Few blessings in this life are greater than having older godly men and women in our lives. Why? Because we all need models of holiness. Words matter, but living examples often speak louder to young distracted hearts. It is no accident that the Apostle Paul encourages his protégé Timothy by saying, “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). Paul sets before Timothy his own example. Interestingly, he then instructs Timothy to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (v. 12). Living examples of Christlikeness inform the lives of those around them. Every young Christian needs—not just benefits from—the example of older godly Christians.
A few months ago, at the church I serve, a group of retired men decided to begin meeting every Wednesday morning for prayer. I walked into our building this week as they were concluding their meeting. As they left, I commented to them: “This makes my heart happy. I am thankful you men are meeting, praying, and seeking to encourage one another to serve the body of Christ.” One of these senior Christians looked at me and said, “That is good to hear, because we feel very unneeded in society.” My simple rejoinder was: “It may feel like that in our society, but it should never feel that way in our church. We need you. And the church needs you.”
It is often the quiet, moderate, stable, servant-hearted life of the older saint that snaps us out of our youthful preoccupations.
The church needs seasoned saints to be present with saints who are less mature in years, godliness, or both. As young people, we notoriously occupy our minds with the immediate. The urgent demands attention. It is often the quiet, moderate, stable, servant-hearted life of the older saint that snaps us out of our youthful preoccupations.
Why? Because we are watching your lives. Yet, we cannot watch what we cannot see. Paul’s life informed Timothy’s, and now Timothy’s life was to inform the lives of the people in his congregation. This is the beauty of older saints’ modeling a life of faith. Yet, all of this is dependent on the older saints’ being present with the younger saints.
As I think about my own life, there are certain individuals, men and women, who sit on my proverbial shoulder. When different decisions present themselves, I often think, “What would Jane do in this situation?” or, “How would John approach this issue?” Yet as I reflect on my Christian life, it was seldom what older Christians said to me that lingers. More than anything else, it is simply the lives of people that stick in my mind. I remember their manner, their ability to turn conversations to Christ, their joy, their peace, their family harmony, their willingness to serve without applause, their faithfulness, their faith, their consistency, their listening ear. They lived pursuing Christ by the Spirit to the glory of God, and little did they know that I was watching.
I am not old, but this reality hit me many years ago. My first pastorate was a family and youth pastorate. Most of my week was spent ministering to junior and senior high school students. After three years with them, I accepted a call to plant a new church across the country and was therefore forced to leave these students. What shocked me in the years that followed were the e-mails and letters I received from some of the students I had spent barely any time with individually. They were just some of the many students who attended youth group or Sunday school class and maybe went on the youth ski trip. Yet, they would recall different ways I affected their lives, by God’s grace. How? Simply by being with them.
Our lives are constantly on display, and others are taking mental notes on what it means to live for Christ. No doubt, this is part of the reason that Paul says to Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16). Dear “more seasoned saint,” it is not just nice to have you in our presence—we need you in the church to be with us. We need your example, your presence, your lives lived before us. Point us to Christ and show us from your hard-earned wisdom how to live better for His glory.
Rev. Jason Helopoulos is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Mich. He is author of The New Pastor’s Handbook and A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home.