Gray Can (Still) Seize the Day: Years Bring Advantages to Older Youth Workers

By David Olshine | October 30 2010

I was in my late 20s when I attended my first National Youth Workers Convention. Everyone there looked as if he or she was 20-something.

No longer. The heads in the last few youth ministry conventions I've attended have been looking a lot grayer; or maybe I'm just aware of them now, having aged with them.

No Fountain of Youth, But…

A sense of grace and calling from God can renew a fatigued person and restore a measure of drive and commitment—and sometimes, even spurts of explosive energy. Wasn't Abram called to leave Ur at 75? Wasn't Moses called to lead Israel at 80?

Calling has little if anything to do with age—yet we are often too quick to let age determine our calling. Of course, people eventually should retire, whether from youth ministry, bus driving or banking. All I'm saying is that whatever your age—regardless of the number—follow your calling whatever it is.

God's grace and calling can surround your aging process, as well as your profession Here, too, it can produce contentment.

We know aging can lead to contentment or discouragement. On the other hand, growing older can lead to growing contentment. Older leaders are content with who they are (that is, their strengths) and who they aren't (their limitations).

In Front Porch Tales, Philip Gulley writes, "When I was younger, I was consumed with the idea of being known. I aspired to a big pulpit in a big city making a big name for myself. What I've gotten instead is a small pulpit in a big city, making a lot of friends. Sometimes what we think we need isn't what we need at all."

Face it: Sometimes we don't know what we need. "I've learned by now how to be quite content whatever my circumstances,'' said the apostle Paul, who when he wrote this to the Philippian Christians was alone, growing older in prison, his physical body showing the years' wear and tear. Yet the apostle retained a profound degree of contentment—of being OK with himself, with who he was and whose he was. "Whatever I have, wherever I am," he wrote, "I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am." Paul never forgot that he was connected to Jesus Christ, who would power him through his own aging.

The Costs of Staying in Ministry as an Oldster

"What are the disadvantages of being an older youth worker?" I asked the middle-aged-and-still-in-ministry attendees at a recent National Youth Workers Convention. Their responses focused on their diminished physical and mental energies.

"I'm worn out. I'm tired," confessed one of the forum participants. "Constantly, frankly," he added, "my love for the church has waned during the past few years."

Other youth workers articulated their fatigue:

• "Lock-ins wear me out. Anymore, my limit is 11 p.m."

• "Repelling and rock climbing just plain hurt."

• "My energy level isn't what it used to be."

• "I can't sleep on the floor."

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