How to help older saints use technology (and maybe learn a thing or two while we’re at it.)
I wrote this just after I got off the phone with my (delightful, Godly, wise, mature) grandmother, for the 4th time in one day about a simple phone question. She wanted to film and send a video on her phone to someone. She had worked out how to film it, but couldn’t work out where it had ended up and how to send it. I had walked her through a few options and given her time to go try it out, but on the last phone call, she had decided that she was just going to send some photos instead.
Most days I am tempted to feel frustrated and impatient, and it’s easy to give in. And I have become convinced that we are called to honour and respect and cherish the older saints in our church. Instead of getting frustrated and impatient, imagine if we could get to the point of enjoying and delighting in these moments.
As we return to technology-heavy lockdown, and even just as we continue to rely on technology to make our week-to-week ministries happen, older saints will continue to struggle to stay connected. If you have turned your church newsletter into an e-newsletter, you will know the struggle of getting it to the person that doesn’t do email. If you’ve got a rostering system that relies on members being sent invitations that they need to accept on Elvanto, you might be tempted to roster people with little digital literacy on less regularly, or get that creeping feeling of bitterness and frustration - knowing you’re going to have to manually ask them to double check they know they are on. Or maybe (like me) it’s the family member that calls you every few days who needs help sending a photo on their phone, and you’ve already shown them three times.
Maybe you’re groaning a bit at how much you see yourself there. But what I want to share today is why we need to do better and what we can do when it comes to the older brothers and sisters, who are the spiritual grandparents of our Churches.
Let’s turn to the scriptures:
1 Timothy 5:1-2 says; ‘Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.’
And 2 Timothy 1:5 says; ‘I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.’
The scriptures show us that we owe much to our spiritual forebears, our grandparents, and parents in the faith! We ought to treat them accordingly; with great respect. Just as Timothy owed much to his mother and grandmother; ‘their sincere faith’, so too do I owe much to my own Grandmother, and indeed those in my church.
Sometimes when my dear grandmother is calling for the 3rd time, for me to show her how to open the zoom app, I am tempted to feel frustrated and irritated, and wish that someone else could show her. But then I remember that she is calling so that she can join her bible study even while in lockdown. I used to work in events and take phone calls from dear older sisters and brothers who were faithful scripture teachers for 50 years, but couldn’t use the website to book for a conference. How much do I need to remind myself of what is most important at this moment. My small act of assistance, helps them to continue in their faithful work God is doing powerfully through them. What I need, what we need is to remind ourselves in these moments, is that we need to let these moments grow us and shape us and prioritise the brother or sister that we are helping. For God is using them powerfully for his kingdom.
I am hoping that what I’ve learnt over the years helping many older saints, might just help you to not only love, respect and value our older brothers and sisters, but also to grow ourselves in patience, understanding and assisting.
So, here are five things that might help you as we continue to do church in a season of difficulty that relies on technology for connection. A few key questions to keep asking yourself are
Who is benefitting here?
Am I primarily helping them, or am I helping myself?
Am I seeking to set them up for long term success?
1. One new thing at a time.
It is important to not assume that someone is able to learn new things at the same rate that you are. For digital natives learning a new thing is just part and parcel with constant and the relentless technological updates. However, for someone who is a little older, learning a new thing on a phone or computer is more like learning a new phrase in a language. Initially it feels totally foreign and unfamiliar but then as they practice it 5, 10 or 15 times it becomes more familiar and remains something that is achievable on their own. When you are teaching someone how to use something, or assisting them, my top tip is to only try to teach one new thing for them to do themselves at a time. If there are multiple steps to the process, don’t assume that they will remember it all, and give them plenty of time to ask questions or write down the process. So, choose one thing like; how to open and write a new email. (One thing is not how to use emails... Go slow and choose one very specific thing!)
2. Gentle encouragement.
When you teach anyone anything, it is important to reinforce with gentle encouragement. If they are struggling, encourage them gently to keep giving it a go! But make sure you do this with gentleness and respect. It is incredibly frustrating and demoralising when you can’t do something that seems simple to other people, so you need to come with an extra measure of gentle encouragement that gives time for them to work it out. What this might look like is walking someone through something, slowly and asking them do bits and pieces along the way, and reminding them if they have done it before, just giving small prompts to help them find it themselves.
3. Give agency/choice.
Sometimes they’ll want to learn how to do it themselves, and sometimes they’ll want you to do it for them. But you need to make sure that you give this choice to the person you are helping. Obviously, there might be times where time is of the essence, and you may need to jump in and do something quickly. But it is important to check your own motives here; are you doing it for them because you would find walking them through it too difficult, or because you’re in a rush to get back to whatever you were doing? Do you see them as a burden, or as a brother or sister to help, grow, cherish, and learn from? Allowing someone the choice of what they’d like to do and learn is important, both for their confidence and for showing respect in your relationship to them.
4. Be available.
Similar to ‘one thing at a time’ the main principle here is that; learning new things takes time. You may have to teach and re-teach, and they may learn just a small part at a time or get slightly faster each time. Be careful not to put pressure on learning as much as you expect the first time. This will make it far more difficult for them to learn, and it will increase feelings of guilt and burden that they may feel they are towards you. As much as you may feel like they are a burden taking up your time, they probably feel that they are a burden taking up yours. But the truth is that you are a gift to each other, members of the same body, there for the building up of the church.
5. Patience and genuine care, for them, their contribution, and their growth.
This might seem simple, but too often our goal is not helping that individual but making things easier and more efficient for ourselves. Once again it’s worth asking the question ‘who is benefitting here? You will find it especially difficult to do most of the above things if you don’t have a genuine care for the brother or sister you are trying to help. You will also find that this process will test and hopefully grow your patience, but it is important to remember that it is your patience that you are responsible for and not the person you are talking to. They are not testing your patience, rather your impatience and a space for you to grow in the fruit of the spirit is being revealed and that is a great blessing and gift.
You might have read the story at the beginning thinking, ‘You must be very frustrated after that many calls.’ And I think on another day, perhaps I would have been. But intermingled between the technology chat, my dear grandmother was telling me about which chapter of Jeremiah she had been reading, and I realised that after 10 weeks of lockdown and several calls a week about technology issues, that what had happened was that we were more regularly sharing with one another. What a joy to share scriptures and prayer points and the every day of our lives more regularly! And, rather than finding it frustrating, I found myself looking forward to it. Indeed, even my housemates look forward to the inevitable call on Tuesday night in the middle of dinner when she was going into zoom bible study, just double checking that everything was going to work.
Let this be an encouragement to you that as you go slowly and patiently through this process, remember your task is not simply the task. There might be great opportunities for you to be blessed by a relationship with older saints who encourage and grow you in your walk with Jesus. We can learn from those who are more mature than us what it looks like to be truly and thankfully reliant on God for all things, remembering that we cannot do anything on our own.
So then, let us delight in using our gifts to love the body and serve one another and be thankful for diversity in the body of Christ that we are all members of.