This 67-year-old Retired Teacher is a First-Century Disciplemaker
I’ve met them. I know you have too. The people within your congregation that you KNOW would be awesome with teenagers but they use words like, “I’m too old,” or “How can someone like me relate?” Somewhere along the way a wall shot up between the generations. Teens on one side of the church and older congregants on the other. Sadly, a message was sent to the older generations that we just didn’t need them, and they started to believe it.
So, how do we break past those barriers that have been created? Let’s take a look back at the roots of our faith to see what they might have to teach us about uniting the generations.
The Mishnah states, “Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend.”
The Jewish people saw great value in surrounding themselves with mentors from whom they could learn; people whose lives were worthy of emulation. We see this to be true in the life of Jesus and His disciples, Paul and Timothy, and with women like Elizabeth and Mary. Mentorship accross the generations was commonplace. In fact, the structure of a Jewish home even invites intergenrationalism.
When a young Jewish man was ready to be wed he would simply build onto his father’s home. He and his bride would actually live in the same home that his parents lived in. Maybe we need to start building some metaphorical rooms within our youth ministry for the older congregants within our churches. It’s time to start sending the message that we WANT and NEED them in our ministries. Not only do our youth need their wisdom and mentorship, but we, as youth workers, do as well.
I’ve been mentored by women much older than me. Women like Susan, Sheri, Deb, Jeanne, and Karen. Their investment in me as a young woman has been exceptionally meaningful to help me grow as a follower of Christ, a youth leader, wife and mom.
Since I understood the importance of mentorship for myself, I was hungry to create that same kind of opportunity for some of the students within my ministry. I had started mentoring with a young teen for a few months when the Lord spoke to me one afternoon. He said, “You need to ask Jeanne to mentor Cassidy.” But, Lord, I said, “Jeanne’s never approached me about anything like this.”
When I approached Jeanne, a 67-year-old retired teacher, and asked her to mentor Cassidy, a 17-year-old junior in high school, she was hesitant but she was willing. With a little encouragement, Jeanne said yes. Now, the two have been meeting for well over two years. Cassidy just finished her freshman year in college. Regardless of the three hour drive between them, the two still talk weekly on the phone.
During their time together they’ve done bible studies, went out to eat, and even had dinner at Jeanne’s home, together. Jeanne has also helped Cassidy with her homework, and was even right by her side helping decorate for her high school graduation party. Truly, their relationship exemplifies something deeply embedded in first-century Judaism, it’s what I call, “doing life together.”
This relationship came about because an older congregant was willing to step outside of their comfort zone to love one teenager. When that happens, disciples are made.
Here are some ways to invite the older congregants within your church body to join in the journey of doing life together with your teens, just like Jeanne and Cassidy have done.
1. Invite someone older to mentor you. It’s hard to ask youth to do something we personally aren’t already practicing
2. Go to where the older congregants are and meet them on their turf. Get to know their stories and invite them into yours.
3. Hold a special night at youth group that highlights some of the older congregants. Tailor the night in a way that makes them comfortable. Look at it as an opportunity for your youth to learn more about some of the music, movies, fashion and things that were meaningful to the older generations when they were young.
4. Encourage, encourage and encourage your older congregants! Consider sharing Jeanne and Cassidy’s story with them. Invite them into a relationship with a young person. You’ll be amazed at how great those relationships can become.
5. Help them see they’re not too old. It doesn’t really matter how old you are, if you have love in your heart, that is what is the most attractive thing to a teenager. There are plenty of older congregants who can provide that for a teen in your ministry.
“A midrash states, ‘One who takes advice from elders never stumbles.’” It goes without saying that young people need to be surrounded by the wisdom of other generations as they grow to be disciples. Job even begs the question, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12). Teenagers need the wisdom of not just their own grandparents and family elders, but an extended family of giants in the faith, those who’ve walked this journey much longer than they have. We as youth workers need that wisdom too.” 
- Heather Quiroz, First-Century Youth Ministry. Exploring our Jewish Roots to Reclaim Discipleship. (San Diego, CA: The Youth Cartel, 2020) Ch 8
- Heather Quiroz, First-Century Youth Ministry. Ch 9