As I sat in the seat listening to the presentations from the Ragged School of Theology students, I felt old. Three group’s presentations included the idea of an over 50s group with chair aerobics. Chair aerobics! I mean really?! I realise when you’re the ripe old age of 22 that 50 seems old but, as I head into my 51st birthday in a few weeks I am not thinking my next new hobby will be chair aerobics!
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on age and asking myself: ”When is old too old?” We’ve had several applications from people over 60 and one from a lady over 70 (she looks amazing for her age). They all mention the same motivation—Andy Prime’s amazing blog stating 20schemes needs some old donkeys.
When Is Old ‘Too Old’?
All true but, when is old too old? Should we ever draw the line? If we did, where would that line be? The current retirement age in the U.K. is 67—do we make that our finish line? The impact of this, for internationals, would ensure we cut off applicants at 63 (giving time to raise support and serve). Should we make it a hard and fast rule? This bothers me for lots of reasons. One of my favourite members at church is Graham, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and I know there are many interns in their 20s who would struggle to match his pace. It’s not as simple as drawing a line in the sand but, not all ‘old donkeys’ are the same.
We have a couple at called Ann and Derek (they are serving at Gorgie in Edinburgh). I’ve been so encouraged by their example and service, especially during Covid. Even whilst ‘shielding’ they found ways to serve. They would call regularly and send out packages to their revitalisation members. Derek wrote sermons and Ann printed out song sheets, psalms, pictures to colour, and other activities to engage with their aging congregation. As restrictions lifted, they served in other ways such as joining the Bingham walking group.
They used to go on regular routes visiting people in their garden and organised meeting up with people for a walk and chat. They always found a way to serve within the rules. They were proactive, engaged, and served with joy. I suspect they were just as busy in lockdown as they were before Covid. Derek and Ann are retired, don’t get paid for their role, and serve out of love for the Lord and His people. Irrespective of age, it’s who they are. These are the ‘old donkeys’ every church plant wants.
Serve Where You Are
I remember sitting with one of our older ladies at Niddrie as she said to me “I think God might be calling me to joining Bingham but, I’m not sure—I’m praying about it.” We talked for a long time. She was gifted in several areas but didn’t use her gifts. We had talked many times over the years about the gifts the Lord had given her, and she’d been challenged many times, but she struggled to step up and serve.
Whilst we talked about her gifts that the conversation changed direction. I asked her “You’ve struggled to serve here. In what way do you think it will be different in Bingham?” She had so much to bring to the table, and I encouraged her to do that, even whilst she continued to pray about the move. The sad reality is if you are not already serving in your existing church context, changing schemes or countries won’t make that any easier. A lot of the time we can be deluded not only about what our gifts are but how intentionally we live out our lives—we can be deluded about how we are really serving our congregations.
I love the movie ‘The Blind Side.’ For me, one of the most poignant scenes is when the Tuohy family are going home from the ball game, its chucking down with rain, and Leigh Ann Tuohy spots Big Mike walking along the side of the road wearing just a T-Shirt. Leigh Ann makes her husband turn round and stop the car to speak to him.
Then the moment that begins a whole new chapter for Mike and the Tuohy’s happens as she asks, “Do you have any place to stay tonight?” I’m always struck by this scene—not the taking him into her family, which is amazing, but the moments before it, when she first paid attention. Other cars just drove past—families on their way home, probably exhausted from work and heading home to get the chores done before the next day. Not uncaring just unseeing. Leigh Ann Tuohy’s brain was engaged —it was who she was—she saw him when so many others drove past. I sometimes think this is how many of us do church—all too often we drive past without thinking. Our brains aren’t engaged on anything but that day’s task or whoever it is we need to catch after the service that we simply don’t see the need. We wouldn’t see a “Mike” if he was standing in the rain, soaked to the skin in nothing but a t-shirt. Would you notice? Do you see the need in your congregations and fill it? Would you even know?
- Is there a younger Christian(s) you are investing in? Discipling?
- Do you only hang out with the people at church you like – the people that are like you?
- Do you wait to be issued an invitation or do you take the initiative?
- How much of your service isn’t organised by someone else (not structured roles such as music or kids church)?
- Do you regularly use your home for hospitality? (Regularly = daily or weekly)
- What is the earliest you can fit someone into your schedule? (Two, three weeks? More?)
- Do you have any non-Christian friends in your life you are being intentional with?
I’m left with the thought, if you’re driving past the needy person in your own church then the reality is, you won’t see the need any clearer or meet it in a context you are unfamiliar with. How you serve now is an indicator of how you will serve in the schemes, no matter your age. And moving country won’t miraculously change your pattern of behaviour overnight. If at all.
Many older women tell me they have a heart for women, a real desire to want to disciple and impart their wisdom into their life. If this were true, then I would expect to see this already playing out in their lives, impacting their congregations where they are. Someone with a real heart for women will find a way to express that in their own context. I’d welcome any application from a woman like this—no matter her age. Women who are living out Titus 2 for real because, it’s who she is.