It’s common for men to think they have nothing to offer after they retire. It’s time to resurrect the noble mantle of “patriarch.”
By Dennis Rainey
About a dozen men sat at the table in a prestigious country club, all former executives and highly successful. Leaders. Champions. Bright, intelligent minds.
Married between 45 to 60 years, these men clearly had plenty to share with a younger generation. Their grey heads only added to the dignity of their ageless character.
At the time I was still president of FamilyLife, and they had asked me to talk for about 10 minutes about what we were doing to strengthen marriages and families here in America. I casually mentioned that I would be speaking to a gathering of executives a couple of days later about “Qualities of a Patriarch.”
What happened next was fascinating. And instructive.
It was as though I’d touched an open nerve. Even though I was much younger and a rookie by comparison, they eagerly listened and wanted to share their experiences. For the next 45 minutes they peppered me with questions, peeling back their hearts and sharing disappointments, frustrations, doubts, desires, and even a few dreams.
They talked about how their adult children were critical of them, pushing them to the fringes of their lives. They were treated as useless, unnecessary—except as babysitters—and they felt their family really didn’t value or want their influence or involvement in their lives.
They said the only opportunities their church offered for involvement were ushering, serving on the stewardship committee, and giving to building plans. They lamented that the culture had become so youth-oriented that they felt emasculated—treated as though they were done, with little to offer except their checkbook.
These men—who had once been leaders of their families, kings in their businesses, and sought-after sages in their communities—were now uncertain what their assignment should be in this late season of life. Like broken and aging antiques gathering dust in the attic, they felt they had outlived their purposes.
Honestly it was sad. A tragedy that hadn’t fully unraveled.
But as they interacted, I could see in their eyes that they longed to be challenged again. War-hardened and savvy, these sage soldiers wanted to fill their nostrils with the smoke of the battlefield and engage in the fight. They really didn’t want to trade their swords and armor for a 5-iron and a PGA golf shirt.
In their chests, they realized they were made for something far nobler and exceedingly heroic than wasting what was left of their lives, shriveling in a recliner zoned out watching cable news.
I sat there astonished at what amounted to “grand theft”— an unthinkable cultural heist of real men robbed of their glory by a complicity of forces that had stripped them of their courage and dreams in the daytime.
I couldn’t help but think of my mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, who taught over 13,000 young men at Dallas Theological Seminary and died with his warrior boots on in his 80s after six decades being called “Prof.” He was the best teacher I had in several decades of education. His prophetic voice echoes in mind today: “The day your past is more exciting than the future is the day you start to die.”
Why are you here?
I left that meeting with two conclusions. First, most men don’t know how to think about aging from a biblical perspective. They don’t know what the Bible has to say. Instead of continuing to pursue God and His purposes for their lives, they step down and squander a lifetime of experience, wisdom, and abilities. They erroneously conclude their impact is over and take their cues from the culture about retirement.
Think with me for a moment: How many men do you know in their sixties, seventies, and eighties who are vigorous, still growing in their faith, and still using their influence for God? Men so visionary, so alive, so positive and expectant about how God is going to use them, that you want to be like them when you reach that age?
A second conclusion was evident: It is time to resurrect the mantles of “sage” and “patriarch.” Whatever word you prefer, it’s time for a new order of gallant, life-seasoned men who courageously arise, strip away the encumbrances of materialism, and do battle on behalf of the souls of their children, grandchildren, communities, and nation.
For those of you who are over 65 years old—and especially if you are retired—I have a tough question: If you’re finished making a difference, then why are you here?
Do you think your best days are behind you? Do you think you don’t have anything else to give? Do you think that the Creator of the universe, who slung a billion galaxies into outer space, doesn’t have a purpose and a plan for you?
Or on the other hand, wouldn’t you love to be able to articulate your mission for the years you’ve got left? Wouldn’t you like to know what and feel noble about you’re living for?
Could you imagine others considering you to be … a sage or a patriarch?
Men after God’s heart
The word “patriarch” come from the Latin word patri, which means “father.” Webster defines a patriarch as it relates to a family as, “a man who is a father or founder, the oldest representative of a group, a venerable [esteemed] old man.”
Unfortunately, in today’s culture many people consider “patriarch” a dirty word. For some it conjures images of male chauvinism, of self-serving men who rule their homes through fear, force, and manipulation.
Don’t you see the strategy of the enemy of our souls? He amplifies the abuse and misuse of a redemptive assignment that is sacred.
So use the word “sage” if you prefer. Either word describes the men we see in the Old Testament— imperfect men like Abraham, Isaac, and David who served as heads of their families and were described as men after God’s heart. In today’s culture, true patriarchs are men who spend their final years investing in the generations to come. They are men who realize their potential to have a lasting influence in their families and in their communities.
I began to become interested in the thought of being a patriarch as my children grew into adults and began to marry. My role as a daddy and father was changing; I knew that as they established their own families I no longer had the same type of authority in their lives.
But I also began to recognize that my work as a father was not finished … it was just changing. Even though my children were adults, they still needed my encouragement and prayers. I’m no longer the head coach calling the plays, but I’ve become a fan on the sidelines, cheering them on.
As patriarchs, we have the time to cheer for our grandchildren and pass on stories of how God has worked in our lives. One of my grandchildren once asked me how Barbara and I helped start FamilyLife. I gave him a condensed version of the story and was reminded of Psalm 71:17-18, a passage you might call the memoirs of a patriarch: “O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.”
Does that stir something in your chest? Stiffen your backbone? If it doesn’t light your fire maybe your wood is wet! Or perhaps you need to pray and ask God for a purpose and vision that is worthy of your life?
A vision older men need
What an opportunity we have as we enter into the final years of life to use the wisdom and influence we’ve accumulated to reach out to the next generation. This is the vision many men today need for their final years.
I think of Bill Barber, a one-of-a-kind, lifelong Texan with a wonderful, earthy sense of humor. I met Bill after his son, Clay, came to work at FamilyLife, and I remember when I wrote him a letter and recognized what he already was, a patriarch. He later wrote me to say he was surprised at my remark. “Heck, I didn’t realize that I was one.”
Bill said he’d been called repulsive, obnoxious, anachronistic, a con man, funny, crazy, opinionated, a rascal, and “an enigma with savoir faire.” But he kind of liked this new title of “patriarch.”
“Fact is, I’m really loving this patriarching,” he wrote. It is “a lot simpler than most of my peers think. You gotta quit fighting it. Oh, yes, it doesn’t hurt to be 1) an encourager; 2) a servant; 3) to disciple; 4) sometimes be silent; 5) forgiving to others and self. … Being a patriarch is just not too bad.”
So if you want to “re-up” and sign on for some fresh fire, here’s what I suggest:
1. Ask God to show you a real live sage where you live. He’ll likely be in your local church. If you can’t spot one, ask your pastor to give you three names of older men you can take to lunch.
2. Ask these men questions like: “Do you see yourself as a sage or patriarch? If so, how did that come about?” ... “What’s your mission, your vision for this season of life?” ... “Could you explain the process of how you landed on that assignment? What does it look like practically?” ... “How are you seeing God show up in your life?” ... “How do you like patriarching? Is it worth it?”
3. If you find the right man, ask him if he’ll mentor you over the next 12 months. Meet once a month. He can instruct and you can offer to bring a load of questions that you can pepper him with.
Admit your stage and age. Stop listening to and believing the enemy’s lies. And join the movement.
Adapted from my book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, FamilyLife Publishing. Copyright © Dennis Rainey. Seasoned by a lot of trial and error in over seven decades of life. And a relentless determination that I’m not going to waste my life.
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