How to Lead People Older Than You

How to Lead People Older Than You

Three tips for setting up a great relationship
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Ask Good Questions

Too often when in a position to lead, we’re caught in the trap of believing we must have all the answers. This trap can be heightened when leading those who are older because we don’t want to seem inexperienced or incapable of leading. Good leaders don’t need all of the answers—they just need to know where to find them.

There’s such freedom in realizing that each person we lead has life experience to share and wisdom from which we can learn. Not everyone will freely offer their opinions, but when we let our leaders know we value them and their experience, they’re much more willing and honored to share. We just need to put ourselves in a posture to learn, having the humility to believe that sometimes it’s the right questions—not the right answers—that make us great leaders.

My husband and I recently led a small group that attracted many people who were new to our church. We had a wide range of ages, which led to conversations that were robust and insightful. One young woman who was just out of college was uniquely gifted in asking questions. She paid close attention to whomever was speaking and picked up on nuances and subtleties many others missed. Then she would press for clarity in important areas. She was candid and curious and not afraid to dig a little deeper. She was also able to bridge age and experience gaps in conversation and ensure that everyone was included, simply by asking the right questions.

I occasionally had trouble figuring out how to include the oldest couple in our small group in our conversations, so I looked to her for help. She would remember comments from previous weeks and incorporate those shared experiences into direct questions to effectively loop them in. They went from being outside of the group to frequently sharing incredible wisdom and insights all because of her willingness to ask others to share their experience.

When Jesus was 12, he stayed behind at the temple after Passover. We read in Luke 2:40 that he was “filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” When sitting at the feet of elders, we’re told he listened and asked questions while everyone else was amazed at his understanding of what was taught (Luke 2:46–47).

If Jesus, filled with wisdom and supernatural understanding, can learn from his elders, we can too. It’s wonderful to read that it wasn’t his single-handed understanding of the law, but his questions that amazed everyone. Let’s follow his example and remember to ask and listen.

Walk in Confidence

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul instructs Timothy, a young leader, on leading elders in the church. Paul tells him to command and teach the law while living a life that sets an example for others. He further instructs Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you” (vs. 14). Remember that you were prayerfully selected for a position of leadership and the care of others. Don’t neglect the gift you have been given. It’s important that our leadership is marked by humility, but it’s equally important to have confidence in our appointed role.

In college I served as the Middle School Intern at my childhood church. In this position I co-led our middle-school ministry, discipling several of our middle-school students through a crazy period of transition in their lives. They looked to me for life experience and reassurance that things would get easier. The foundation of the guidance I provided them, though peppered with stories from my own life, was grounded in biblical truth.

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