Western society has created two periods of uselessness in a person’s life — adolescence and retirement. Both are artificial.
Once upon a time, children moved gradually from the “can’t do” stage of life to the “can do” stage, and then to the “do it on your own” stage.
Today’s youth, however, largely as a result of child labor laws (instituted to curb the abuses of the Industrial Revolution), have little purpose in their lives. They do school and … party, play, gang-bang, hang. Little wonder that youth sports have grown — the team is the one place that a teen can find purpose, even if it is ephemeral.
Retirement is a mirror image of adolescence. Western culture doesn’t respect age, so the best we can do is retire young in order to get back to playing hard. Except, Mankind was made to fulfill a purpose, and travel, golf, gardening, travel, eventually gets old, especially for someone getting old. Sleeping in a strange bed isn’t so easy any more. And creaky joints don’t make hikes around tourist spots as fun as the pictures would suggest.
For the Christian there’s the same implication that what’s true out there in the world is also true in the Church.
So youth are given their own church or groups where they do a lot of silly games, sing a lot of contemporary songs, and hear a speaker who tells more jokes than he does exposition of God’s word. OK, I’m exaggerating for effect, but even in churches with good youth programs, we tend to talk about preparing the next generation for leadership rather than what those teens can and should be doing here and now.
Retired Christians aren’t so different — once retirement comes, it’s someone else’s turn to shoulder the load. That seems off to me. Christians who reach retirement should have the most wisdom and now the most time to spend in ministry. It seems to me, retired Christians should be the most fruitful because I don’t see anywhere in Scripture a place for retired body parts or retired branches. No, the Bible calls us members of one body whose head is Christ, fruitful branches of one Vine who is Christ. Are we to retire from the body? from the vine? And if not, then we have purpose.
Granted, the purposes of an adolescent and of a retirement-age Christian aren’t the same as those of the young or middle-age adult. All the better, though, because if we all were doing exactly the same jobs all of our lives, there would be a lot of stuff left undone.
Let me be specific. Teens have a lot of energy. Why not use them in some places that require a lot of energy — the nursery or toddler classes come to mind. Many are also very tech savvy. Why not put them in roles that let them use that ability — not alone with thousands of dollars of expensive sound equipment, but with an adult who can partner with them to do the job as a team.
Retirement-age adults, on the other hand, are slowing down, perhaps not driving at night any more, doing less, going less frequently. So what can they do? With the Communication Revolution, much, much more can be done from home. What about email to missionaries? Or maintaining a church blog? For the less tech oriented person, there are phone contacts that can be maintained. And what about prayer?
No matter who we are, what stage of life we’re in, we can all pray. No exception. God doesn’t honor the prayer of a forty-year-old more than that of a teen or a retiree.
Daniel was a youth when he went into service of the Babylonian king, and he developed the regular routine of praying. In only his second year of service, he was faced with the task of telling Nebuchadnezzar his dream and then interpreting it. His response?
Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery. (Dan 2:17-18a)
On the other side of the spectrum, the aging Apostle Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus, young pastors he was mentoring. But that wasn’t all. He also prayed.
I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day (2 Tim 1:3 — emphasis mine).
Personally, I think it’s time teens and retirees take back the purpose God intends for them. The world can say those who fall within certain age groups are good only for a beer keg or a rocking chair, but God has a different perspective. Children can come to Him. Teens can serve Him. Retirees can produce a bumper crop of fruit through prayer alone. Isn’t it time the Church looks to all ages of life to fill up the Body with useful members?