My last post emphasized that, “mature societies were meant to be led by elders, seniors, saints, and “the initiated”. They alone are in a position to be true leaders in a society, or certainly in any spiritual organization. Without them, the blind lead the blind.” [i]
How do we prevent the “blind leading the blind”?
Candidly, we need more elders to maximize their commitment to guide and support. And we need to hold those elders accountable who are not sharing their giftings and experience to help lead and mentor others.
Despite their age elders must believe that they have the capacity and power to think, contribute, and be significant and influential. Elders must be encouraged to believe that their experiences and leadership matter and can be used and revived as they enter the later stages of their lives.
“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”Ezekial 37:4-5, NRSV
Elders don’t settle for dry bones. Your passion and commitment is needed. Open your eyes, ears and heart. Listen for God’s call to give your life purpose and significance. He will breathe life into you again.
“Keep the draught open; clean the ashes out; keep putting in fuel.”Samuel Brengle former Commissioner of the Salvation Army
An 84-year-old friend of mine is a perfect example of God continuing to breathe life into him. His fire to contribute and influence still burns. At his age he would be the first to admit that his body may be slowing down, but he would also be one to confess that he has a responsibility for leading, mentoring and shepherding others.
He is not ready to give this up. He is intellectually and spiritually alive and he continues to fuel his passion. In fact, he is so committed that he continues to provide wisdom, advice and service to many.
There are no dry bones evident in my gifted friend as he continues to allow God to breathe life into him and in turn into others. Thankfully he shares his time with me as his soul friend. He is someone whom I am trying to emulate.
My friend is not the only one. There are numerous women and men who continue to be active as elders advising and guiding. Just ask Sumi and Anne both women leaders who are passionate about their calling and continue to lead women’s groups and mentor young women.
Or Rob who loves coaching minor hockey and continues to do so even though he has no kids of his own to coach.
Or how about Elmer and Shari Komant missionaries in the poverty and conflict-ridden country of Burundi. They continue to plant churches as missionaries and don’t believe in settling into retirement anytime soon.
All of these leaders are elders. Most are well into the second halves of their lives and some are in their third quarter. They do not see themselves as being too archaic to contribute. In fact, they would probably bristle if you questioned why they continue to offer so much.
We cannot entrust the work of the kingdom to a select few while the rest watch from the sidelines. As children of the King, we all share in the responsibility of mentoring and making disciples who make disciples. Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, Mentor For Life pg. 73
But there are not enough elders making this essential commitment.
I have heard from the reluctant ones; the ones who are headed to the valley of dry bones if they are not careful.
This is their litany; “I don’t know what my passion is and even if I do know what my passion is, who would want to spend time with me … at my age what could I possibly contribute to someone else … I am too old, tired and have nothing more to offer.”
Frankly these are just empty excuses.
Here are some thoughts and suggestions for those who want to explore the possibility of serving others by mentoring and don’t know where to start.
- There is something that you have been doing in your job, your career, or during your leisure time that you have done and continue to do that brings you great elation and fulfilment. When you engage in it, it doesn’t matter that you spend a lot of time participating. You feel charged and energized. Identify them so this can be your starting point.
- Once you have determined what your passion, look for individuals, groups and organizations that have the same interest and passion. These people and/or groups would love to have an experienced and seasoned person to spend time with, learn from and build a friendship with. Or if it is an organization, it can help you find someone to mentor. You can find these people in your own family, your church, your former workplace or at schools. You have to be intentional though and have a willing desire to first find people and then share your passion with them. Don’t engage in mentoring unless you are truly committed.
- You can contribute no matter what your age. Really age is not a factor. The key factor here is that your intent is to continue to have a heart for service. You want to serve and don’t expect to be served. You have developed over many years great experience and knowledge that you can carry forward. By doing so you will honor those who contributed to your growth and development, and pay forward to others who need to be cared for, served and mentored.
I have had the good fortune of being shepherded and I have made the commitment to mentor. I have found that continuing to lead at an advanced age gives you a purpose and a mission. It helps you to feel valued and worthwhile. And it helps you to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy.
In the latter stages of my life, I am making it my mission to engage and empower elders to serve as mentors.
Why this commitment?
As God’s servant, we have a responsibility. If we take up this challenge we will be breathing much needed life into others.
With the wisdom we have garnered over many years of experience, we will be helping others make sense of a confusing, challenging and broken world.
And perhaps the greatest benefit is that we will be able to help ourselves and others to do as Jesus commanded, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 27:19-20 NRSV).
Elders let’s break through the feelings of reluctance, fear, anxiety, and stubbornness. Yes, you have put in a lot of time to your family, your career, your community and you probably like the fact that you have reduced responsibilities and commitments. But why let all of your expertise, knowledge and experience go to waste. You do have a lot to offer. Many are looking for elders to guide, support and mentor.
For the sake of the Kingdom, please join me in this journey of discovery and commitment.
[i]Richard Rohr. Falling Upward. Jossey-Bass, 2011, 9.