A couple years ago I attended a splashy conference full of vibrant energy. The speakers donned hipster clothes (they knew the trend before it became a thing), shared relevant messages, and generally pumped me up to rah-rah-rah follow Jesus. I left the conference energized but also a bit jaded and cynical. Where were the matriarchs and patriarchs of the faith?
When I attended Cape Town 2010, I had two very significant encounters. As a table group leader, I had the privilege of leading six people in discussion during our time there.
One man, an Iraqi Christian, told of his imprisonment for his faith, how he dared to operate a Christian radio station before and after regime changes. I wanted him to become my father. He was old, grayed, and definitely not hipster, but oh his heart, how it radiated Jesus.
The other man told of his son being shot (and paralyzed) in their home in South Africa. He had a beautiful story, one of anguish, yet full of God’s restoration. He heard my story of abuse, and at the last moment we shared together, pulled me aside, put his hands on my shoulders, and said this, “Mary, on behalf of all men, I apologize to you.” Tears wept between us as this patriarch salved a wound I thought would never heal.
Both these men were over sixty years old. They did not wear skinny jeans. They had no platforms, no real “tribe” to call their own. They didn’t have people chasing after their guru ways. Neither had a Twitter handle, a blog, or a podcast. They seemed unaffected by trend and The Next Big Thing. They simply spent their lives in sacrifice for the One who sacrificed for them.
I appreciate younger Christians. And, of course, I’m grateful for their gifts, verve and guts. I even think they’re cool.
But I believe we miss out on the breadth and depth of the Christian life when we marginalize or dismiss those who have walked with Jesus for decades, who have successfully moved away from Me-First, Ego-driven Christianity and have settled into selfless service. Who have learned the beautiful art of finishing well, of practicing long obedience in the same direction.
Instead of tattoos, they sport battle scars.
Instead of skinny jeans, they’ve endured lean years, learning to rely on Jesus.
Instead of piercings, they’ve been pierced by health concerns, death of loved ones, ministry failures. (Oh, why is it that we flock to those who only have ministry success?)
Instead of highlighted hair, gray punctuates their crown.
We should welcome these voices to the platform, sit at their feet, listening intently. The author of Hebrews reminds us to remember them. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7 Notice that we’re to view the OUTCOME of their faith. This indicates a track record of faithfulness, not just three awesome years of church planting success.
R. C. Sproul wrote, “When I last crossed a decade barrier in my own aging process, God was good enough to grant me this small bit of wisdom—the Bible honors age, not youth.”
And yet, our celebrity-obsessed culture that values trend and the hip factor, worships youth, deifying and idolizing perpetual adolescence. This may be true in the world, but it should not be true in the church. We should look different, act different, value the marginalized, the powerless, the overlooked.
Job 12:12 reminds us, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” The Apostle Paul whose words we prize admitted to being old as he wrote from prison, “Yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” (Philemon 1:9) Peter warns all of us to walk with humility, subjecting ourselves to those farther along the journey than us. “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we dared to listen to and honored those who have walked before us by giving them the stage? We stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, but God is not yet finished with them. Why not dignify those whose lives have played out well, who have so much to offer?