Lately I have been wondering, when did aging become a sport in the United Methodist Church? To participate in this cockeyed game it seems you must pledge allegiance to only one age group—young or old. Not only that, the rules state that you must fiercely oppose the other generation, all in the name of church vitality.
Regrettably the game has become a battleground for passionate fans, some chanting slogans to taunt the other side.
From one end of the stadium there’s a strong chorus of voices shouting: “Gray hair, gray hair, not so fine. It’s your fault that the church is in decline!” From the other end, an older group yells back: “Young folks, young folks, what do you know? You haven’t earned the right to say what’s so!”
Then with a touch of irony, fans of both teams wave colorful signs with identical messages: “You are not listening! You’ve forgotten us!”
The banter back and forth is deafening at times. I can tell you it’s a game I do not wish to play. The church should not be a competition between age groups.
Let me be clear. I am an advocate for older adults, especially those who have grown frail or have been neglected by the church.
As an author and speaker on issues of aging and faith, I have three primary concerns. I want older adults to know that they have value, no matter how frail they are. I also want older adults to realize that the choices they make today will shape how they will be remembered long after they are gone. Last, I want the church to help older adults fulfill their role as Christ-like influencers and to serve and encourage others until their last breath.
No free pass
Here’s the issue. Just because I care passionately about older adults doesn’t mean that I don’t care about young people or the future of the church. For heaven’s sake, it’s not an either-or situation. In fact I am always surprised when I hear from an occasional reader who gently infers that since I champion older adult issues, I must not understand or care about the need to draw younger people into the life of the church.
Let me set the record straight. I love young folks. I greatly admire their passion, energy and fresh ideas about church.
As the mother of three children between the ages of 28 and 35, and two pre-school grandchildren, I am interested in what young people have to say. It’s one reason I am very active on Twitter and Facebook. I especially enjoy following the conversations of young clergy and a few mid-lifers who meet in cyberspace via Twitter on Monday nights at 9pm Eastern to talk about their dreams for the church by using the hashtag #dreamumc.
Never have traditional meetings been so engaging!
While my ministry focus is on encouraging and valuing older adults, I am quick to remind seniors that if they want respect, they must understand that attitude and tone matter a lot. There is no free pass for bad behavior or apathy, just because you have reached age 65. Neither should the younger generation get a free pass on rolling eyes and demeaning remarks in which they confuse old people with tired, old ways of doing ministry.
I must ask all age groups, what’s with the defensive talk and snarky tones? How can we expect to listen and learn from other age groups if we are not respectful in the church parking lot, around a conference table or in the social media?
One thing is for certain. If we truly want to be a healthy, vibrant church, we will quit playing this age game. We will no longer choose one side or the other. We will become champions for each other and will live out our faith as one team—an authentic church—where strollers, skateboards and walkers are welcomed side by side.