An Indian politician was on BBC yesterday speaking about the ongoing tragedy in Sri Lanka and the loss of life that is occuring. However whereas we would speak of "men, women and children", she spoke of "men, women, elders and children". How interesting methinks to myself.
Is this a reflection of their greater respect for their elders - and the time and space which they make for them?
Over the years I have urged preaching students to think carefully about how and to whom they apply their sermons. If they are not careful, they will default to assuming that everyone is a bit like them.
To assist them I have them imagine that their congregations have:
a Matthew: unconverted, unchurched; needing to be softened, awakened, humbled
a Sunil: enquiring, interested; needing to be informed of what being a Christian involves
a Joanna: convicted, seeking; needing to be guided directly to Christ
a Jessica: young (in age or faith); needing to be built up and led on
an Anne: ageing both physically and spiritually; needing to be encouraged and affirmed
an Ian: in a bad space in his private world; needing to be acknowledged
a Sarah: ‘de-churched’, hurt, cynical; needing to be heard and welcomed
and a Peter: mature and healthy; needing to still stretch and grow further
BUT THEN I put all these names on the whiteboard and ask the students to come up and tick the ones on whom they are most likely to focus with their application and the ones they are mostly likely to overlook.
Every year the results are the same - and just as scandalous.
Anne is virtually forgotten by virtually everyone.
This is one of the biggest blindspots in the Western church. Advocates of children and youth ministries love to say "children and young people are NOT the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today." Well, stay with the logic for a moment. "The elderly are not the church of yesterday, they are the church of today."
If eternity matters, then the elderly - on average - are closer to eternity than anyone else. Should they not receive therefore evangelistic priority?
What does it take to be able to apply God's truth to the elderly? You have to build some relationships. How do you do that? I have some favourite approaches. One is to visit them and ask open-ended questions about the pictures and photos on their walls - and watch a whole world and story open up.
And it is a while since I stirred things up about worship (and alcohol, for that matter!) - so let me pass on the delightful reflection of Steph Robson, a former student of mine: "love them enough to sing their songs!" AMEN Go on, I dare you! Once a month interview an older person about a hymn they love and why they love it - and then sing it with them as a congregation. Yes, in church! WOW - what a novel idea! Would that be so difficult? Would that be so retrogade?
I better stop there, before I get in trouble