I hear stories these days that make me sad. Stories about older adults who no longer feel valued by their churches. Don’t get me wrong, I love a story good enough to make me cry. . .just not this kind. These stories color my thinking in shades of gray. Maybe because in these stories, that’s usually the protagonist’s hair color.
Earlier this year, on a cool Northwest Sunday evening two dear friends and ministry colleagues relayed their story to Dixie and me over dinner. The 50+ Ministry Sunday class, a linchpin of this church’s ministry to older adults, had recently been told they had to find somewhere away from the campus, if they wanted to continue meeting. No more “room in the inn” for these older adults. They were taking up precious space.
So they scrambled to relocate temporarily to a location away from the church site (a church that many of them in earlier days had sacrificed to help build). Unfortunately, the transition and the way it was presented resulted in bitter feelings from many in the group toward the leadership that will be a long time healing, if ever. So let me just say it in words that leave no doubt, coming from one who has spent a major portion of his ministry as a senior pastor. Sometimes we can check it off to inexperience, but the bottom line is poor leadership!
There may be many good reasons the decision makers had in mind. But this one bites back. Abrupt change in any age group can be traumatic, and nowhere is this truer than among older adults. These are for the most part “come now and let’s reason together” people. “Talk to us,” people.
“Help us understand why this must happen.” “What kingdom benefits will result from our sacrificing what has been for us sacred space?” “Tell us that you love us and you’re not just pushing us out because we’re a useless burden.” “Some in our group move slowly these days. They may not be able to make it from another class location to our church service. Even if they try, will there be parking places for them when they arrive?” “Please, sit with us awhile and reaffirm your belief in our value and dignity. Society and time is pushing us off to the outer edge. Tell us that the church is not doing this, too.”
This kind of conversation is as important, if not more so, than the move itself. It brings to my mind one more value-add when baseball teams talk of the importance of having a seasoned veteran in the clubhouse, on a level playing field with younger, passionate players who see “exactly what needs to be done” (in this case more space for whatever was happening) but may not think ahead about off the field results from decision(s) they make on it.
It’s the reason managers keep an eye out for veteran team leaders in the clubhouse and on the playing field. When they’re not there, the team suffers. Season ticket holders suffer. Occasional visitors suffer. The sandlot kids of today who might have been team players tomorrow suffer. What happens in the head office or the clubhouse affects the ultimate win-lose of the game on many levels.
Is my friend’s story an isolated one-and-done? Unfortunately, no, it is not. Other stories with similar hurtful outcomes have come to my attention this year. It makes me think.
I love working with young men and women who have zeal and fire and vision and are determined to take the world on. But I always try to have at least one veteran clubhouse leader on the team! They know how to pick you up when you strike out in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the tying runner dies on third base. They see how, with a little adjustment, your swing can be a home run next time.
What do you think about the value-add of a veteran on your church’s ministry staff? Does it help younger leaders to be better leaders? To make better decisions? And what do you think should be the response of a sage if he or she feels the church is pushing them into a corner, or maybe out the back door altogether?