I became a Pastor of a thriving church at 24 years old. I was young and immature, regardless of my energy, good ideas and good intentions. I made stupid comments and unwise choices as a leader. I lived from a far less secure place than I do today. But regardless of my age and shortcomings, I experienced ageism as a young leader. Many young people do. Older sage congregants and ministry colleagues would make smug comments that felt disqualifying and unhelpful. “You are just too young to be a Pastor” or “I can not respect any Pastor under 30.” Fair enough. But it certainly didn’t help heal my already low self esteem. Ageism in the church is alive and well. Yet we know the truth of the scriptures to the contrary…how God uses 12 year olds and how we are commanded not to be despised because of our youth.
But let me get at this from a far more serious angle. Ageism against the old….is WORSE! Far worse. As the culture around us (in America) continues to promote youthfulness, health and image, the honor and respect for the elderly continues to drop. And I am realizing just how bad it is for the older members of church communities. It feels like they are too often (secretly and intentionally) helped out of the roles they play, encouraged to take a seat in their rocking chairs and promised that they will be called on——and they are still waiting. No one calls. I get it. I have interacted with many older saints.
When I was a little boy, my Mother would take me to visit Francis and Dorothy Furgang who were in their 80s. I listened to their stories, studied their lives and cut their grass. It instilled something in me that drove me to meet with a retired Pastor just last week. But I've made mistakes and dishonored some older leaders. I regret that.
Look, I know their stories can be long, repetitive and often disconnected from what you all were even discussing. Their ideas can be dated and their ministry strategies long expired. But their record is rich, their wisdom goes deep, and their insights from life experiences they’ve had could be a game changer for younger believers….if they would ever ask. But they don’t. And that is the issue. Many, many older believers are neglected and underused…and certainly under-appreciated. It’s ageism. It’s hurtful to them. And it is down right stupid of us to not call them. visit them, include them and drink from the wells that are often not dry, just hidden and waiting because no one cares to drink.
(Another fascinating experience was going from ageism against the old in America, to ageism against the youth in Africa. America values youth. Africa does not! That's for another blog.)