This weekend I spent time with my dad who has just celebrated his 80th birthday. This has started me thinking about age and it’s impact on us and how we live our lives.
In 1 Timothy we read Paul saying “don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12), but in the culture we live in in the west, this is not an issue, it is, in fact, quite the opposite it seems. The popular show “The X Factor” has 4 categories, girls, boys, groups … and EVERYONE ELSE over 24 years old. In business, older, experienced people are often bypassed in favour of young “hungry” ones. Even in the church, this is starting to impact us. A well-known church stream in the UK has a system which favours those under 30 by giving massive discounts to them for their events.
increasingly I am seeing an impatience amongst people in churches, and in the church structures themselves where a culture of “waiting on God” (tarrying) takes a back seat. We must accelerate “young gifted” leaders quickly into positions of leadership in our churches it seems.
But is this good? The Bible accounts often describe a “wait” between a call / anointing of God and it’s fulfilment, yet waiting seems to be out of fashion nowadays, we have a society where instant everything it seems is available to us … Instant coffee … microwave meals … fast food, we can’t even wait 24hrs for photo developing- smart phones mean instant picture review. And in many ways the increase in speed we see around us can be a good thing, no longer does it take months to get somewhere on the other side of the world, we can be there in a matter of hours, though e-mail and txt etc I can communicate with someone on the other side of the world and get pretty much an instant response. When appropriated for the Kingdom, this can be really positive – Air travel has made short-term missions possible in even very remote places. The internet and communication advances means that long gone are the days when contact with someone on mission takes months. We can get hundreds, perhaps thousands praying within minutes of a need for example. But we are in real danger of missing out on something by discarding the wisdom and experience which waiting and age can bring. In our rush to encourage the “next generation” NOW, we must be wary of falling into the Abraham trap i.e. rather than waiting for God’s timing, we try to prematurely help things along and in doing so, risk creating an “Ishmael” which in the long run could prove to be a thorn.
The reluctance to wait and the tendency to dismiss older, experienced, people in the church carries with it dangers:
- Rejects wisdom gained through age and experience.
- Promotes the “I want it and I want it NOW” tendencies of younger people.
- Creates / enlarges a divide between old and young.
- Neglects to consider the giftings of people who come to Christ in their older years.
In fact many of the great men and women of God in the Bible were older when called, or had to wait years before coming to the fore and fulfilment of the call God had placed on them – Joseph, Moses, David, Abraham – even Jesus himself wouldn’t get a look in for some positions because they are too old for the age profile for some churches. Daniel was young (probably a teenager) when he was taken into captivity, but the lion’s den event happened some 60 years later! We won’t even mention Caleb who was 80 when he was given his portion as the people of God entered the promised land (OK so I did just mention him!!)
Should not the model of the church be one which is counter-cultural? One where old say to the young “come and walk with me and work ALONGSIDE me”. One where young say to the old “you are not finished in the Kingdom yet – you have so much to show me and teach me”
I believe our challenge in the church here is to be counter cultural – to hold young and old together, to be an inter-generational church, where value is given to the 8’s and the 80’s (and older, and younger). The church we want to build is one where it is things like calling and character, and not physical characteristics like age, colour or gender which determines your suitability to minister.