college-age Bible study group. What happens after that? I recall feeling a little lost at that point in my life. It was natural to move from one to the next. Once I was finished with college, where do I belong? Through which group will I continue to grow in my faith? I was so used to connecting with those really close to my age, yet hadn’t yet learned the joy of being in a growth group with those who were considerably older than me. Churches tend to do an extreme job of breaking up young people into very specific age-based groups and then clump the majority of adults all together. So, once a person turns 30, or thereabouts, he or she is in the same group with a 50 year old, 70 year old, and a 90 year old!
So, how can “older” members grow in their faith? The work of the Holy Spirit in lives is not limited to age. The world may say, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I know that God is able to continue to grow us in the faith, no matter how old or young we may be. Let me offer a few thoughts:
1) It is of immense value that we continue to be learners.
Perhaps you feel you have “done your time” through the system of Christian Education. It is a sad phenomenon to see Confirmation students mistakenly think that once they finish their work and study in Confirmation, they are no longer compelled to be connected to the church. We may feel like we have “graduated.” Friend, if this is you, let me say simply: “Repent!” A tree that is alive is connected to its power source, water. A life that is alive in Christ is connected to the true power for growth: Christ Himself. How can we be connected to Him? By receiving the Word of God, both personally and together with others. We can plumb the depths of God’s Word and still feel like we have not scratched the surface. I invite you to be a lifelong learner!
2) It is of immense value that we not only take in biblical knowledge, but that we give out that knowledge and wisdom.
Part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is taking that biblical knowledge and growing in wisdom and love towards others as we serve in various ways. My goal for this post is not to simply have us all pile into a Bible study room and spend all of our time doing that. We can fill up our time reading and studying the Bible and be so busy that we have little time to serve those around us. How can we balance what we take in of God’s Word with what we give out? Out of the overflow of what we receive from God, we give to others. I think doing that will help us grow and mature as older believers in Christ.
3) We never outgrow our need for grace.
You may have grown to be the most mature, godly person in the world. Yet, the reality remains that you are still the same wretched sinner in need of grace. Praise God for the ways you have grown in your faith through the years! But, we will never escape our sin nature. It follows us wherever we go in life because, well, it’s within us. And I love that this truth keeps us humble.
I once heard of a man who, in the twilight of his life, finally had it “click” for him what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He had two strong feelings as a result. First, he felt intense regret that he had “wasted” much of his life not pursuing Christ as Christ had pursued him. This regret was forgiven by Christ, he knew that. Second, in response to God’s work in his life, he also felt an intense urgency about being a disciple and making disciples. God does not give up on us, ignore us, or cast us aside based on how old we are. He seeks us and takes us where we are and grows us in Him. In reality, “older” members grow in the faith in the same way all people grow in the faith. Consider where you can plug into a good groups of believers who are studying God’s Word.