I find myself asking, “Who’s that old guy in the mirror?” You know, the one with an ever-increasing bald spot and, wait … is that a new wrinkle under my eye? I stopped counting gray hairs quite a while ago. How did I get from being the youngest person I knew in most of my circles of friends to (cough) middle-aged? The older I get, I recall what I longed for in my teens and how my youth has impacted my present situation in life. I hear some refer to this as a midlife crisis. (I may be in denial.)
Seriously, though, the older I get the more I observe divisions along generational lines in the church. It seems many enjoy silos of like-minded, same-aged peers, when what we really need are family tables where all ages are welcomed and appreciated.
Silos were commonplace near my rural Western New York childhood home. These massive, concrete structures are great for housing grain and corn, but, when empty, are echo chambers. In an empty silo, you can hear your own voice echo repeatedly but can’t hear those outside the silo. Silos in the church are circles of peers who think and act like us, with echoes and reverberations of our ideals and thoughts of the way things should be. That might be comfortable, but it limits the reach of the church.
Tables are gathering places. To have a seat at the table is a sign of welcome, appreciation, inclusion, and invitation to share in conversation. One of the most awkward experiences one can have is to be invited to a table and never speak or be spoken to.
Church, we need tables not silos.
But what do we say at the table? For many older folks, the traditional role is to correct the “kids” at the table. They are not contributors, but opportunities for instruction and correction, lest they be sent to the “kids’ table.” And we’re back to silos again. Is it kids that only need correcting? Do adults age-out of the need for reproof, humbling or instruction?
Church, we need a conversation culture, not a correction culture.
Our younger Christians have a passion for the healing of our world (some older folks are shaking their heads). They want to see God “ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility and justice” (Psalm 45:4). Imagine all ages at the table, conversing about truth, humility and justice – opening our ears and hearts to one another as we open the Scriptures together.
Our senior Christians have a passion for the foundations of their faith, the treasure of our heritage in the church, and the desire to leave a legacy (some younger folks are rolling their eyes). They are concerned over loss of what they’ve held dear and hear God saying, “You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths” (Ezekiel 22:8). Imagine all ages at the table, conversing about holiness, reverence, awe and wonder — opening our hearts to one another as we open the Scriptures together.
To all of us, young, old and in between, do you judge based on what you think the other is saying, or have you given adequate time to listen and learn from their heart? Do you know one another’s experiences and life stories, or do you make uninformed judgments of the other?
Church, we need cross-generational sharing and understanding.
In Acts 2:17 we read that “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” You who are older, what dreams are the young having that you know about and are excited for? You who are younger, what visions are the older among us having that you know about and are guided by? Is it not the One and same Spirit of God in both the visions of the old and the dreams of the young? Is Christ siloed, divided, segregated?
Let’s step out of our silos and invite all generations to the table. At the table, let’s listen, learn, dream and share with open hearts and ears. Let’s pray and hear God together. Let’s engage ministry together. Let’s esteem and value one another.
Brett Heintzman is the publisher of LIGHT + LIFE through his role as the communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA, which he also serves as the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry. Visit freemethodistbooks.com to order his books “Becoming a Person of Prayer,” “Holy People” (Volume 1 of the “Vital” series), “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” and “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths.”1