They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green…
Psalm 92:14 (ESV)
I grew up in a smallish beach town in Southern California. From what I remember, it was a pretty solid blend of people of all ages. Our neighbors ranged from young families to senior citizens.
But sleepy Seal Beach was also home to one of the world’s largest retirement communities, a place known as Leisure World.
Leisure World , which was home to about 9000 residents, was built like a fortress with high walls and a manned gate.
As I remember (from both my childhood and adult experiences), Leisure World was a place that seemed to give off a vibe something like this: “Hey young people, keep out. This is our place and our time!”
Most of the facilities at Leisure World (the pool for instance) weren’t kid-friendly. In fact, to be a kid inside Leisure World – even if you were there “legally” to visit grandparents -was to feel like an intruder.
But, obviously, for a number of retired people Leisure World was the “bees knees” and “cat’s meow” (how’s that for some older expressions?). The reason? These seniors were looking for a large degree of separation and segregation.
When it comes to life in God’s church, I sometimes wonder (and worry) if a smattering of our older saints might be feeling a tug toward a similar type of church setting; a sort of “Leisure World” church culture which revolves mostly around them and their wants.
A place where the younger generations are rarely seen, let alone heard.
In the most severe cases, some of these folks tend to find kids, teens, young adults – even boomers – to be an intrusion on their idea of what the perfect church looks like.
There are certain churches that that carry out their ministries in an “older fashioned” manner. They are thick with nostalgia and have a penchant for things associated with the good old days. Essentially, everything about these churches, from the architecture to the services to the media, appears to be have more in common with 1960 than 2016.
I understand the temptation for some to feel drawn toward a church that reflects one’s own demographic. We all seem to be pulled to spend time with people mostly like us. Why? Because it’s comfortable. We speak the same language. We share the same interests. We are at the same life stage. And sometimes we just have really good memories about a time gone by.
But, ultimately, my contention is this: I believe most of these “retro-driven” churches are holding on to dear life to something that will most surely die. And. as a result, these churches are missing out on a lot of the action when it comes to building the kingdom.
In short, I firmly believe that the best churches are the ones that are inter-generational.
Meaning, we need all sorts of people to make the church function properly.
Without a solid balance of ages from 0-100, we set ourselves up for becoming niche-driven rather than kingdom-focused.
Although it may be challenging for all parties, I would rather work at tying to figure out how to do life together as an inter-generational church than one that only seeks to focus on one age group or demographic.
. . . . .
All this got me thinking: if a senior believer came and asked me what I thought their role is in an inter-generational church, here’s what I would want to tell them:
WE NEED YOUR WISDOM
You’ve lived longer than most of us. You’ve had more experiences. You’ve learned from your victories as well as your failures. We need you to help us navigate through life. Tell us your stories. Especially the ones when you were really struggling and you weren’t sure what to do. Tell us how God showed up just when you were about ready to throw in the towel.
Job 12:12 says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” In a world filled with confusion, we sure could use your sense of spiritual clarity.
WE NEED YOUR EXAMPLE
We need to see how you walk with Jesus. We need to learn how you pray. We want to watch you and figure out how you approach marriage after 40, 50 or 60 years. Help us see how to handle people with grace. Show us how to smile at the future, because your hope is not in the things of this world, but deeply rooted in Jesus.
Proverbs 16:31 declares, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”
WE NEED YOUR MINISTRY INVOLVEMENT
Although we may retire from our career, there is no Biblical concept of retirement from the life of the church.
O.S. Hawkins said this:
“Retire”…the very sound of the word carries with it the connotation of resignation or retreat. For many in our modern world, retirement seems to be synonymous with an attitude of “settling down”—or even “settling in”—to a lifestyle that often buries our talents and treasures and that can inevitably lead to becoming content with a life that, all too often, can result in just meaningless monotony.
There are so many places where a person can lend their talents to the life of the church. VBS. Service ministries. Bible studies and community groups. Greeting. Ushering. Cleaning. Cooking. Praying.
The Bible describes the church as being like a body with a variety of parts. When are seniors are absent, we are missing some vital body parts.
We may take a rest from our job, but may we never be tempted to unplug from ministry.
WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT
Let’s be honest. Families with kids are struggling just to make it. Its harder for them to give, because they have so little to give from. Many are faithful givers, but they have much in common with the widow and her mite.
Churches need older people who are often more financially secure to help support spreading the gospel to kids, teens and families.
And what an investment! Imagine the impact your dollars can have on the life of a child or teen who needs to hear about Jesus.
My feeling is that when money goes to the “Leisure World” church, its a lot like donating to a museum. But when we give to the inter-generational church, its more like giving to a hospital. One is a about preserving the past, the other focused on saving lives.
WE NEED YOUR PRAYERS
Of all the ministries and programs that a church can offer, the ministry of prayer is the most vital. And yet it is also the least tapped. By the time we reach our senior years, we may find some church activities are simply too strenuous or demanding. But almost anyone can pray.
I believe there is something special about older believers praying for younger generations.It reveals a willingness to, spiritually speaking, pass the baton. Isn’t that we want? A new generation of teachers, leaders, disciplers and missionaries? Then what better way to raise them but through prayer?
. . . . .
As much as seniors have to offer the inter-generational church, I believe the inter-generational church has some things to offer to them as well: purpose, vitality, renewal and hope.
Although it can be challenging to serve in a church marked by all ages, the rewards are great. Why? Because we are carrying out God’s will to be faithful in passing on the gospel to another generation.
What could be better than that?