My friend A. was an old hippie who looked a little like Jerry Garcia (the old guy version) with grease under his fingernails. He worked at a body shop by day, and gave his nights and weekends to what he believed was his true calling: a musician who used his gifts as part of his church’s worship team. He spent more than three decades as a rock `n roll version of David during his harp-playing days. He worked hard to stay current when it came to trends in worship music. His skills were stellar, and his childlike, humble joy in what he had to offer to God and others made him a great asset to any team to which he was assigned.
Not very long ago, the leadership team at the church took him aside and asked him to step down from his role because they wanted to have a younger-looking worship team on the platform. They used plenty of spiritual-sounding platitudes (“equipping the next generation”, “reaching families in our community”, “using your gifts in other ways in our body, like being a greeter”), but when he boiled away all the churchy language and looked at the New, Improved version of the worship team, who all happened to be in their early- to mid-thirties, he realized they were telling him he was too old to be in front of the congregation.
I know this is how the business world does it. But since when do those rules apply to the church?
I celebrate the wise and intentional passing of the torch to the next generation. I acknowledge that there are some in my generation who don’t seem to believe God could ever be calling them off the stage and out of the leadership roles they cherish in order to give someone else an opportunity to use their gifts.
Still, I wonder when has it become a sign of God’s kingdom at hand to force an older leader out of his or her role? Chaplain Mike in this excellent post at InternetMonk.com notes:
Evangelical ecclesiology in free, “independent” churches, with its emphasis on pastors as entrepreneurs and leaders building their own institutions with unique brands, owes more to free market capitalism than it does to the organic communities of faith we see in Scripture, history, and tradition. It’s a business that must be ever-changing to satisfy the demands of the market. And everyone knows that the market is about youth, spectacle, excitement, and visible, measurable progress. Ministers and churches alike have swallowed and digested this thinking for the past fifty years to such an extent that any argument against it sounds to most ears like defeatism and a lack of faith.
This is another verse in the saga of the displacement many older church members have experienced. (I’ve written about this trend here, here and here.) We Boomers helped to create the very church culture that is simultaneously shrinking in numbers across many demographic groups and in many places while telling us there’s no longer much of a place for us as we move out of our active childrearing years.
Singles have long struggled with being made welcome in many churches. My single friends have told me they feel like the standard setting for their experience in the church is “forcing their way in” to community. By this, I don’t mean they feel they must resort to thuggery, but that they have to keep pushing their folding chair up to a table that seems to be set only for couples and families.
I suspect the church leaders who forced A. out of his role at the church had all kinds of good reasons for their decision. The congregation brands itself as a counter-cultural, radical, “on fire for Jesus” bunch. They may believe their own P.R. But their insistence on performing spiritual plastic surgery on themselves in order to sell the church to a community that isn’t all that interested in what they’re pitching is an exercise in missing the point. If there’s no meaningful place in a church for those who are seen as less-desirable in the eyes of our society (too old, too single, too poor, too sick, too troubled, too weird), then there’s no safe place for anyone else, either.
What do you think? Is there a time to ask an older member to move along? If so, when?
***Gracias, Creative Commons 2.0 for the un-fiddled-with-by-me image of Young Jerry (commons.wikimedia.org/Wiki/File_Grateful_Dead_-_Jerry_Garcia.jpg).