I once heard the story of a people group in somewhere like the Himalayan mountains who used donkeys to carry their belongings and supplies. Their journeys often traversed narrow mountain-passes where treacherous precipices guaranteed fatalities should someone put a foot wrong. When introducing younger donkeys to the arduous task of carrying the heavy loads and whilst negotiating the hazardous routes, they would tether the young donkey to an old experienced one. The veteran would lead the way, without having to bear the burden of cargo; the rookie would follow behind, carrying on its back the necessary supplies.
I can’t exactly remember where I heard this story. It might have been my granddad. It could have been on a David Attenborough documentary. It may have been a dream. The details are sketchy. However, the story reveals a real need in our ministry in the schemes of Scotland: we’re lacking old donkeys.
‘Like Attracts Like’
In a church planting setting, that has its positives. To plant a church, you have to be able to gather a team who are up for it, and you have to be able to gather unbelievers who don’t yet know that they’re up for it. And because like attracts like, you’ll tend to gather people who are generally like you—people who are around your age and stage, people who share your interests, people who you’d naturally hang around with. For us, that’s meant that initially our planting group was largely made up of young couples, from middle-class upbringings, with a healthy evangelical churched background. That’s all good. At least we were attracting some people.
However, that has huge negatives. How will a bunch of young couples from middle-class backgrounds engage elderly people from a scheme who have no church background? We’re going to struggle. How do you display a gospel that breaks down the dividing barriers of age, class, or race, when your group has no diversity in age, class, or race? We’re going to struggle.
That means that we have had to work hard to deliberately recruit people to our church-planting team who are unlike us. And we’re getting there, slowly. But there is one area where we remain unbalanced, and therefore unhealthy. We are proper thin on the ground when it comes to the older generation. This, then, is an unashamed plea: We need older people!
- We need people who will be the stabilisers to our youthful zeal.
- We need people who will disciple our young couples.
- We need people who will be mentors for young parents.
- We need people who will model faithful perseverance.
- We need people who will help us be a demonstration of a gospel family.
- We need people who will exemplify servanthood until the very end.
- We need people who will have time to invest in relationships.
We need old donkeys who will lead the way.
That is especially true for those in the scheme who are coming and studying the Scriptures and who are counting the cost of discipleship. If they were to come to Christ, they would potentially be stepping away from a long-established, tight network of relationships. But what would they be stepping into?
I would hope that an older couple who joined our team could help to be part of the vital network of relationships that they would need. They would have the time to get alongside them. They could be the adopted-grandparents of their kids. Their home could be a place of hospitality. Their experience of life’s ups and downs, but also their testimony to God’s faithfulness, could be the encouragement the new believer needs. If discipleship for them is going to mean the whole of their lives for the rest of their lives, we need examples of people who have done exactly that. We need old donkeys.
I’ve heard a lot of stories in the past year of Christians in Edinburgh nearing retirement, and selling up their homes and moving to some of the nicest areas of the city. That’s cool, because these areas need the gospel too. But what I’m asking is that some older, experienced Christians would catch the vision of 20schemes, sell their house, and invest the rest of their lives to help reach the housing schemes of Scotland for Christ. I know, it’s not normal to retire to a scheme. But who said that retirement is to be normal for Christians anyway?
We need some old donkeys. Maybe that could be you?