Several years ago, my women’s ministry team decided to honor our women over 60. We created a theme entitled, “Wise Women” and we planned an entire year’s worth of events and opportunities for the women to be encouraged and learn from our older, wiser women. But to my surprise, I had a very hard time convincing the older women to participate. My invitations to share their testimony or teach a skill or mentor a younger women were turned down or ignored. Involvement was reluctant, at best.
Since this experience, other leaders have confirmed what I experienced. One of the biggest challenges we have is involving older women (especially those over 65). They are reluctant to serve in the ministry or mentor younger women. I believe this reluctance comes from several factors:
Lack of Confidence
Most older women were not given many opportunities to exercise their gifts when they were younger. If they taught, it was to children only, and they typically did not lead others. More specifically, few were mentored by other women themselves. Consequently, they feel that they don’t have enough skill to fulfill what is required of them.
Older women may sincerely want to be involved and share their knowledge and friendship, but they are held back by numerous health concerns. Their mind may not work as well as it once did and answers to questions are harder to formulate, causing panic and fear.
Been There, Done That
Some women served many years in the nursery, children’s ministry, choir etc. and now that they are older and tired, they feel they deserve a break and it is time for younger women to step up and take their place.
Unlike the previous reasons, some older women are reluctant to serve because they are being led into a deeper intimacy with God that is characterized by being and not doing. They desire to spend time in private prayer and solitude with God and not in running around being busy for God.
So how do we creatively use the gifts of our older women?
Encourage and Encourage Again
Be prepared to do a lot of encouraging, hand holding, and guiding the older women to be willing to step up to mentor. They may need to be shown how and certainly need to be told over and over again that they can do it, that they are desperately needed and that the younger women value and want them in their lives.
Don’t use Titles
Titles such as mentor and accountability partner tend to scare women off because of the expectations associated with them. Older women may be intimidated by younger women. The goal should be to help women develop friendships and use their gifts, not to fill a specific role.
Schedule opportunities in your ministry for the voices of older women to be heard. Invite them to tell their stories, feature them in your events, interview them and intentionally use their knowledge and skills.
Be aware of the physical limitations of your older women and so find creative ways to accommodate them. Go to where they are, don’t ask them to come to you. Make sure you have handicap access to your locations. Make and edit a video of them rather than putting them on the spot in front of a large group. Be patient as they move and think slower. And mostly, give them grace when they decline to be involved due to physical reasons.
Educate Younger Women
Explain this reluctance to the younger women so they understand. Encourage the younger women to initiate with older women. Guide them to look for creative ways to spend time with an older woman, such as asking a woman to teach them how to can produce or knit. While learning a practical skill, the younger woman can ask questions about faith and parenting or whatever other subject she is interested in.
Let them Guide You Spiritually
Don’t ask the women who have chosen prayer and solitude to fill a role or serve on a committee or plan an event. Ask instead to sit with them in prayer or in silence. Ask for the privilege of joining them on the journey.
We all know that Titus 2 admonishes older women to instruct younger women. This will not happen all by itself. Women’s ministry leaders must be willing to focus on the older women and find creative ways to apply Titus 2.