Still Productive and Fruitful in Old Age
- Summary: The context? I spoke this message at a pastors’ conference some years ago. Many of the references that I made related to the ministers and wives attending that conference. However, its truths are broadly applicable to all believers in their later years. If you find yourself in the autumn of your life, come and be encouraged by the multiple ways the Lord has for you to continue to bear fruit and be productive for the Lord in your senior years.
Psalm 92:12-14 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.
- • The midpoint age of the male conference guests here today is 54. We are not a group of spring chickens! [Context reminder: I was speaking to a conference of ordained ministers]
- • Many here have completed 20-30 years of full-time ministry. I’m part of a pastors’ weekly prayer group in Medford. Our average age there is 62.
- • As I talk with middle-aged and older men, I frequently hear words of discouragement. Things like:
- • “Will there ever be fruit again like in the great move of God in the 1970s?”
- • “Will American society ever come back to the church?”
- • “Do older ministers like me still have a place in God’s work?”
- • “Will I personally bring forth more harvest? Or am I being increasingly set aside because of my advancing years?”
- • “Will I remain effective? Or will I decline with age?”
- • These are valid questions for us [I was age 60 at the time of the conference]. We need answers, and the bible has answers. But some of them require a rethinking of things and perhaps some adjustments.
- • One encouraging promise in this verse is: “The righteous … [who stay] planted in the house of the Lord … will still bear fruit in old age.” As we remain faithful to the Lord’s “house” — that is, His Church — we will find that He gives us various ways to continue being fruitful and productive in His service, even when elderly.
- • How will we still bear fruit in old age? Come see. That’s the theme for today’s session.
Numbers 8:23-26a The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.
- • I was astounded when I first discovered this verse. The Levites were men officially set apart by God for various ministry functions in the service of the Lord’s tabernacle, and later in His temple. And God directed them to retire from their fulltime regular ministries at the age of 50!
- • As they passed through what we today would call “middle age” en route to their “senior” years, God had them turn their regular ministry duties over to younger Levites.
- • They could assist these younger ministers, but “they themselves [could] not do the [ministry] work” that they had formerly done.
- • Essentially, this verse was saying to them: Do your “regular service” [your ministry] up until a certain age. For the Levites it was 50; for Aaron the priest it was considerably older. But the point is that at some point in our ministries (whether in our late-middle years or perhaps our senior years), for the great majority of us there will come a time to turn our ministry roles over to the next generation. From that point on, although you are no longer leading the work, you may “assist your brothers” to whom the leadership reins have been given. [Note: at the time of this conference, I was blessed to have in our Medford church a retired pastor from Alaska. He rendered valuable assistance to me, but in his senior years he no longer carried the pressures of full-time church leadership.]
Deuteronomy 34:7-9 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone…  Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
- • Moses led Israel until he died at the age of 120! Now that is certainly the exception, not the rule. Moses had a very rare (I believe divinely-given, supernatural) vigor into his old age. The point here is that our natural strength, vigor, and health definitely matter and will help us determine the “when” for our transition into new, fruit-bearing activities commensurate with our age, energy, and health.
- • I realize that my personal experience is limited. But for what it’s worth, of the hundreds of pastors and other ministers I have known, my sense of it is that most of them seem to transition into less-demanding spiritual activities somewhere in their 60s. Some are older, some are younger. But most of the men of God I have known over several decades of ministry seemed to find a time in their 60s to turn the reins of leadership over to the next generation of God’s ministers.
- • [Editorial postscript: I turned over my role as lead pastor to a very qualified younger pastor on my 63rd birthday. Since then I have pursued alternative ministry avenues, in order to continue bearing fruit in my old age. The Lord led me to start this website in 2004. And as I post this message to the website in 2015, there are currently about 42,000 visitors each month coming online here to read and study the word of God. Hallelujah! And thank you for being one of those visitors. God has given me an avenue of ministry for my senior years that still contributes to His overall kingdom work, taking into account my reduced energies and strength in these later years. God will do similar things for you, consistent with His plan for you and the spiritual gifts He has put in your life.]
2 Samuel 21:15-17 Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted… But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.”
- • Each of us in leadership needs the wisdom to get out of the way at the right time, lest we prevent younger ministers from bearing fruit at their greater pace and energy levels.
- • Here the aging King David was wanting to keep going out to battle with his men. But due to his age, he “became exhausted.” Another of his men had to come to his rescue and save the once great warrior king from being killed by a Philistine soldier. David’s men realized that they needed to step up and replace their elderly king on the battlefield, so they exhorted him to let them carry the burden of the battles from then on.
- • I recall the words of my spiritual father and pastor when, at age 64, he turned the leadership of a large church over to his successor. He mentioned that he no longer had the energy at that age to lead the church in ways that the younger generation of ministry could with their youth and greater vigor.
- • But for my pastor, that did not mean the end of ministry. Now, as an elder-father in the Lord, he had the time to keep in touch with many younger ministries by phone and correspondence. And he continued for a while being available to preach when he was invited, without the daily pressures of “office hours” and church leadership.
- • I found the same in my “retirement” years. I no longer had the pressures of administration and leadership as a senior pastor. But I found that the Lord continued to present to me opportunities for preaching and teaching consistent with my advancing age. Also my Pentecostal sermons website that I mentioned above is for me a very satisfying way to feel “useful” in the Lord’s work at a more sustainable, more leisurely pace.
1 Kings 12:6-8, 13-14a Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him…  The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, he followed the advice of the young men.
- • There was much collective wisdom in the late King Solomon’s older counselors. There is great fruit to be borne in old age by being available as mentors and counselors to younger ministers and, for that matter, to younger people in general.
