Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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 hate them.

Yes, I know that sounds harsh. But can anyone doubt that the modern evangelical church has marginalized seniors and the elderly into ecclesiological inconsequence?

A few weeks ago a friend of mine had on his Facebook status some "rah rah" status about how 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. Buncha poo, that is.

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 -- and my friend's Facebook status -- two weeks ago while watching the end of The Lord of the Rings. 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).

Look around the average attractional mega-whatever: are there many old people there? Do you care? Do you think you're better off because you think old people are unbending, unhip, unsophisticated, unable to get "the vision"? Then you're an idiot. When we get to heaven we will fully realize all the wisdom and experience and authority we not only squandered, but ridiculed.

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 has an amazing post today 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.

(Somewhat) Related:
Observation on the Nines


Ali said...

Would you say this post relates?

It seems to me that if we consider identity to start with the individual, anyone before our generation is likely to be of less importance.

Bob Spencer said...

My wife and I are probably the second oldest people in our church! We're still new there, so I really haven't gotten to know many people, but the problem of "getting to know people" people at church is that the larger the age difference, the less likely you'll have much in common. That first conversation may be a bit awkward! Anyway, I'm beginning to see this issue from the old-guy perspective. I really like the church I'm going to, but it really doesn't thrill me that they sing U2 songs in worship. Anyway, bottom line, we need each other. The young need the old, even the very old, and the old definitely need the young. We only mirror the culture by our failure to create a space of intergenerational communion.

Good post, as usual.

Jen said...

Jared, I've been thinking about this a lot lately. My church has lost most of the seniors that were in the congregation in the past couple of years. Beau's small group was led by an elderly gentleman (in his 70s, I think), but he recently found a new church home. He's still part of the small group, though, because he loves those men in the group.

It came up in my small group when we talked about the lack of pastoral care for folks who are not in small groups. In other churches, the grandmotherly ladies often are available to visit shut-ins or folks who had needs, but we don't have that because we don't have that demographic in our church.

I think the young people in our church are losing out by not worshiping with the elders, too.

timb said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm a young pastor, just shy of 30, who pastors a church made up of a predominantly older congregation, over 3/4ths of them could be my parents or grandparents.

I've seen them be flexible, e.g. guitars and drums in worship. But I have also seen an incredible heart for love and service in them.

Nothing has bugged me more and felt like a major put down to God's bride, when young guys my own age have nothing but trash talk for our seniors in churches. Sure they aren't perfect, but then neither am I. We are all being transformed from one degree of glory to another--and how dare we not minister the gospel to them, or dictate the terms by which their sanctification must take, which has typically been more about conforming to our style and not His grace.

don said...

Jared ... I recently came to the realization that over the last 5 years, and two transitional type ministries, that the hands down highlights have been senior related. First, I have been privileged to work alongside three retired pastors who often outdid me in terms of energy, ideas, wisdom and care. Did I say often? make that regularly, consistently and obviously. Secondly, I have found a majority of the seniors in 2 churches experiencing significant transitions ( which they didn't sign up for, and didn't really need ) were beyond supportive ... listening, praying, serving, showing up, giving good input or feedback when asked. Didn't matter that one church was pretty contemporary, and other conservative. The common denominator was seniors ... class acts most of 'em! I wouldn't have predicted that 5 yrs ago in my early 40's ... but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Lee Anne Millinger said...

Our Lutheran church really does have a pretty intergenerational mix. And we do have quite a few seniors who attend the contemporary service as well as the traditional (although we don't have a LOUD band or light show).

I am in my early 50s, somewhere in the middle of the age pack. I have learned so much from these older saints! The insights they share in Bible studies, for example. Their service and concern for others. Our visiting pastor is in his 80s and would match anyone in energy and teaching insights.

I'd also add that our seniors help to teach us to die the "good death." These people who have walked with the Lord a long time have so much to show us. I am thinking especially of a couple; he's recently decided to stop his cancer treatments. Yes, they teach us to die. A congregation full of young people can't do that.

Chris Thomas said...

Hey, wait a second!

Jared said...

Haha! Now I know you read my blog.

[Scrapping that Willow Creek = Death Star post . . .]