I’ve had some fun with you the last week or two as you tried to pin me down on what, exactly, I meant when I said that my off-limits topic was “old.”
Did I mean old traditions, old songs, or perhaps old people?
Yes. All of those.
The American church, like the rest of America, has a problem with old. New is where it’s at. We like new buildings, new programs, new music, new instruments, new clothing, new—just name it. Old is yesterday, outdated, obsolete—and boring.
I consulted that venerable source of academic information, Wikipedia, to get an idea of what old is. Type in “Old” and this is what you get:
Old age or, by extension, someone or something that has endured and become comfortable or widely familiar.
endured and become comfortable or widely familiar. That sounds pretty good. Enduring—that means something that lasts, is well-made or functional. We all like to be comfortable. Familiar—that’s good, too; you could say that old is in our comfort zone. Not a bad thing.
So—what is old, when it comes to people? Wikipedia gives this less-than-comforting definition: Old age consists of ages nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings, and thus the end of the human life cycle.
It goes on to define old age as beginning anywhere from age 50 to about 70. As nearly as I can figure, old age is anyone 20 years older than your current age. To you, old age might begin at 40; to me, 70 doesn’t seem very old anymore.
However we define “old,” there are a lot of old people, and there will be more of them. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 6 Americans (17% for those who like numbers) will be over age 65 in 2020. By 2050, the number of people over age 65 will be about double the number of preschoolers. Clearly, old is the wave of the future.
What does the Bible have to say about old people?
In Leviticus 19:32, the Lord tells Moses to tell the people, “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”
Proverbs tells us, “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (20:29), and “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old”(23:32).
In the New Testament, Paul tells Timothy not to “rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1Tim. 5:1-2)
Older people were to be respected, listened to, and well-treated.
How should we do this in the modern church?
- · First, recognize that older adults exist. According to the 2010 census, roughly 18.5% of Americans are age 60 and older. To put this in perspective, just under 21% are ages 15-29.
- · Importantly, know that older adults still need Jesus. While most people come to the Lord in their youth, older adults are a fertile mission field.
- · Recognize that older adults make valuable contributions to ministry. The Pew Research Center says that a large percentage of older adults consider their faith an important part of their lives. More than ¾ of older adults report praying daily. In addition, those older people are paying for those programs near and dear to your heart. As our chapel offerings have shown, it's not you!
- · Recognize that older adults do have some significant issues which will affect participation in worship services.
o Hearing declines, and most adults wish to protect what they have left. So buy a good sound meter and use it, especially for the treble. (Reducing the overall volume level will protect your own hearing as well.)
o Bodies hurt, and standing for long periods of time (such as during music portions of the service) is painful. Give permission for people to worship and sing in any posture they like, not just standing.
o Eyesight declines, especially in low-light situations. If you want people over 40 to read anything, turn on the lights.
- · Realize that a significant portion of your congregation is not your age, and begin to include songs and other worship elements that will appeal to people who do not, and never will, listen to Christian music radio or Pandora. In the words (a paraphrase) of Ben Merold, if your worship service contains only what appeals to you, then you are only ministering to people just like you—your age, your race, and your musical tastes.