Advice for Counseling Those Who Are Older

“He’s lived more than two of my lifetimes put together”. It was my first time ever counseling a married couple and they could have been my parents. Their children were my age. I sat across the counseling table considering what I would have to offer them. Adding to my feelings of inadequacy, an experienced pastor sat next to me to observe and critique my counseling.

As a young pastor, I am often challenged to grow and depend on God by ministering the Scriptures to those much older and wiser than me. As I look back on my first counseling opportunity with an older couple, I praise the Lord for the important lessons that God taught me through that experience that continue to benefit me today in counseling others.

Here are the top five lessons I have learned as a young pastor when ministering to those who are older.

1.      Worship the Lord for His Wisdom

When my heart is overwhelmed with fear not knowing what to say to those who are older and have more life experience, God comforts me with the depth of his wisdom and counsel.

Young counselors, allow your heart to be humbled in worship of the Lord’s wisdom before you counsel someone older.

God is worthy of our worship, because his judgments and ways are deeper, more unsearchable, and more unfathomable than any other.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” Romans 8:33-34 NASB

The Holy Spirit guides the apostle Paul to inspired worship of God as he considers and writes about the wisdom of God’s ways. The reason God is worthy of worship is because he is the only one who never needed advice or counsel. No one taught God anything.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” Job 38:4 NASB

“Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” Psalm 90:2 NASB

“I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure” Isaiah 46:9-10 NASB

Rejoice in the wisdom God has revealed through his creation, his word, and face to face in the glory of Jesus Christ. Turn to the eternal Counselor who knows everything and find wisdom for counseling every person of every age.

2.      Humbly Share How You Are Learning as You Teach

I am often tempted to be arrogant and wicked in my thinking:

  • “I can’t believe you don’t know this!”
  • “Let me teach you why you are wrong.”
  • “You thought this passage meant that?”

God desires me to worship him in humility and model the things I am learning and being taught as I teach others.

So I spend less time directly teaching someone older about a specific passage that I think will address their problems, and instead spend more time illustrating how God is teaching me the passage I desire to share with them. First humbling myself and sharing how I am learning to apply a passage helps guard me against condescendingly teaching those older than myself.

Teacher Mode Example: “John it grieves me to hear the way you spoke to your wife this week, let’s turn to Ephesians 4 and remind ourselves how you should have communicated.”

Humble Learner Example: “Thank you John for being honest about how you can grow in your communication. We need God’s help with this. I know that God was grieved by the way I spoke to my wife this week when I came home from work, I was demanding and impatient with her. Can I share with you how God’s word encouraged me after I sinned against her?”

3.      Ask for Permission Before You Speak

We teach our children to listen first when Dad and Mom are talking, before they speak or ask another question (Proverbs 18:13). Then in school we teach our children to raise their hands before they give an answer because this shows honor and respect to the teacher, who is given by God as an authority for their order and good (Romans 13:1-5). Humbly asking for permission to share, before you give counsel, is a practical way to show honor to those who are older. It also better prepares those you are counseling to want to listen to you, because they are giving you permission, rather than you assuming they want your counsel.

4.      Speak Wisely, Not Just Wisdom

As I counsel those who are older, I find myself at times focusing more on the content “What should I say?” to the neglect of the way I communicate, “How should I say this?”

It’s true, God’s word commands us to speak words of wisdom and truth from God’s word. Some of the commands that God instructs young Timothy focus on the content:

Prescribe and teach these things Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:11,13 NASB

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 NASB

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort…” 2 Timothy 4:2 NASB

But God’s wisdom spoken foolishly is not pleasing to God. God cares not only about what I say, but how I say it.

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father” 1 Timothy 5:1 NASB

“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” 2 Timothy 4:2

When speaking, I remind myself of a helpful memory tool for wise speech in Proverbs, that I learned from Dr. Bruce Waltke. Gentle BREATH.

GENTLE: Am I speaking with gentleness (tenderly)?

“A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 NASB

B – BOAST NOT – Am I speaking in a boastful way toward the other person?

“Do not boast about tomorrow,
For you do not know what a day may bring forth.                                                  

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:1-2 NASB

R – RESTRAINED – Am I restraining my speech under control and in moderation by remaining silent and not talking too much?

“The one who guards his mouth preserves his life;
The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3 NASB

“He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” Proverbs 27:27-28 NASB

E – EAVESDROP NOT – Am I slandering or participating in gossip by my speech?

“He who despises his neighbor lacks sense,
But a man of understanding keeps silent.” Proverbs 11:12 NASB

“He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” Proverbs 20:19 NASB

A – APT – Am I speaking in a way that is proper for the circumstances?

“A man has joy in an apt answer,
And how delightful is a timely word!” Proverbs 15:23 NASB

T – THOUGHTFUL – Am I giving careful thoughts to my words by listening before speaking so my words are edifying?

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Proverbs 15:28 NASB

“He who gives an answer before he hears,

It is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13 NASB

H – HONEST – Am I speaking the truth of God’s word clearly and not lying or concealing it?

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
But those who deal faithfully are His delight.” Proverbs 1222 NASB

“He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
Than he who flatters with the tongue.” Proverbs 28:23 NASB

5.      Value Maturity that Comes with Age

My wife often jokingly tells me it’s like she married an older man because of the clothes I wear, or the way I talk, or the ways I think about culture or modern events. I am thankful for this, because I spent a lot of time with my father in his business and working with those older than me. My parents encouraged me regularly to greet and talk to older adults and spend time with them learning about their lives. I was taught from a young age to value maturity because God values maturity. Paul encourages Timothy to desire maturity despite his youthfulness:

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NASB

Practically, one of the best ways a younger man grows to better minister God’s word to those who are older is by developing meaningful friendships with such godly men and women. Over time you will slowly imitate their conduct, speech, and example as they imitate Christ. This will help provide better counsel to those older.

Closing Practical Suggestions

  • Avoid common terms and jargon associated with young people
  • Avoid phrases that may be disrespectful, for example: using “you guys” for a married couple
  • Choose clothes that will not draw attention to your youthfulness
  • Make good eye contact
  • Be undistracted in conversation, particularly by technology
  • Spend additional time (more than you normally would) getting to know their story; learn the names of their children
  • Look for every opportunity to magnify and encourage any aspect of God’s grace in their life

What have been your experiences in counseling those who are older? What lessons have you learned through them? Share them in the comments below so we can all continue to learn together.

Aaron BirkAaron Birk
Aaron is married to Tirzah and has three children: Zemirah, Boaz, and Keziah. Aaron is the Pastor of Global Missions for Faith Church. He serves as a service Pastor for the 11:00 a.m. worship service at Faith West. Aaron oversees international students, missionaries, and short term missions. He is certified as a biblical counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).