- • The new King Rehoboam rejected the good advice of the older counselors and accepted the harsh advice of his younger peers. The result was the tragic split of the once-united nation of Israel into the northern kingdom (Israel) and the southern kingdom (Judah).
- • As an older man, hopefully with the wisdom that comes with years, I hope never to lose my strong concern for and involvement with younger ministers and younger men seeking to move forward in the Lord. At this point, it’s not my desire to lead them, but to encourage them, to be available to them to give wisdom from decades of experience.
Philemon 1, 9 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker…  I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul — an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus…
- • Paul, “an old man,” continued to encourage the brethren via letters. In our modern times, we can do that more easily through email, phones, even face-to-face via Skype or FaceTime.
- • In my earlier ministry years I visited and ministered in about 45 churches that we were related to. But in the closing years of my full-time ministry, I found that my energies did not permit that type and amount of travel. So I made it a habit, even at a distance, to keep in touch with my ministry friends. Again, email and other modern communications make this much easier than in the apostle Paul’s day.
- • Some polls show that the biggest lament of men in ministry is debilitating loneliness! I’m confident that this is likely true in the general population, too. I can recall once, as a young man, walking through the bustling Times Square in New York, but still feeling alone in the crowd. My fellow seniors, I encourage you to reach out to those that you sense need a touch of friendship, an encouraging word. It means so much to people just to know that there is someone who cares about them. This is an excellent opportunity for bearing fruit in old age — care about people, and let them know it!
Titus 2:4-5, Living Bible These older women must train the younger women to live quietly, to love their husbands and their children, and to be sensible and clean minded, spending their time in their own homes, being kind and obedient to their husbands so that the Christian faith can’t be spoken against by those who know them.
- • Older ladies, you have a great ministry opportunity with the younger ladies in your circle of family and friends. The best teachers of womanly virtues to the young women are the older women who have learned important lessons over a lifetime.
- • For example, my late wife Mickey did an amazing job as the main, in-home influence on our four children. Thankfully, they have all grown into law-abiding adults, with good character and dedication to the Lord. My wife made herself available for this Titus 2 ministry by mentoring younger mothers in child raising. Here’s an amazing testimony of how important this ministry is. Twenty-six years ago a lady in our church in Alaska asked my wife for advice on raising her firstborn son. That baby boy has grown up, and he recently married my daughter! His Mom (and Dad) did a great job raising him, and my son-in-law is a young man of exceptional character. Amazingly, the advice that my wife shared 26 years ago with a young mother helped her little boy become the man of God that my daughter fell in love with and married. I’m sure she’s often thinking, “Thank you, Mom!”
1 Corinthians 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Philippians 3:17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters…
- • Our society is desperately short of godly role models. Sad to say, even in many churches there is a shortage of good role models.
- • There is much fruit to be borne by your being a good example of faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, integrity, prayerfulness, and other aspects of godly character. Even if in your later years you don’t hold some “official” role in your church, you can have a profound impact on others by the honorable example you set for them. Believe me, young people are looking for such role models.
[A reminder: the context of this message was a conference of pastors. But the principles are broadly applicable to all of us.]
Let me summarize. A few of you pastors, like Moses, may continue to bear fruit well into old age in senior leadership positions — if not in direct leadership, perhaps in a senior elder-advisor role. In my opinion, a far greater percentage of you will, like the Levites, hear the Lord’s direction to “retire from your regular service” at a reasonable and appropriate age.
That point in time may be your mid or late “middle age” years, or perhaps into your “senior” years. With me it was age 63. Be alert for the Lord to open up new opportunities for bearing fruit.
- • You may “assist” the next generation of leaders.
- • You might do volunteer work, such as hospital visitation, under your pastor’s guidance.
- • Perhaps you have a gift of mercy and might make yourself available to others needing a word of encouragement.
- • You could volunteer for some church administrative role, perhaps in bookkeeping or other clerical work, in grounds maintenance or building cleanup, and the like.
- • Perhaps there is a Sunday school or children’s ministry class to teach that would fit you like a hand in a glove!
- • The opportunities are nearly endless, at the time and pace that you can handle. Remember, like King David, you don’t want to “become exhausted.”
- • With more available time, you might feel led by the Lord into a ministry of prayer and intercession for others.
If King Rehoboam had listened to his older counselors, it might have changed the entire history of the twelve tribes of Israel. In 1971 I was about to make a decision for my future that seemed good to me but, as it turned out, wasn’t from the Lord. I was sharing about this with an elderly lady in our church. She sincerely urged me, “Don’t go!” I listened to her wisdom, and it preserved me from making what would have been a bad decision.
You older men and women have learned much wisdom by experience. Men, as a relationship develops, consider becoming a mentor to a younger man. You mature ladies, be willing to share your accumulated wisdom on womanly things with the younger ladies, as Titus 2:4-5 encourages you to do. Be “mothers in Israel” to the young women (Judges 5:7).
All of us, throughout our middle and senior years, can be godly examples. We can…
- • …model what a faithful Christian is
- • …model what a lover of Jesus and His church is
- • …model what a good husband or wife is
- • …model biblical parenting or grandparenting
- • …be a role model of submission, commitment, faithfulness, and a host of other virtues and godly character traits
An important key to all this is found in our first verse (Psalm 92:13-14): “…planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age.” Be faithful men and women of the church. Love the church. Stay devoted to the “house of God.” Be there when the doors are open. And go from there built up, energized spiritually, and flourishing in fruitful ministry opportunities even into your old age!
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©2003, 2015, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.