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FIRST-PERSON: When you’re the oldest in the room

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (BP) — No one announced it.

One day I realized I was the oldest in the room! It happened just like that.

My brain didn’t reflect my age. I still thought in terms of “What am I going to do with my life?”

Not “What DID I do with my life?”

I was sitting with some women whom I considered my peers when the flurry of questions erupted: When you were younger, how DID you deal with this? When your kids were smaller, how DID you do that?

All the “DID” words added up and I calculated that I was a decade older than them.

It didn’t help that one of my friends said, “We’re so thankful for you. Since our parents aren’t here, it’s like you’re my kids’ fill-in-grandparent.” (I don’t even have grandchildren and still have a child at home, thank you very much!)

So, what do you do when you suddenly become the oldest in the room?

— Own it! Yes, your bag of tricks and life stories are all a mess. No, you don’t have it all figured out. But isn’t that the point? You’ve journeyed this far without having it all figured out. Be honest, you’ve failed and succeeded. Lead them to discern the lies of the enemy in their life-journey and share the hard ways you discovered truth.

— Ask questions, but don’t give away all the answers. Start conversations by asking questions that probe real life. You know what they are because you wrestled with the same issues. Jesus did this; He asked questions to reveal the heart but He let them answer or think about it. In other words, you can lead and influence without being a know-it-all. By asking questions you can lead them to open their heart and discover God without preaching a sermon.

— Be a safe place to process life. Many people struggle with knowing how to find God in the middle of their circumstances. Creating a safe place to process life fosters an atmosphere of discipleship. It’s an invitation to download thoughts, feelings and ask questions without fear of being judged. Listening is the key ingredient to creating a safe atmosphere.

— Communicate that you want to learn from them. Howard Hendrix said, “Leaders are incurable learners.” Not only do generations above us have things to teach us, but also the generations below us. They are full of creative ideas and solutions. They have energy, new direction and a freshness that is contagious.

— Be a contextual-izer. Being in one generation is no reason not to be contextual to the next generation. “Contextual” is a missionary word that simply means learn the culture and speak the language in a way that can be understood and accepted. A sure way not to do this is to pound your fist and tell people how it used to be in the “good ol’ days.” It doesn’t mean you fake “cool” either.

The value of your life experience is incredible. But if wisdom isn’t expressed in a way that the next generation can understand it, then the words remain only wisdom to the teacher.

    About the Author

  • Lori McDaniel
    Lori McDaniel serves as a global mission catalyst with the International Mission Board. After serving as missionaries in Africa, she and her husband Mike planted Grace Point Church in Bentonville, Ark. She writes about ministry life at Flourish.me. Read All by Lori McDaniel ›