Finessing Old Age

Edmiston Farm 2012I am 57  – which is rather old to many in our culture.  There are things I can do, gifts I can share, experiences I can draw upon.  But maybe my role is to step aside and make it possible for someone younger to do things, share gifts, offer their experiences.  It is a tricky situation, because I still both want to serve and have gifts to offer.  So what’s a seasoned pastor to do?

I love creating opportunities for spiritual development.  I love preaching and God talk and Faith on Tap and praying with people and hearing stories and telling stories.  I (rather disturbing) love to mediate conflict.  I hear about new church initiatives and would love to jump in and do them.  But it’s someone else’s turn.

My role in this chapter of my ministry is to make it possible for people from about 25-5o to do what God is calling them to do.  They can mentor me as – I hope – I can mentor them.  I’m a digital immigrant longing to learn new things.  And if you ask me, I’ll share what I’ve learned after all these years about dealing with church bullies, firing staff members, shifting paradigms, figuring out what makes God’s heart break in your neighborhood, training officers, tweaking officer roles, and equipping the saints for 21st Century ministry.

My Dad’s only sister is now in her late 80s.  She has outlived her six brothers – the three who were older and the three who were younger.

Aunt Jane was once the Go-To person if you wanted to serve a church in North Carolina.  She would have gone to seminary if women had done such things 70 years ago.  Now she is hospitalized after a stroke which happened after a fall.

Her season as a congregational and Presbytery leader is over, but it’s important to honor her contributions and remember the small and great things she did to show the love of Jesus – among them: saving the life and soul of a troubled kid whose principal wanted him forever expelled from school.  She literally planted herself between the student and the school administration.  And now he is a college professor.  She served on countless committees and commissions, taught classes, traveled to China, and mediated family disputes.

Once she read Scripture at my ordination.  Now people read Scripture to her in the hospital.  Once she took me on my first trip to Montreat.  Many years later, I was called to my second church because of those Montreat trips.

Her granddaughter is a recent seminary graduate, and she will lead the next generation of Jesus’ disciples.  Aunt Jane was so, so proud to watch S. go to seminary.

Why do people live past their prime, well into the years when their minds are no longer sharp and their legs are no longer strong?  Because there is still work to be done.  Maybe my Aunt Jane has work to do that only God can ascertain.  Maybe her children and grandchildren and great-grandchild need this time with her.  Maybe there are doctors and nurses and friends who are still learning from her.

Our job is to artfully live out whatever season we find ourselves in.  For my Aunt Jane – who agrees that old age is not for sissies – it’s a new season.  And it’s a new season for me too.  And it’s a new season for my first cousin once removed who just graduated from seminary.  And it’s a new season for you, perhaps.

Image is looking out on the Edmiston farm – in honor of our first Cousins Day without Uncle Bill.

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7 responses to “Finessing Old Age

  1. Peace be with you and your Aunt Jane and all who love her.

    As for the church mentoring bit. I keep reading about how amazing this millenial generation is. I also think about how Friedman said we are in a regressive state as a society that is supposedly going to last a few more decades. And sometimes I think my job as a Gen X pastor is not to transform things that much, but to bury the church that currently is, so that a space is created for the church that will be with this millenial leadership.

    I don’t find that particularly depressing, by the way. Seems healthy to take the long view.

  2. Thanks, Jan. That was very beautiful.

  3. Seriously?!

    57 is not old!

    In most careers involving the brain, 70 is beginning to be old…

    Discouraging post for this 51 year old whose children just graduated from high school.

    Age is a state of mind.

  4. I once stepped aside four the younger generation to fill my position. Guess what? Someone older stepped up and took the position. We still have the wisdom and ex[erience to share, to guide, to mentor. The trick is to be open to all that is new and incorporate it into our own experience and then to turn around and share it with others. It just goes on and on……

  5. First of all: Blessings to you and your Aunt Jane. Yes, people are still learning from her – and what an amazing testimony! Thank you for sharing it.

    I appreciate your post. I believe you must not have intended to leave out the great many of us who are not 25-50 and also not seasoned pastors? It is “our turn,” too, it seems to me. So many of us are second career (or more) pastors and excited about the future and passionate about the church of Jesus Christ. God called us out of careers like teaching, banking, and in my case, journalism. And churches love our passion and the fact that we bring real-life experience to our new callings. But we are not necessarily “someone younger.”

    I turn 50 this weekend, my wife and I have an awesome fifth-grader and an eighth grader, and we are approaching the 1 year anniversary of my first call. I’d love to benefit from your wisdom as a seasoned pastor but it has nothing to do with age – yours or mine.

  6. Thank you Jan!! You are so wise and so caring and such a great storyteller. It is DEFINITELY not time for you to step aside. It’s your kind of experience and wisdom that recent graduates like S can so benefit from!! And thanks for answering my question!! I needed to hear that! One of mom’s sayings that used to annoy me was “Life gets tedious, doesn’t it?” She would say that when I was yammering on about something that she deemed trivial, that seemed like a big deal to me. I think that’s probably what she would like to tell me now! Sometimes things get tedious, but get over it!!

  7. OK – my comments on the comments:

    I don’t feel old at 57 at all, but honestly some people consider over 50 to be old, whether they are referring to me or others.

    I also believe that those over 50 have much to offer in professional ministry, but it all depends on the context. Some churches really need a pastor under 40. Some need a pastor over 60. It all depends. But my issue is more that some older pastors need to step aside, especially when they are coasting those last years towards retirement. It saps churches of their energy and often, by the time they leave, it’s too late to resuscitate the congregation.

    I wonder often how to best help pastors who need to work because they still have big debts well into their 60s, but they have no idea how to serve a 21st Century Church. They might be well suited to serve a church that is dying and needs a chaplain. But tired pastors who haven’t read a new books or attended a fresh continuing education event in the past 6 months much less 6 years need to step aside . . . she said with a heavy heart.

    Amen to burying the Constantinian Church.

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