Bob Russell

    Bob Russell1 I just completed three weeks of teaching and preaching at, “Senior Saints in the Smokies” – a four day retreat for seniors conducted by Johnson University. Johnson University, formerly Johnson Bible College, is located 20 minutes southeast of Knoxville, Tennessee and has sponsored this event for the past twenty-five years. Johnson’s campus with its rural setting and colonial style buildings is by far the most attractive and impressive of the Restoration Movement Bible Colleges.

Senior Saints in the Smokies is sort of a Christian Camp for retired people. Between 250-350 attend each week. They stay in the College dorms, eat in the school cafeteria and are hosted and served by the college faculty and administrators. There are Bible studies and workshops each morning, various recreational activities in the afternoon and inspirational programs in the evening. For example, this past Tuesday The Master’s Men from Southeast sang and I preached. On Wednesday the Triumphant Quartet, one of the finest gospel quartets I’ve ever heard, conducted a concert.

I told my audience the first week that it doesn’t seem very long ago that I was a youth speaker and now suddenly I’m a Senior Adults Speaker. But the strange thing is I look out in the audience and see the same people! There are a few more wrinkles, gray hairs and receding hairlines but it’s the same crowd. I recalled my mother once saying she looked in the mirror and thought, “What is this 16 year old girl doing in this 70 year old body?” I understand now what she was talking about.

Most preachers will tell you, there is no better audience to preach to than older Christians. It’s much easier to speak to seniors than teens. Older believers are attentive, appreciative and supportive. They are quick to laugh and they weep easily when their hearts are touched. That’s not true of all senior citizens but I’ve witnessed it repeatedly in Christian people who have matured in their faith. There really is a spirit of joy that intensifies with the passing of time. The Apostle Paul explained it by writing, “Outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we’re being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16)

However, in many churches seniors have a diminishing influence. Sometimes that’s because younger leaders, eager to reach the youth in the community, marginalize and ridicule older people. Other times it’s because older people have been the most vocal critics of younger leaders over petty issues and have lost credibility. I’m convinced – most of the time – it’s because those of us who are able to retire from our jobs erroneously think it’s time to coast spiritually. We back off church responsibilities and rationalize, “It’s time for the younger generation to take over”.

We do need to pass the baton to the next generation, but the Bible says older men are to teach the younger men and older women are to guide the younger women (See Titus 2:1-8). The church needs the vision and vitality of youth to be balanced with the wisdom and experience of age. Since people are retiring younger and living longer, older people should provide some of the most reliable and dedicated volunteers in the church. If young leaders get the impression that we want what is best for them and the church and not just our personal preferences, then we gain credibility. The older we get the more we should move from leadership to mentoring young leaders and passing along whatever wisdom God has blessed us with.

By providing a week of spiritual refreshment for Senior Saints, Johnson University has discovered something else – the older people are often the people with the most resources. That’s one of the reasons Johnson University is the most financially solid of all our Bible Colleges. The Senior Saints see the campus, meet faculty members and students and become generous supporters.

In these tough economic times seasoned Christians need to become increasingly generous. We shouldn’t be laying up treasure on earth when we’re going to leave it behind soon – we should be laying up treasure in heaven where Jesus promised a hundred-fold return on our investment. And younger church leaders need to be wise enough to recognize the “old coots” have the capacity to help pay the bills!  “He who has ears to hear let him hear.”                                Reprinted with permission from