I was a little shocked when I read this story in The Independent detailing The Prime Minister’s repeated mocking of Labour’s elder statesman Dennis Skinner on account of his age. Whilst I am sure there is a level to which it is just House of Commons ‘banter’ something about it does feel a little bit nasty. Over the course of a few years a man mocks another at his workplace for being old. I suppose if you or I did it we’d be warned for ageist bullying. The message seems to be that once you hit a certain age your ideas, thoughts and presence are no longer of worth. ‘Go and draw your pension Dinosaur.’ That isn’t what I found shocking though.
What was shocking was that I think I am somewhat as guilty of this attitude as Ol’ Davy Cameron is. In fact I think it is becoming more and more prevalent in church culture.
I say things like, ‘we need the older people’s wisdom to go alongside the young people’s innovation,’ and in one sentence denegrate the wisdom of the young and the innovation of the old. Both Tesla and Einstein made breakthroughs right up until their deaths. Surely innovation will grow stronger with experience and the increase in knowledge that it brings.
Churches run gap year programmes and stipulate that they are ‘ideal for those under 25.’ Churches are pouring huge resource into developing young leaders (which I love) but I rarely see much if anything directed at developing older leaders.
Churches are staffed with generation specific staff but these roles seem to stop at the 18-30s generation yet I am sure the 65-100s could do with some direct investment into their lives. What a blessing for the enriching of the lives of all in our churches we are missing out on.
This doesn’t seem to be the model of Scripture. The great leaders lead into their old age and get a great deal of respect and authority. I wonder if we are edging slowly away from that as more and more we rely on younger leaders to guide us.
So when you seek creative solutions and strategies seek answers from the young and the old and all in between. Innovation doesn’t retire. When you recruit volunteers don’t put an upper age limit on the role. When you consider your next staff member consider a third age pastor alongside other roles. How are you going to invest and be invested in by the older generations?
Over the past 18 months of living back in Northern Ireland I have reconnected with my Grandfather having been living away for 11 years. We have had dinner with him almost every Thursday that we have been here. What I have found is a man who not only carries a deep faith and huge amounts of wisdom but can see strategy and solutions that betray his great levels of creativity. I wonder how many others like him I have missed over the years.
May we not become so engaged with building the church of the future that we lose the church of the present.