Every church has them: Senior Saints. They’re respected, listened to, sought out. They have influence. They have history. They can be a beautiful asset to the church family, and in many cases, they are. In some, sadly, they are not.
Perhaps the difference begins in how we define Senior Saints. How does one become a Senior Saint? By age? Proven track record of consistent maturity? Family name? Can people differ about who is a Senior Saint based on different qualities, thus making it a popularity contest of friendships? Can a Senior Saint lose his or her status?
I don’t have all the answers, but I know this: There have been Senior Saints in many churches I’ve attended, and I’ve met many as I’ve spoken at various churches around the country. I often don’t have to ask who they are. I notice them by the way they interact with and attract others. I notice a certain quality of speaking to others and, more important, listening to others with respect. They’re often teachers, but not always formal teachers; they simply meet people where they are and take them the next steps. They’re growth-producers. They’ll say the tough stuff, but they always do it appropriately…with compassion, never behind someone’s back, humbly, and only as God guides. They don’t say too much or too little, and when they do, they admit it and apologize.
To answer a couple of my earlier questions,
- How does one become a Senior Saint? Sadly, sometimes by age, family name, or popularity, but that’s not reflective of the necessity of respect, humility, and compassion a Senior Saint truly possesses. Serving more can’t help someone attain the status. Making more friends can’t help someone attain the status. Those who are truly Senior Saints rarely strive to be one. They rarely see themselves as one. They don’t demand certain treatment, visits, obligations, or recognition, because their way, preference, comfort, and convenience is always secondary to God’s way.
- Can a Senior Saint lose his or status? Yes. No one is immune to spiritual decline. Just because people would seek the godly advice of someone ten years ago doesn’t mean he or she has matured and should be sought out today. Just because someone was spiritually mature enough to fulfill a role of influence a year ago doesn’t mean something significant hasn’t happened in his or her life to impact where he or she is spiritually headed. We will all decline if we are not intentional about growth.
I’ve watched some people I respected behave in ways I would never have predicted. Because of the respect they had at one time, people continue to follow them, assuming everything they say and do is still biblical, yet it only takes a short step back to see a spiritual cancer consuming them and the immediate circle of friends and community they impact. Times of conflict and change often reveal these shifts in spiritual maturity the most. I’ve seen people I respected behave in ways that are painful to watch. I know they’re hurting, and I want to help, but because of the influence they have established through the years, they often hurt a lot more people before realizing the blind spots in their lives.
Times of conflict and change often reveal another shift in spiritual maturity: toward growth. I’ve seen people I didn’t know could handle a situation with grace, mercy, and compassion reflect God’s character in huge ways as they refuse to bend to gossip and assumptions and commit to seeking truth and authentic conversations instead.
I’ve lost respect for some, and I’ve gained respect for others. I’m sure my respect will continue to change, because I’m changing. I am growing closer to God. I am discerning who God created me to be and how he wants me to respond…with grace, mercy, and compassion…regardless of where someone is and where she is headed along her spiritual journey.
May I live out at least a fraction of the patience God extends to me on a daily basis!