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“Avoid the really old and the really young.”  I was going through airport security recently, and overheard this comment from a group of people behind me in the queue.  They looked like they were in their early forties.  They were talking about which line to avoid—basically, don’t get behind old folks or families with young children because they move slowly through security.  I turned and noticed that the woman directly ahead of me was probably in her seventies.  Apparently, I had chosen poorly

Sure enough, the women in front of me started having troubles.  She hadn’t removed her laptop from her bag, things were beeping and she forgot to put her large carry-on onto the conveyor belt.  She was getting flustered.  I asked, “Can I put your bag on the belt?”  “Yes, please” was her reply.  I’d like to say I did this out of the kindness of my heart, but it was more practical than that.  I knew it would speed things up

Shockingly, the group of 40-somethings behind me kept talking about how being behind the elderly was such a nightmare.  Unless the woman if front of me was totally deaf, she would have had no problem hearing them clearly.  Their comments were rude.  I felt bad for her, but as I was slipping my shoes back on, I felt worse that I hadn’t defended the woman to those young whippersnappers.  (I can call them whippersnappers now that I’m 50.)

Moving into my 50’s has caused me to reflect more on growing old.  One of the things I fear is being in the place of that woman in front of me in line—flustered and confused by some new security protocols and having the youngsters behind me in line laughing at me. 

As a society, we cater to the young and don’t do well valuing the old.  So, I wonder, how do we do as a church in welcoming and treating the elderly with respect? 

I was visiting a church recently and was surprised to see among the people leading worship on the stage, an 8 year-old girl.  She even sang a solo.  Later in the service, a 10 year-old boy prayed alongside the head pastor during the pastoral prayer.  They were honoring and affirming children as a part of the service.  I loved it.  While the worship team was highly diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender, in terms of age diversity there was the girl, but no one over 55, despite the fact that congregation included plenty of folks in their 60’s, 70’s and older. 

Why not?  While it’s cute to include children, we don’t think it’s as cute to include the elderly.  I realize that some churches do better at valuing the elderly than others, but I suspect that the church I visited is typical in this regard.  We don’t want to get stuck behind them in line.

Anyone in ministry knows that youth are the future of the church.  You need to focus on them.  If youth are the future, then I guess that makes the elderly the past.  We don’t perceive them as strategic.  We may not avoid the really young, but we avoid the really old. 

The church might not know how to value old folks, but God does.  He didn’t avoid them.  He frequently included them in his mission.  We’re not exactly sure how old he was when God told him to build an ark, but the text tells us Noah was 600 when the flood finally came (Gen. 7:6).  God called him to go to the land he would show him when Abram was 75 (Gen. 12:1-4).  Isaac wasn’t born until Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 (Gen. 17:17).  God called him to lead his people out of Egypt when Moses was 80 (Exo. 7:7).  Shortly after Jesus’ birth, God revealed to two elderly folks, Simeon and Anna how Christ would be a light to the nations and a redeemer for Israel (Luke 2:25-38). 

God, help us welcome and include, honor and value the “really old” like you do. 

How does your church or ministry include the elderly in mission? 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

Comments 

 
0 #5 David Lamb 2012-07-17 11:21
Dan, thanks for your comment. Keep talking about this issue. Christians talk about gender and race diversity (sometimes), but rarely age diversity.
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0 #4 Dan 2012-07-15 22:24
Dr. Lamb, I very much appreciate your post. I agree that we, as the church, need to do a better job loving and respecting the older among us. At our church, we have a blended service. We try to include worship music and liturgy that both the old and the young find helpful in engaging with God. This keeps us together.
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0 #3 David Lamb 2012-07-13 09:10
Jaimie, that's a good point, but the key is to find balance and in my experience, most churches do well with youth, but ignore the really old. Thanks for engaging.

Cindy, thanks for the comment. Other cultures value and honor the elderly more than we do in the US. That's a great point about learning from them, even folks with dementia. My mother has alzheimers and God is teaching me deep lessons through her and my father's care for her. Thanks for your thoughts.
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+1 #2 Cindy Lees 2012-07-12 19:06
Thanks, Dr. Lamb. Great thoughts. I have worked in many nursing homes as a PT and it's true, I think, that the older folks get forgotten, devalued, etc. Yeah, we in America seem embarrassed by people who are broken and weak...I sometimes think about how Jesus talked about how we treat "the least of these". Older folks in nursing homes seem to be a prime "people group" that fits this description. We can learn a LOT from the elderly, if we will just slow down and look and listen. We can even learn from those who are older and have dementia...that's a whole OTHER topic!

I think that as long as God has any of us still on this earth, He has more He wants to do through us. Even people who are bed-bound can have an amazing prayer ministry, for example; they can be just as involved in ministry as anyone else, and sometimes even moreso!

Cindy
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-1 #1 Jaimie 2012-07-11 20:53
Don't forget though that the children are the future church so they should be a high priority. My elderly parents have had their day; they're looking for heaven.
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