Sunday, February 9, 2014

"OLD PEOPLE" In the Church

A Rant

First of all, this is qualified as a "rant" because it's based on anecdotal evidence, personal experience, and limited examples.  I am not writing a book on the subject; I am not researching it; I am not making any effort to establish statistically-reliable analysis relevant to all churches.  So, if you like, this is an unscientific, subjective, emotional reaction--hence, "rant."

I was prompted to this line of thought initially by a Facebook group ostensibly purposed for discussion of calvinism and digital fellowship among those who hold to that theological viewpoint.  This particular group is heavily populated by a subset of calvinists sometimes identified as "young, restless, and reformed"--which I translate "young, arrogant, and rude."  Many of these Thirty-somethings or younger are actually in pastoral ministry, frightening as the thought might be.  Time and again I read their posts and comments which were replete with condemnation of the "old people" in their congregations who were proving to be obstacles to "progress," hindrances to the implementation of the Youthful Leader's agenda.  It seems that the very redemption of the world and the implementation of the Kingdom of God was at the mercy of this bunch of old fuddy-duddies who stood in the path of Progress as defined by Youth.  This bunch of geriatrics proved so frustrating to several of the anointed ones that they all but called for euthanasia as a solution to their problem.

With that bunch in mind, more recently I was introduced to another Facebook group--a gathering of pastors on a page with the intended purpose of "mutual encouragement" -- a handy thing for anyone in pastoral ministry.  Very soon after I started reading thru posts in that group, I came across a thread on the subject of "old people in the church."  I'm going to interrupt myself right here to clarify one thing:  I'm going to use the word "church" in this article in the sense of "local assembly" or "local congregation"  Personally, I do not care for that usage because it often results in confusion with The Church, the Body of Christ....and the conflation of the local assembly and The Church is a serious problem.  But here, "church" is a reference to a local gathering (unless specifically stated otherwise).  So, "old people in the church"--I immediately skimmed through the initial comment, the o.p., and (mistakenly) thought:  This guy is talking about what I'm thinking about.

Well, no....hardly what I was thinking about.  The main commentator in this thread was spouting psycho-babble about how the young people just needed to "get to know" the old crocks and then they would love them.  His methodology includes nice little "show and tell" meetings where my peers can regale the kiddies with our war stories from Vietnam, and other bits of brilliance.

 "When you look at an older man as he describes his experiences in Vietnam as a soldier, you may find yourself thinking differently in regard to him."

Clearly this guy is totally out of touch.....You'll travel a long road before you find (m)any Vietnam vets who want to stand up and regale the crowd with the horrors we faced.  To think that we are surly and cantankerous in the congregation because we don't get to "share our story" is simply pathetic.

Another pastor persistently bemoans the "old people" in his congregation as those who cause the most trouble and are the greatest hindrances to the various ministries he would undertake.

" my experience those over 70 are more concerned with their comfort and holding to the past with an iron grip. In my own church the older adults have an issue with doing anything to bring the Gospel to the heathen God has placed in our community."

I'd really like to tone down my inclination to really rant on and on....Let's see if I can respond to this with two points:

1.  It's wrong-headed to present congregational problems as age-based.  Let's take that 70-year-old man who is "more concerned with [his] comfort rather than "doing anything to bring the Gospel...."--How was he doing at 45?.....60?  He was a faithful, obedient, active worker in his comparative youth, but when he got "old" he woke up stubborn and intransigent? 
No, I thought not.  Those who are unhelpful, undisciplined, and disruptive are not that way because they're "old"--they've always been that way.  And, they're probably that way because they've sat under ineffective, Bible-weak preaching for years, the product of lame leadership in the congregation.

2.  More importantly, much more:  To shove aside, to denigrate, to dismiss with the contempt I see so often, the older members of the congregation is a major sin.  First of all, we are taught in the Bible to honor the aged, to respect them, and to learn from them.  What's happening on such a wide-spread scale is just the opposite of the Biblical model.

The suggestion of that pastor I quoted, the one who wanted "war stories,"...that we have a nice dinner every month or so and a lovely "show and tell" with pictures from ancient history when we were "real people".....I cannot tell you how disgusting I find that sort of condescension.

These young "hot shots" with all the answers, those who want to steam-roll congregations onto the Path To Greatness as outlined by their favorite personality-cult preacher hero, are dismissing centuries of experience jointly held by those congregation members who have walked with the Lord for years and years longer than that preacher has been alive.

Two examples and I'm done (for now).  My wife:  a Christian more than 60 years.  Her exegetical abilities far exceed those of more than half the preachers I know.  But who wants to have some old woman teaching?  At best, she would be assigned to teach the 5 other septuagenarian women in the congregation rather than putting someone like her to work teaching the young women (as we are instructed to do).

Finally, my prison co-laborer.  He'll be 84 this year.  He's been in the same church since his conversion over 60 years ago.  He's taught there for over 50 years.  When they finally convinced him that they had no place for him in these modern times, he started a Bible study in his home during the week.  He traveled to prison meetings faithfully until his body was too worn out to do the necessary walking.  Every conversation I have with this man is a learning experience for me; his insights on Biblical matters incline me to call him rather than reach for a commentary when I have a question.  But......he's one of those "old people"--the up-to-date, cool, relevant "church" does not want to be portrayed by his image....old, grey, frail.  He's not cool.  Maybe he'd like to tell his war stories from Korea?.....go on a nice church bus ride to the lake? at Cracker Barrel?