by Judy Allen
God gives every believer gifts that are intended to be used for building up his people, his Church. My husband and I believe that and have served in many ways over the years. We got involved in a small church in our younger years, and I served in the nursery, taught VBS and occasionally Sunday school. My husband was an Elder in the church and the two of us led small groups, sang in the choir, offered our home for social events, people who needed housing for a night or two, and even housed our pastor and his family for a few months. I was happy to do it all.
Now, I do very little of that. What happened?
To be honest, I’m not exactly sure.
When my children were all in school, I had energy, growing skill and six hours a day, and I had decided that I wanted to use my time to glorify God. In addition to my service at my local church, I began to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center and became involved in Community Bible Study. It didn’t matter that some service was to a church and some to parachurch organizations. In my mind, it was all the Church.
Community Bible Study began to take a bigger role in my life as I took on more time-consuming leadership roles and eventually ended up as the teaching director. I discovered I have a gift of teaching, which still amazes me, and I absolutely loved the process of preparing to communicate what I had learned from the Bible. I’ve since left the teaching director role but am still involved as an area director shepherding four area classes.
When I was teaching director, to the 250 or so members of CBS, I was a leader, one who knew Scripture, and who could be counted on to teach wisely, pray, encourage, and be encouraged. As I grew in stature at CBS, my standing in church diminished. We moved from attending a small church, that had dwindled to a very small size and there was no youth group, to a mega church, where our then high school son could benefit from other Christians his age. We were then drawn to the excellent Bible teaching at our current church, and we’ve met many wonderful people, but we have had trouble finding a way to serve.
Added to that was my husband’s experience. He worked hard to earn an Master of Divinity degree in 2011 and looked for a job in ministry for two years without success. He admits now that he was naïve, that ageism is real, and that he overestimated the need for pastors with a wealth of business and life experience. We are wiser now.
While my husband was in school and I was serving at Community Bible Study, we may have developed a rosier than reality view of ministry.
I was fully involved with Community Bible Study, the only Christian organization that I’ve been involved with that is truly based on servant leadership. No one was paid a dime. No one was attempting to gain a following or make a name for themselves. Leaders were recruited not based on their age, stage presence, or persona, but on their faith, their heart for the ministry and the call of the Lord. The class was made up of male and female, rich and not-so-rich, people of all Christian denominations, young and old, and we all studied the Bible together.
Perhaps the 20+ years I invested in that wonderful environment had given me the impression that churches worked the same way. We thought the church would be different from the organizations of the world. Of course, we knew that no church was perfect, that they were run by people doing their best but still missing the mark, but we also knew that the church was under God’s control and that it is his plan for doing his work in this messed up world.
I still believe that, but I often wonder how God’s plan is working for him. In my opinion, the church is leaving many people and their gifts grossly underutilized. Fortunately, many overlooked people have found other Christian ministries in which to develop their gifts.
It’s possible that some churches are too big to find a place for everyone to serve. They have become large organizations, and pastors are groomed to become leaders and to teach thousands of parishioners from a stage, but they are less likely to serve as shepherds. A gifted leader or teacher can express the gospel in terms that may bring many people to faith, which is awesome. But what happens next? How will those people be discipled? Too often, they aren’t.
Whether it’s the size, lack of discipleship, elements of the world, or my own issues that have caused my difficulties, my relationship with the church is what it is. The question for me to answer is: What is the right, helpful, true and God honoring way to be a member of the church community?
Remain a member. The Bible makes it clear that we are to grow and experience God in community. Therefore, we will remain members of our church. As with any group of people, there will be frustrating moments, and at times we will feel the Spirit moving. There is no perfect church, but I understand that because I’m very imperfect myself.
I will also continue to pray for my church, its leaders and its members. The leaders of my church are honorable men who are doing their best. Their perspectives are different from mine, and I suspect that both are missing something important. All we can do is seek the Lord and follow him to the best of our ability. I will also pray that the Lord would make clear to us how my husband and I can best serve the body of Christ. I’ve been praying for this for a while, and I look forward to someday understanding an answer.
I will do my best to be personable, available, and open to new relationships and opportunities to serve. We’ll see.
Ironically, it is my frustration with the local church that has brought me into deeper communication with him. I have come to him with questions, complaints and more questions. He has corrected some of my unhelpful attitudes, and no doubt there will be more. Answers have been scarce, but I continue to ask, to seek, and to knock.
The whole situation has humbled me.
The church is still an imperfect collection of sinners, and I am one of them. The best I can do is to behave honorably and respectfully, remain a faithful member, pray, and to watch for opportunities to get involved.
Judy Allen is an Area Director with Community Bible Study, and she also writes and speaks with the goal of making the transformative truth of Jesus Christ more impactful in our daily lives. She blogs at connectingdotstogod.com and lives in the Chicago area with her husband and best friend, Dan.
Judy, I never thought I’d be in the place you are talking about when I was younger. but here we are, for me, some of the above reasons as you mentioned. I don’t expect it really to change at this point. It’s been a bit unsettling. and the people we were friends with over the years have moved away – so I so hope we will not be those lonely seniors. we do have two of our kids close by (for now) but that could change.
anyway, thanks for your piece here. I appreciate what you have said.
Carol, I would have never guessed that I’d be in this situation either! In fact, I never thought about it much until recently. Maybe things will change, or maybe not, but either way we will have to do our best to serve the Lord. Bless you, Carol!
Thank you for sharing your story, Judy. It’s so beautiful to see how your reflections have brought you to humility, and continued seeking, asking, knocking. It’s all good when He draws us closer to Him.
You’re absolutely right about the goodness of God drawing us closer to him – in the most unexpected ways! Thanks Beth!
I remember those days! Now as a pastor of a mid-size congregation…about 250 members…I find it difficult to get people to volunteer. It seems the same group of people do everything. I have gone from person to person to ask them to serve in different areas, but frequently receive a “no thanks” answer. The older people have “been there, done that” and are burned out and tired. The younger people seem to be too busy with everything else going on in their lives to take extra time at church other than that one hour in worship.
What does seem to work, and we do a lot of, is community service. Recently we held an abbreviated worship service on a Sunday morning and then went out to a senior high rise in the area and painted stairwells. People I hadn’t seen in worship in weeks turned out in droves! It seems the church is changing. I guess we find a way to change with it and still maintain the integrity of the Good News!
It’s great that you found a creative and helpful way to engage people that had not been involved in traditional avenues. I agree that the church is changing, as it has many times before, and the trick is, as you said, to maintain the integrity of the gospel.
Thanks for your thoughts, Lu!
I attend a church of about 500 people in San Francisco, City Church, where the staff fully embraces the journey of midlife. I did my MA dissertation on the spirituality of midlife, and we have turned it into a 9 month journey. 22 people from two churches signed up for the pilot year. I don’t know what the result will be, but I do know that everyone loves our monthly meeting and 16 of us will be doing a short “pilgrimage” to New Mexico in June. Please get in touch with me through this blog if you’d like more info.
I referenced Kim’s class in this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/03/27/faith-midlife-church-michelle-van-loon/ – Michelle
First of all Judy,
Thank you for this reflection. It spoke about some things that I have been pondering in regards to my own church.
My heart hurts hearing that ageism has made its way into churchs and those looking for a pastor. In my growing up church we had two interm pastors that were older men of God who brought such depth to our congregation in the midst of transition. I pray that your husband will find a place in ministry that sees his giftings and passion for the Lord and not his age.
I will spend some more time pondering the experience you have had as I believe that there are thungs I must learn. Thank you.