Saturday, December 10, 2011

Revolutionary Ageism and the Church

There's a reason, I think, the Bible makes it a commandment to honor our parents and the New Testament commands us to care for the old folks in our family: God knows we tend to ignore them, which is really a form of hatred.

Yes, I know that sounds harsh. But can anyone doubt that the modern evangelical church has marginalized seniors and the elderly into ecclesiological inconsequence, that we have assimilated worldly culture's idolization of youth?

I once read in a friend's Facebook status that all the "old people" are gonna hate heaven if they think the worship music in churches is too loud. You know, because heaven's worship is going to be exactly like the laser light rock and roll concerts we got goin' on in evangelicalism right now. /sarcasm

Stupid old people and their lame musical tastes. They don't get "real" worship, do they?

Oddly enough, I thought about the youth-idolatry and pushing of our elders to the margins once while watching the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. At the end, after the king has been crowned, the entire procession -- men, elves, and dwarves -- bow a knee to the fat, furry-footed, diminutive hobbits. Why did it make me think of the ageism in the church? Because I think when we do get to heaven, we are going to find that we are honoring the people we wouldn't think to honor in real life (with any meaningful consideration).

Do we tend to think our churches are better off because we think old people are unbending, unhip, unsophisticated, unable to get "the vision"? As we push for multicultural ministry, do we forget multigenerational? When we get to heaven we will fully realize all the wisdom and experience and authority we not only squandered, but ridiculed. I fear the reason we don't pour much ministry into the elderly is because we don't figure we'll get much return on our investment when it comes to realizing our church vision, filling the seats, etc. (A church of all old people, of course, is just as much in danger as a church of all young people -- just a danger of a different kind.)

Yes, some old people don't "get it." But a lot of young people don't either. We just put up with them more and are willing to work with them more because they make our church look cooler.

My friend Darryl Dash wrote an amazing post once titled Don't Write Off the Seniors. Darryl can write this kind of stuff, because Darryl is a true pastor. A taste:
Don’t get me wrong here. I’ve been part of sleepy churches full of seniors who are resistant to change, and that holds no attraction to me.

But I’ve also seen churches full of loud music and jeans and untucked shirts that have the best lighting and video production, with no gray hair in sight. Is that any better than a seniors only church? I wonder. That holds no attraction to me either.

I have been in conferences in which the speaker has said that we need to change, and if the seniors don’t like it, then that’s too bad. Again, I believe seniors need to flex, but the glib writing off of an entire generation speaks to a serious blind spot in our approach to ministry today.
Darryl closes his post with a reflection on James 1:27, writing:
If our religion is pure, we will look after those who are oppressed and forgotten, and that surely includes a lot of seniors today. I’m increasingly convinced that we need to move beyond generationally divided ministry and take this seriously. And we’ve got to take some of the challenges they’re facing and figure out how we can visit them in their afflictions and actually help.

If we write off the seniors, James says, we’ve failed. That’s a pretty big deal.
True dat.

In our efforts to multiculturalize the church -- which is a great effort and a godly one -- let's not forget the need to multigenerationalize the church. Is your church monogenerational? If not, are your seniors second class citizens in your church? If so, what can you do to fix this?

The kingdom of God turns the tables on business as usual, and this includes church business as usual. The countercultural call of the kingdom requires a revolutionary ageism, where we actually honor our elders above ourselves and our youngers, actually honor those we are most tempted to deem having outlived their usefulness.


Brandi said...

Loved this post. Well said, Jared.

Taylor @ Mama Java said...

Very good points.

jbboren said...


Some churches do need to change. But most of the folks I know that are like the conference speaker you mentioned are more interested in changing things to what they like rather than to what God likes. They would rather minister to themselves than to the folks in need of change.

But then, can any of us really name anyone who isn't in need of some change?