I saw a commercial on TV the other day advertising "Peter Pan" the musical. Old classics like "Peter Pan" endure the test of time, don't they? Of course with society being what it is in the United States, what is not appealing about a boy who never has to grow up? We are in love with youth and being young and chase the dream of recapturing our youth in so many ways. I have even heard it said at church if churches want to continue to see growth, they must ensure they populate their stages with those who are young, because that is who everyone, even the elderly, apparently, want to see up front and try to identify with.
That gives a pretty clear picture of the powerful influence of American culture today, although I'm pretty sure Billy Graham can still fill a stadium. Maybe he hasn’t kept up on church growth and appeal issues. I have mixed emotions about succumbing completely to the idea of turning my places of worship over to the influence of only those who possess youth appeal. It doesn't even matter if a young person in charge has grown up in the church - that does not necessarily mean he/she has achieved the wisdom, patience and experience required to be an effective, Godly leader. I think there are certain aspects of faith which develop through enduring life experiences, both good and bad. A twenty-year-old has not had nearly as many experiences as a thirty or forty or fifty year old. A person who is truly growing in the faith understands and sees that. I get that it might be nicer to look at a fresh twenty-year -old face, but when the rubber meets the road and I am in the midst of a heart-wrenching loss I am not likely going to seek that youngster out for words of wisdom and comfort.
I think about where I was spiritually at twenty (dead), thirty (growing) and forty (so much stronger faith) and I realize that while I held a variety of leadership roles during those years I was not always the best leader I could have been. Loving God and trying to follow Him are vitally important for Christian leaders, but they are not a replacement for a true, unwavering faith which has withstood the test of time. Wisdom comes with prayer and experience. I don't think I can just ask God to make me wise no matter what and everything I do and say from that point on will be so wise and awesome and correct people will travel for miles to seek my advice. We all know they should, but I'm realistic, I know they won't. ;) And I know it won’t happen overnight. My wisdom grows usually the most through mistakes I make - and they can be painful but God uses all my life circumstances to mold and mature me.
I have seen it happen more often than I like in the church when older people are pushed out of the way to make room for those with newer, more "contemporary" ideas and thoughts. One day when I was attending a church which was undergoing the transformation from being a "traditional" church to becoming "contemporary", one of the elderly women who had spent her lifetime volunteering, financially supporting, and praying for the church told me something that rocked me to the core. She said, "I have never felt so worthless in my church before. It used to be one of my favorite places to be. But now, I realize I don't matter at all, my thoughts are too old-fashioned. I cry myself to sleep every night." It is no wonder some older saints hesitate to put themselves out there to volunteer at church activities. And why quite often they “retire” from volunteering.
I don't claim to have all the answers to what ails Christianity today, but I do think even though those who push for a more contemporary approach to God mean well, I am not sure God excuses lightly the carnage they can leave in their wake. The elderly matter. Their prayers and tears and helping hands throughout the years are vital and important and God blesses them. They also possess great wisdom, which I understand can sometimes seem to border on being overly-cautious or trying to simply protect their comfort zones. But we all do that. And it seems like there must be a better way to reach our lost and hurting communities than forcing the wisest Christians to feel devalued and worthless and finally to the point where they no longer bother the leadership with their insight; they put up and shut up, or leave for a church where they can feel they belong.
Our society worships the idea of Peter Pan at the expense of the elderly. In the Bible I haven’t read any passages in which God dismisses the elderly as if they have nothing to offer.
Instead, i read
Job 12:12 “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” And Leviticus 19:32 “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”
I for one, don’t want a Church or an organization full of Peter Pans. I live in a society full of them and if that was what God wanted for us He would never have allowed aging to occur. I value the wisdom and insight of my older friends as well as the out-of-the-box approach some of my younger friends share with me. I want The Torch to be a place where nobody hesitates to get involved and where old and young together realize how valuable we all are and if we work closely together, respecting and supporting each other - we can accomplish much!