I was struck this week with an email I received from an older woman who is a faithful supporter. She was asking a simple enough question – the explanation of a acronym we use for people working in insecure, undisclosed locations. But her inference on the end of the question was clear… "please bear in mind us older folk, who are after all, the people who pray the most!".
It's not the first time I've heard this. When I worked with the Baptist mission organisation, we lauded the older generation as our most faithful pray-ers and givers. Many times I've been told no, that can't happen because of the sensitivities or preferences of the older generation. Our fear was in offending or losing the "financial and spiritual backbone of our ministries."
Of course, we live in a world of changing values, where young people are choosing faith that makes space for shades of grey that seem abhorrent, liberal and luke-warm to generations of believers who lived out a faith of moral vs immoral, good vs evil. There are young people who proclaim an older generation irrelevant because "they just don't get it, the world has changed."
Neither party is right. Neither young or old
There are some dangerous assumptions at work here. Because yes, those pray-ers are amongst our faithful, but they are not the only ones who pray and not all older believers pray with the same fortitude and fervour. But there are groups of young people all over the world and in my own church who meet and pray each week, without anyone over the age of 35 in the room.
The opposite assumption is also in operation: that young people is where the Church should invest, that young people have the power to change the world and possibly, depending on your environment – the elderly feel cast aside for the sake of all that is young and beautiful. The end of January each year signals the annual Parachute Music festival – a testament to a type of Christian culture that glorifies youth as a virtue, particularly because youth is the "dominant" voice of pop culture. Gone are the older voices, even those who have made a name for themselves, if it's not young, fresh, new, hip or famous, it doesn't have a place.
If I listen to one assumption; then I believe that only old really have an understanding of faithfulness or prayerful endeavour. If I listen to the other; I believe that only the youth have any power or influence.
Yet is it possible that in our church culture, we are throwing ourselves before the idol of relevancy whilst at the same time disempowering young people by proclaiming they don't measure up to our values of prayer and generosity? In a similar way, elevating age before wisdom when wisdom can be pursued at any age.
Our infatuation with youth is one of mankind's greatest pursuits of ego, in the same manner that we chase after anti-aging serums. The root cause is the same, even if we couch it in spiritual terms. The longer we chase after a sense of spiritual superiority in any sense, be it by our practices or our beliefs or our demographic, the further into humanistic deism we tread. We upload youth but give young people no real power or sway.
Beware what you make an idol of, because it will make a fool of you
What counts? Not the years you've earned – don't go rushing about to be old and nor should you go rushing about to stay young. Youth ministry for many years perpetuated the myth that in order to be influential you had to be relevant. And then we couch relevancy in meaningless costumes of style, music, fashion, language and every other shallow thing.
To be relevant is to bring truth into every place you find yourself, with mercy and justice.
Youth can bring you grace for foolishness, it can buy you mercy in the world for a short while, that you won't have as you get older. Age offers you platforms of influence, expectation and authority you won't necessarily have to earn by doing anything other than aging….
So we should remember that there is a season for everything and not go trying to live out of season.
Tash McGill is a professional writer and communications consultant who has been involved in youth ministry for 15 years, working in local churches as a volunteer and bi-vocational youth pastor. She is passionate about adolescent development, community formation and hospitality.
Tash McGill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tash-mcgill.html