Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Hipster Heart in a Boomer Body

Okay. Maybe not hipster. But I think you know what I mean. Even though my face and body are developing more texture, I still feel young on the inside. Translate: lots of time and energy, want to contribute to the world, love learning new things.

I love young people and I have a lot of them in my life. The ones closest to me have never made me feel old or irrelevant. They have sought me out for friendship and mentoring. And during my own seasons of insecurity or struggle, they have offered me a listening ear and words of affirmation. It's a two-way relationship.

I also love a church that is filled with young people, is fully integrating them into the life of the community and is seeking out young leaders who will replace the ones who will one day be obsolete.

Oops. I mean happily retired.

Except, is retirement from ministry something to be desired or even biblical? Is obsoleteness something the church should accept? Put another way: Will those churches which are successfully engaging the youth today continue to engage them as their hair turns white or falls out?

Being young certainly has its advantages. In today’s culture youth is idolized. But there are also huge advantages to being older.

For most the difficult life decisions are now past – career and marriage (or non-marriage). There have been lessons learned on how to survive the darkest moments or crises in life and persevere with faith in Christ. If finances were wisely handled, those in retirement have the time and money to devote to ministry opportunities.

Women and men who have aged gracefully in the knowledge of Christ have gained the wisdom that comes in pursuing Him through the ups and downs of life. In a recent Oregonian article describing a new talk show premiering on Lifetime April 26 called “The Conversation With Amanda de Cadenet,” Jane Fonda remarks that knowing yourself gets easier as you get older. For the Christian, knowing oneself is intimately connected to knowing Christ and that brings a deep sense of confidence, peace and stability.

In the same article above, de Cadenet reveals that the show “came about from my own desperate need to find role models that I could relate to.” She laments further, “I just couldn’t see them anywhere.” So de Cadenet went out to find them.

Last weekend I attended a women’s ministry conference that was devoted to helping the generations find each other. There I heard two dynamic young speakers express desires to have spiritual friendships with older women. They pleaded earnestly, “We need you!” I also observed older women listening attentively to their voices in trying to understand how their churches could better include the younger generation. The willingness to cross the generational gap was a powerful force for unity, love and affirmation.

However it became clear that the conference was mostly focused on those churches that were struggling with being relevant to the youth, churches that were mostly led by older members. But that’s not a description of all churches.

There are some in which the dynamic is the complete opposite. The leadership and the congregation consist mostly of Millennials and Gen-Xers. Boomer role models are rare and places for ministry or leadership are hard for them to find.

The statistics are clear. Seniors are the fastest growing population in the world. And the church is ill equipped to minister to the wave of white-haired believers about to hit the pews and is unprepared to provide the seniors places for significant ministry. James M. Houston and Michael Parker address this issue in their book, A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry For and By Seniors.

There are many older believers who have already deconstructed their church experiences and are on board in the core values common to progressive, young churches, especially values of relationship and mission. Many understand how to embrace the broken and accept less-than-perfect people. They have had to learn that with their own children. And there are some who can offer a kind of wisdom that sorts out what is irrelevant in today’s culture but also spares the young church from making mistakes that are common to humanity.

For those churches that claim the authority of Scripture, you can’t get more biblical than this. The older members of a community are to be honored and cared for. Reaching the youth is critical in our churches. But marginalizing or disengaging the older generation hurts the body of Christ, which includes their gifts and their voices. I believe it grieves the heart of God who more often than not waited until His appointed leaders were well past youth before they were called to enter into their most significant leadership and ministry roles.

Younger people who are currently in ministry or are preparing to enter ministry do well to consider how they would want to be treated as they age. Like death one cannot escape the aging process. I don’t think anyone imagines becoming obsolete or being put on a shelf, not when one actually has more to offer when older. Young churches would be wise to consider how they might bridge the generational gap.

The Boomers are waiting for an invitation.

What are some ways to cross the generational gap or include the older generation in the life of a faith community? If you are older, do you feel obsolete in your church? 


  1. Thank you for your post, Harriet! I am so thankful for your wisdom, insight, friendship, and love. Our mentoring relationship has grown naturally through our mutual dependence and involvement in each other's lives.

    In my experience, the best way for my generation to cross the generational gap is to be in community with older believers and to engage with them: ask them to be a mentor/friend--invite them into relationship.

  2. 1) At my former church, I began yelling at the men on the Boards. That's one advantage to being've heard all the excuses and have time to finally confront.
    2) I moved to an overseas expat church which NEEDS everyone.
    3) I work in unexpected areas for an old woman (sound & technology)