I’m not sure when it happened.
Was it in the great worship revolution?
I’m pretty sure it was happening well before then. Maybe it’s happened for a long time and we just never noticed it.
When did the eyes finally get up the nerve to tell the hands that we don’t need you? When did the head finally decide the feet were no longer necessary?
Because that’s what seems to have happened in the church today. Somewhere along the line we’ve told our older members, “i don’t need you.”
Addressing an incomplete church
Way back in the day, Paul was writing to address the divisions that grew because of spiritual gifts.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”I Corinthians 12:21
The circumstances were different, but the end result was the same. We started seeing things through our own eyes and decided we didn’t need those who fit our way of thinking. We didn’t need people we thought were holding us back.
And so we’ve managed to cripple ourselves in the process.
When did it happen?
Maybe it’s always happened. I don’t know. I could see it happening when I was a young Pastor just coming out of Bible College in the 80’s. I could probably see it in my own attitudes at times, to be totally honest.
I’m not sure that it’s always about bad intentions or attitudes. Maybe some of it, we can blame on the retirement movement that started around the 1950’s. Leisure communities like Sun City began popping up and people started thinking that they could spend their older years taking it easy. They have worked hard all their lives, they deserve to rest.
Did that play into what’s happening now? Has there been a sense that retirement should also happen within the church?
Sometimes I think what’s happened has been more subtle. When the younger generation says ‘you have worked so hard all your life, you’ve earned a rest. It’s our turn to shoulder the load,’ the intentions were probably good but maybe misguided.
And maybe it’s always been happening.
First Corinthians wasn’t about older adults and younger church members. But there’s a similarity here that we shouldn’t ignore. The issue that Paul is addressing is that people began putting stock in their spiritual gifts. People began thinking they were something special because of this particular gift or that gift. It’s like a hierarchy of gifts was determined, that some are more important than others.
And by definition, a hierarchy of people followed. The value of people was based on the value of their gift.
And honestly, isn’t ageism something of the same thing? When we start determining that your age gets in the way of contributing, isn’t that the same thing? The things you can do when you are a young hip leader are more important than the ways an older member might lead by example.
It’s Like a Game of Church Lifeboat
When I look through how the word we translate ‘need’ from is used throughout scriptures, there’s a common theme. Necessity. Whether or not you are essential.
For some reason the old values clarification game ‘lifeboat’ comes to mind. There’s a shipwreck and only one lifeboat, you have to choose who gets those few spots. Who will it be? And we’re taught to determine whose talents and abilities, and gifts, are the most essential. Who is necessary? And that means we determine, who is not necessary?
Seriously, are we doing that? We have to think long and hard about if that’s happening. Are we placing value on people based on things like who can draw in the most youth? Are we placing more value on someone because they might seem more ‘relevant?’ On who casts the most compelling vision?
And it’s not that the older members can’t do any of that. We just don’t think of them that way. Or maybe we just don’t think of them, period.
Age Apartheid and the Forgotten Elders
Maybe that’s what it is. We forgot about them.
And let’s be honest here, I think that’s real easy to happen when they’ve been pushed off in a corner.
I don’t know that we ever intentionally pushed them off in a corner. I wonder if it’s not more that we’ve just age-segregated our churches so much that we just don’t know the other generations. We don’t relate, we don’t interact. We don’t know them. And it just makes it easy for us to think of them off over there, no longer relevant. No longer important.
No longer necessary.
Every. Part. of. The. Body. Is. Neccessary!
Paul’s answer to the divisions around a certain set of gifts 2,000 years ago applies today to the divisions around a different set of gifts today. The body is the body. It’s not about what you can get from that body part. It’s necessary because it’s part of the body. It’s valuable because it’s part of the body.
And the amazing thing is, each part of the body has its own contribution. When we leave a generation or a group out and push them off to the side, we lose the value.
Our younger adults and youth lose the value of the experience and mentorship that used to be a natural part of church life once upon a time. Our older adults lose the value of the things they can learn from the younger adults. We start dividing the body up and everyone loses.
I was reading an article Carey Niewhof wrote a few years ago about engaging older members in service, but the thing that caught my eye was a comment I saw written below. “I do feel that I am abused by not being used.” That just caught me as I read it. Is that what we are doing?
Let’s get the body back together. Let’s figure out how we can engage all parts with one another. Let’s figure out a way to make a reunion. Maybe there’s still time for us to discover just how much we still really really need one another.
And that those people we forgot about are quite necessary.