A Good Word from Francis Chan With a Couple of Qualifiers

22 Jun

I saw a very good video clip from Francis Chan today called “Aging Biblically.” I thought its basic message was very strong. Here is a link to the clip. I would encourage you to watch it and then I want to make a couple of additional observations about aging from my experience in a church with large numbers of older people.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Oc4VX2Ng0Co

I admire Francis Chan’s passion for God. I admire his desire to not be attached to material things. I totally agree with his words about the years seeming to go faster as you grow older. Chan says he doesn’t meet many elderly who are living like they are about to meet the Lord in eternity. Then he talks about how we’ve got it backwards, we take risks when we are young and take no risks when we are older. I think this is a good point, but it needs some clarification. Yes, we can see more clearly, as we grow older, that this world has nothing left for us. But there are two big differences I see between 18 year olds and the elderly.

First, there is an issue of energy. Maybe Chan is only thinking of those who are in their 60’s, and if so I would more fully agree with him. But if he is thinking also about people in their 70’s and 80’s, there are just certain realities of aging that would keep the vast majority of these from serving with the same degree of energy or activity that they had in their 20’s. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that, in many cases, they can’t. Arthritis has them in constant pain. When it is difficult just to get up and around, when you are constantly concerned that you might fall and break a hip, the equating of mission between the elderly and the young Chan advocates is unrealistic and can put needless guilt on the elderly. I know many elderly people who really want to serve God more actively, but they can’t because of health. They still love him, they are still people of prayer, but their activity level will never make them look like sold-out believers. I think this can cause some, like Chan, to look for something radical in the elderly that is more outwardly evident than what they can give.

The second qualifying word I would give is this: the elderly deal with grief more consistently than do the young and this often, while causing them to long for home with God, also hinders them from reaching out to others. Most of us who are younger can not imagine what is like to lose a spouse or a child or a sibling. The elderly experience these things over and over and over as they age. We need a robust theology of grief in the Church. This is a critical need that has often been neglected. We need to be helping people work through their grief. If we want elderly people who will serve the Lord faithfully, we need to walk with them in their valleys. This is hard work and demands the resources of the whole church if it is to happen.

There is one more thing in Chan’s video with which I take issue. At the end, he says, “Some of these young people are dying to come under the tutelage of elderly people who can not wait to see Jesus and are living that way.” I just don’t see it. Maybe I don’t see enough young people or maybe they don’t express their hearts but I see very few young people who want to come under the tutelage of an elderly person. Instead, many young people see elderly people as a drag on the church, not an asset to the body of Christ. They see elderly people as the ones who don’t want any change (of course they don’t want change, they lost everybody in their family to death in the last five years). In the church, we often see elderly people in the same way our culture sees them, as people having little value. I would love for Chan’s statement to be true but it does not square with reality in my part of the world. This is why my heart is burdened by the lack of attendance in our intergenerational study this summer. I know everything works against it. The summer is the time when people are gone. Wednesday night is probably the worst night of the week to do anything if you hope for good attendance. This is an opportunity to bring together the generations, yet hardly any youth or young adults have participated. Older adults who could benefit from the relationships around the table have also been absent. May God change our hearts so that we value these opportunities not simply for what we can get out of them, but for how we can bond with and bless others within our fellowship. May we not be 200 individuals seeking our own way with God, but a community of faith showing each other the way. May we not be youth ministries and children’s ministries and ladies ministries and men’s ministries and senior adult ministries. Instead, let us be the church, and let individual groupings always be aimed at serving the greater good of the whole body.

Francis Chan’s video strikes an important chord in church life and I appreciate his heart that the elderly not waste the days that remain. I believe the church as a whole can help them avoid that error if we will pull together.

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