Dr Jim McClure reflects: In Psalm 37:25 the psalmist wrote, ‘I have been young and now am old.’ That also describes me!
David meant that now he was at a stage in life when he was able to look…
- back over his life and reflect on the challenges, successes and failures of life and how each decision that is made has a corresponding consequence
- around and observe the way things are today, how some changes that have taken place are wonderful while others are worrisome, and, as the ‘sands of time’ seem to be going through the hour glass at an ever increasing rate, and
- forward to the future knowing that ultimately God is in control of all things and will in the end work out all things according to his will.
Melting pot of relationships
Life is a journey. I know that that is a hackneyed phrase, but it is nevertheless true. While we are on that journey, we need other people – people similar to ourselves, people completely different from us, younger people, older people, people who affirm and stand by us, and people who challenge and stand up to us.
It is in this melting pot of relationships that we are shaped and our individuality, personality and character are honed.
The point I really want to make is that at every stage in life we need each other.
And this is especially true within the church. Whether we are young, middle aged or old, we need each other and every person is precious – every person!
I emphasise the word ‘every’ because I see within so many churches the cult of youth at work.
Now, I remember when the cult of the old (or so it seemed) dominated and that young people (who were considered important) had very little significance or say in the whole scheme of things. But today it appears that everything has turned 180 degrees and the youth have the upper hand and the impression given is that the ‘old people’ are not particularly relevant as ‘they have had their day.’
I’m not disagreeing with the fact that the young should be a major focus on the church’s work and ministry – but not to the exclusion of all other age groups. In many churches ‘old’ people resemble old steam engines that have been shunted into a rail siding as the slick new engines get all the attention. By all means we need to try to reach the young people and try to meet their needs, but that applies also to older people too.
Today’s cultural fascination in the Western world is with all things young, ‘with it’ and fun. Unfortunately many churches have bought into that culture leaving older people standing on the outside and feeling both irrelevant and invisible.
Significance of the ‘senior resources’
I don’t want this to sound like the griping of an old man. I just want to run up a flag – older people are also a part of the church family and a precious resource.
It is not without significance that the word ‘elder’ is found in both Old and New Testaments. In Hebrew the word refers to people who are older and therefore had some life experience on which to reflect and to contribute; subsequently the word referred to older people who held positions of authority.
Note the phrase, ‘counsel of the elders’ in Ezekiel 7:26. In the New Testament the Greek word translated ‘elder’ also contains the idea of those who were older and who, in the early church, had the role of leading and overseeing. I am not saying that younger people should never be appointed to the eldership in a church, however great caution needs to be exercised using the guidelines found in the New Testament.
The point I really want to make here is that the place of the older person in God’s purpose must not be ignored. Once they reach a certain age, they are not disposable like some supermarket product that has passed its ‘use by date’!
Moses began his ministry at the age of 80 when he led the people of Israel out of Egypt! And his successor, Joshua, was around 60 when he succeeded Moses and led the people for about 50 years (Joshua 24:29).
Tolerance is a two-way matter
Older people in the church family also need to know that they are valued and loved. Admittedly, some of the changes in church culture in recent years have left some older people uncomfortable and bewildered. While there are always the mutterers (in all age groups) who will complain about all changes that take place, there are many older people who graciously tolerate many things that make them uncomfortable ‘for the sake of the young.’
Yet tolerance needs to be a two-way thing.
Consider music, as an example. I, in common with many in my age bracket, actually do enjoy many of the modern worship songs (although the theology of a significant number of them is questionable!).
But we also love some of the great old hymns that express our faith, thrill our hearts and cause our spirits to rise in adoration of our great God and Saviour.
Regrettably many young people are totally unaware of the magnificent songs of praise that not only provided a way for generations to worship God but also declared sound biblical truth. In the spirit of mutual consideration both old and new worship songs could so easily be incorporated into a worship service.
So, my appeal is this – churches need to be more inclusive regarding the old and the young. Ageism, that is, discrimination against people of certain age groups, has no place in the church.
Invisibility and insignificance is not a good place in which to be, yet it is the place in which many older people in church find themselves.
Dr Jim McClure, renowned theologian, author of Grace Revisited, contributes our Ask the Doctors – Ministry category. See Resources. Book orders : firstname.lastname@example.org