This morning as I drove Becky to church we passed the McDonald’s and she asked, “Is that the one you go to?” I said, “Yep.” She asked, “Will your ‘girlfriend’ be there?” I said, “Probably. She’ll likely ask where I was last week.” (We were ministering in Hope, Indiana at First Wesleyan Church.) Becky said, “Really?” “Oh yeah… then she will ask what I am doing today,” I answered.
You see, Christine is part of my ritual. Our interactions pretty much follow the same pattern with variations at times. But along the way I have learned some things about Christine that I thought I would pass along. Christine is 92 years old. But that doesn’t seem to impact her work… or does it?
As you go to church today, you will likely see some older folks there. Usually, the older the church, the more seniors you will see. There is a segment of the Church that does not value the older generations, and even seems to endure them. I’ve even heard some church leaders talk about ‘targeting’ younger people so that you won’t have to deal with the problems of the seasoned saints who are apparently (according to these leaders), opposed to change, past the age of significant ministry, and generally difficult to get along with. These church plants rarely do well because they lack important elements of healthy community… thanks to the pastor.
But let me share three things I’ve seen in Christine that I think we all need to remember about older people in the church…
Christine is faithful – One thing about the older generations… they grew up with a deep sense of loyalty and responsibility. Christine is at work when she is sore. She has her own driver’s license. She works four days a week. On Saturday and Sunday she works from 7-3. She mops. She picks up trash off of the floor, most of which is dropped by people much younger than her. She keeps napkins stocked. She carries trash from tables to the bins. If it is dining room related, she does it. And I’ve never heard her complain. She doesn’t have a mop in one hand and her phone in the other. She, like most of her generation were raised with a work ethic. She was a child in the Great Depression. Her father made railroad ties for $.50 a day. She was the tenth of 10 children. Her father provided for the family and her mother raised children to be hard-working and productive members of society. She isn’t afraid of hard work. She’s afraid of sitting at home. “That’ll kill you,” she says.
Christine is engaging – While the younger generation may boast hundreds of ‘friends’ on their social media account, they often struggle with striking up conversations with strangers. This is true of young and middle-aged adults as well. Christine talks with everyone, regardless of their age, gender, ethnic background, or social status. She can float from chatting with a homeless person about their day, to talking with a traveling family about their time in Nashville, to asking me what I am going to grill out later today. Her decades of experiences are an asset, letting her talk about a broad range of topics.
Christine is relational – There is a serious problem among older folks regarding their memory. Alzheimer’s disease and other problems are taking their toll for sure. But in general, older people do remember things about people very well. Not perfectly, but better than most teenagers... and I was a teenager, so I can say that with confidence. If I miss a week, Christine will say she missed me, and ask where I was. Frankly, sometime I have to stop and remember that I wasn’t in town. Some people could call these traits ‘being nosey’. She isn’t trying to mind my business. She just wants to know about my life. I think that is cool. I probably have friends who follow me every day on Facebook who don’t know I was out of town last week.
I’m not bashing the younger generations. I am one of those. I just think we need to recognize, celebrate, and teach the values exhibited by those Christians who have gone before. They haven’t ‘graduated’ to ‘prayer warrior’ status. They have much to offer… and not just their faithful tithes and offerings that likely keep the church doors open.
Seniors are faithful. Most of them would be at church Sunday morning, night, and Wednesday evening… if these services had not been cancelled due to lack of attendance by the youngers. We need to add faithfulness to our passion.
Seniors are engaging. They never meet a stranger. We need to add hospitality to our fellowship… not just engaging friends in frivolous conversation, but those with whom we think we have nothing in common.
Seniors are relational. They put the pieces together so they can know the whole story. They don’t simply care about expanding their social circle. They realize the value of community because at a certain age, it becomes clear that attentiveness is greater than attention. We need to add authenticity to our curiosity.
Today we often put young leaders and teachers over our young people in the church. But this is not always best. Paul wrote to a relatively young pastor and said…
“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day. Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy, clearly recalling your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and that I am convinced is in you also. Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Timothy 1:3-7)
He went on to say, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)
We can and should learn from others. And if we take the time to develop some rituals that put us in the path of others, perhaps we can acquire and carry on some good traits into the future.
It is time to head to church. As I get up to leave, I’m sure Christine will say, “I’ll see you next week.” She won’t. I’ll be in Knoxville next week. Then the following week we will pick up where we left off.
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.