Reformed Evangelical Christians are well familiar with Romans 1:16 which speaks about the Gospel being available to everyone who believes: both to the Jew and to the Gentile. Consequently, we know full well that our evangelistic efforts and discipleship methods should not be targeted at one particular race or ethnic group, but to all.
However, in a church like GracePoint and particularly a ministry like ACG which is mostly filled with young people, I think we run the risk not of sidelining people of different race, ethnicity, or genders. Instead, I suspect we may fall into the temptation of sidelining those who are older in age. Now I’m conscious that there are a number of reasons for this, and those from Asian backgrounds know that there is a power dynamic when it comes to relating to those who are older. You know what I mean. You’ve probably been at family dinners where upon expressing an opinion, you’ve been told ‘keep quiet, the adults are talking’. You’ve probably been told something to the effect of: ‘you are not qualified to offer your thoughts here’. Or you’ve been shut down by someone older because you knew something was wrong and subsequently felt powerless to speak any further.
Now of course, these issues are complicated, because there is truth in that those who are younger are sometimes less wise and experienced to offer opinions on matters. Just because everyone can have an opinion doesn’t mean everyone needs to express it. There is a time and space where we allow those who are more advanced (perhaps in age, knowledge, or experience) to lead us, and we need to respect that. Our culture doesn’t like authority but God has placed these over us for our good.
Nevertheless, the age of a person does not always mean that they are right. We know that full well. This is why I suspect some of us are jaded in our experience of speaking to older people, and this is perhaps why we easily flock towards peers who are of our age group and season in life.
This, I propose, is the incorrect response to a culture that tends to diminish the value and input of youth. You see, for better or for worse, hierarchies exist in our culture, and the Bible certainly speaks into that and has the capacity to redeem it for good. And escaping and retreating from those who tend to diminish us is not always the right attitude. Instead, just as Holy Scripture calls upon us to love our neighbour as ourselves and even to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48, though I’m not saying that older people are our enemies), surely our response to these negative experiences is to love.
Consequently, I don’t think any of our negative responses to older people are legitimate from a biblical standpoint. If anything, I think we’ve allowed our selfishness, self-centredness, and desire for self-preservation to perpetuate as we hide behind the veneer of the excuse of ‘older people don’t take young people seriously’ or ‘they don’t respect me anyway’. Sidelining those who are older – and this type of sidelining can be as subtle as refusing to engage with them in conversation or more explicit as sneering at them for their age – is anti-Gospel.
We need to be careful, least we disobey God and His Word by disrespecting the elderly. And this was particularly pressed onto me today as a few of us visited the Pittwood Nursing Home again. You probably know that the Mum’s Community Group at GracePoint get together at least twice a year to visit the nursing home to chat with the elderly there and to sing a few songs (classic hymns – the music of the golden age!). And as we gathered together to sing, and as I witnessed these elderly singing profound truths – truths that they can no longer read with their eyes because they are losing their eyesight, but truths that they remember deep in their hearts for over the last 8 decades – I was so absolutely moved. Because here are saints who have persevered. Sit down and listen to them, and they will tell you stories of battling physical, emotional, and spiritual illness. They will tell you how they’ve lost loved ones and how they are losing their physical ability day by day. And yet, they remain faithful and steadfast in the Lord. To be sure, not all of them are believers, and some come along just for the music. But what a great testimony it is to watch these older men and women with frail bodies yet faithful hearts.
I think we need to do better at this both in our own lives and our church. While there is certainly value in building deeper connections with those of our same age and life stage, we need to do better at reaching out to those who are older. And we need to take an initiative. I know some of you want an older mentor but you’re too afraid to ask. You probably feel like since they are older, they should initiate. It doesn’t have to be like that. I want to encourage you, whether you are in the morning service or evening, to reach out to someone older this weekend. They can be a young dad in a congregation, a retiree, a mum juggling 3 kids in one hand, or an older lady who is gentle and graceful. We need to demonstrate our love for the Gospel through our love for them. I know they will feel deeply encouraged by it.