A week or so ago I reconnected with a friend I haven't seen in over a year. We joked around as guys do and one of the first things he said was "Man, look at all your grey hair." At this point, I punched him. No, not really. I can take it, especially since it's true. I began cutting my hair shorter to make it easier to navigate around the receding hairline and the bald spot and consequently most of the brown hair was cut off and the grey was left. I would say that this means I'm mature, but my kids say it just means I'm getting old. Touche'.
I have always felt that I related well with people of all ages, even though my early ministry was with teenagers. One of the first things I did as youth pastor at First Baptist Orange Park was go to our senior adults and ask for the opportunity to address them. I remember standing before the opening assembly time in the Sunday School departments. I wanted to introduce myself to this group of church members and also ask for something. They saw this coming. They thought I was asking for money. However, I think I surprised them. I didn't ask for money or even for them to sponsor a student for camp or a trip (though many have since then and continue to.) I asked them if they would take names of students in our ministry and commit to pray for that teenager daily. I was so pleased to have senior men and women take this challenge. Some would even ask as the year went on how that student was doing and I would give updates. It was good. Many prayed for the well-being of the student as well as for specific things relating to family issues, school issues and of course, peer pressure.
Why did I feel led to do this? Because I believed then, and do now, that God has placed the individuals in our church for a reason. We are a family and families are multi-generational. We need the reconnection of people from across the generations.
We live in a culture where families are more transient. Mom, dad and the kids live in one place, while the grandparents live three states away. No longer do we see many families that have extended relations (grandparents, grandkids, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.) living just down the street. Something has been lost because of this. We have segmented our society and segregated our churches to a degree. The danger? We have churches with little "bubbles" of society or as some have called it "mini-churches" within the large group. Oh, we know there's a youth ministry, a children's ministry, a senior adult ministry, etc. but only because we see information in announcements or in the bulletin. The sad truth is that we are not connected as a family truly should be.
This is a burden God has placed on my heart. Then comes the bigger challenge. . .how do we connect as a family?
It's difficult, I know. Each generation has different likes and dislikes. Whether it's music style (always a big one in church), frustrations over dress at church or even how the pastor presents sermons or dresses, the debate begins. I think the Enemy loves when we divide over such meaningless things. Now, don't get me wrong, there are things worth fighting for. You know, things like the inerrancy of the Word of God, the doctrine of God, man, salvation, etc. Things like these are not up for change. It's like the old saying goes "The methods can change, but the message must never change." So, we stand firm on a very narrow place. By standing on the Word of God and the Truth we have the great opportunity for broad influence.
So, why bother trying to get teenagers and senior adults together? Part of it is because I always loved spending time with my grandparents and hearing their stories. I still love to talk to our seniors and hear their stories. (Some even think I'm still a pretty young pastor, so that makes me feel young.)
There is value in the wisdom of the ages.
I am reminded of the great stories and recent films where a wise senior adult plays a major role in the story. Often they come alongside a younger character to offer wisdom and encouragement:
- Gandalf the wizard in the J.R.R. Tolkien "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
- Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars film.
- Michael Caine & Robert Duvall's characters in the film "Seconhand Lions."
- Anthony Hopkins' elder Zorro in the newer Zorro films.
- Morrie in "Tuesdays with Morrie."
- Red Stevens in the book and movie "The Ultimate Gift."
- Gloria in "Because of Winn-Dixie."
- Coach Norman Dale in "Hoosiers."
Oh there are more, but you ge the idea.
The Bible has many instances of senior adults serving major roles in God's story. I guess the concept of retirement was never considered. Here's just a partial list of men and women who continued to serve in their senior years:
- The Apostle John
Where does this leave us?
Well, the church must intentionally work to connect people within the family of all generations or we will never move forward as one. Unity in the body cannot occur when everything and everyone is segmented into age groups. There must be times of coming together. Now, don't get me wrong, there will still be and should be ministries and events for specific age groups, but that must not be all we do.
We must remember that just connecting people together is not the ultimate goal, but the ultimate is to connect people to Christ.
Wisdom and knowledge are two different things. There is value in hearing and applying the wisdom from those who have been around a little longer.
We must continue to realize that the world is changing. Though the Word of God never changes nor does God, the culture we not live in is pretty different than the one from just a decade or so ago. Therefore, we must continue to be creative (without compromise of what really matters) in order to reach people with the life-changing and life-saving gospel of Christ. In other words, I may not like the music, but if it will lead my son's friends to listen to the message of Christ, I'll tolerate it. This can also be said this way "I may not like the music, but if it will lead my grandparents to be open to the message of Christ, I'll tolerate it." See, it's not always one-sided.
We also must remember that age does not always equal wisdom. Wisdom is bestowed by God. Experience is a great teacher, but a pure heart is also key. So, regardless of age, the purity of heart is the focus.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." -- Jesus said this often. Today, I think He's speaking to me. As I write this, I am feeling the nudging of the Holy Spirit as He says "This is for you, too. Take it to heart."
So friends, of all ages, let's remember why we are here, what our purpose is, and who our Lord is. God bless. . .and listen to your grandparents. They have much to say.