This morning I posted this message on Twitter, ‘I’m tired of hearing “40/50/60 is the new 20/30″ from the mouths of power, fighting to hang on. It is this posture that ails the church.” It caused a bit of a stir. I offended a few folks and got reassurance from others. All in all I made me think I needed to unpack it a bit more and offer a greater context than 137 characters can provide.
I am in a profession that is more crowded than the local shopping mall on Christmas Eve day. For every open position there seems to be 400 applicants and a pipeline that is pumping an additional few hundred contestants in to the mix without expanding the available pool. This makes for a crowded situation an even more crowded affair.
The economy sucks and to get to where I am professionally I had to create resources to get the level of education required by a system I felt called to participate in. I had to take out loans to get the seminary degree that was required of me to minister to the people of God. My life is filled with folks in the same boat that I am in. It is not very particular to my generation or the millennial generation. I row this debt boat with boomers as well. The process has not changed along with the culture that surrounds it.
Carol Howard Merritt offers up a beautiful conversation in her book Tribal Church. Please read this book if you have not already. To achieve the level of “success” that our parents have we have to invest greater amounts of capital that we need to borrow. For many of us we become slaves to debit to answer the call of God on our lives and are minimally supported in this process as there are little resources left to fund education due to the declining physical investment all of our churches are experiencing.
When I entered seminary my head was filled with the idea that finding a call was as easy as putting out your C.V. a few months before you graduate and go on a few interviews and BAM you get yourself a verified call for God. In reality we are discovering that many of my colleagues have waited over a year and in some instances multiple years to get that verified call from God. The cupboards seem bare.
We are competing for sacred space and sacred resources with a great generation of builders and visionaries that shaped the fabric of this world. Generations that saw great wars fought to end injustice. Generations that molded the UN, World Bank, many corporations, the Civil Rights Movement, the Jesus Movement, denominations that blessed and equipped millions. I admire and am thankful for what the generations before me have blessed us with.
My beef is not with what you have done. My beef is with what you do not do. By claiming that 40/50/60 is the new 20/30 is to deny the sacred space of those that are actually 20/30 and are holding on to something that is not yours. No one said you cannot do anything due to your age. I said that you denying that you are 40/50/60 is a false sense of reality and it is what keeps the church stuck in
its glory days of the 1950’s and denies sacred space in the church [in our denominations] for those that are 20/30.
We spin our heads trying to reach out to the younger generations. I am continuously the youngest person in the room [at 35] when we talk about how to attract youth. I am generally the youngest person in the room when we gather as leaders of faith. I grow weary of the desire for youth as if it is some sort of treasure to be had rather than a people to be with.
The church at large behaves as if they are Countess Elizabeth Báthory and must bath in the youth blood to ward off the disease of death and age. In denying sacred space to the emerging generations in our church we have denied Christ and the call to be in relationship with the Other.
In our zeal to live as we did in the glory days to hold on to the numbers of worshippers and maintain our sanctuaries and buildings we have forgotten about the transforming nature of the Gospel and the finite nature to which we participate in it.
No amount of work nor will can stop the church of us from dying. In the wake of Easter we have a lesson yet to learn, we are subject to death. We will all die. There is an end to our story here on this earth. The lesson of Easter is that this is not the last Word. It will happen. Death will take our mortal bodies and it will take our brick and mortar churches. Death will not conquer the Body of Christ. The church of Jesus Christ will not die.
There is no shame in being 40/50/60. I pray I may be blessed to reach one of those ages. I also pray that one day the emerging generations will look at the work I did in this world to be the church of Jesus Christ and find fault in it as I will fail and not be relevant to current issues of this world. I will not always be of sound mind to be where I am today in my faith and as a leader in the church. I pray I have the grace to step away and make room for the emerging generations. I pray I do not forget the frustration and hurt I experienced in fighting for a place at the table. I pray that I may step away and not walk away.
I do not ask anyone to walk away from the table. I don’t want to ignore anyone. I am not asking anyone to cease your leadership or contribution to the larger world. I want to be valued by you as a part of the solution & not a commodity to be consumed or used. I want you to feel secure at 40/50/60 and let me be 35.