Monday, 3 November 2014

The Spirit of Rehoboam: Marginalising the Old Folks

Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king.  And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt.  And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam,  “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.”  He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?”  And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.”  But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him.  And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?”  And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us’, thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”....
And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.” So Israel went to their tents.  But Rehoboam reigned over the people of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah.  Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labour, and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And King Rehoboam hurried to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.  So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.  And when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only.1Kings 12:1-11, 16-20

We need to stop marginalising and ignoring the old folks in our churches.  I'm not trying to be sympathetic.  I'm simply being practical.  Why wouldn't you take advantage of such a tremendous resource?  On average, they pray more than our young folk.  They have more experience and wisdom.  They've seen more.  They have a more rounded view of life, including our mortality and the brevity of this life.  They have practical skills and the time to use them.  I even think that on average they have more evangelistic zeal and are more willing to go into the streets with the Gospel.

A healthy church has a good range of ages, I think.  So why do so many churches do what Rehoboam did and focus almost entirely on the 'Yoof'?

  • Is it because the church is in the world?  Money-centred and image-conscious marketing people and employers are interested in young people, and we can easily absorb these attitudes.
  • Is it because young people like louder, trendier music and we're not prepared to turn the sound down?
  • Is it because younger people as a generation are more self-absorbed than ever before and we don't even think of what it's like to be over 30 or 40?
  • Is it because our society divides families up by age group?  The old folks stay in homes, the little children go to nursery, twenty-somethings live together and few households have more than 2 generations living in them?  So even Christians don't know how to co-exist with older folks?
  • Is it because they have illnesses and die more often, and we don't want to be reminded that this body is a temporary one?
  • Has it got something to do with the overall decline in respect for the elderly in our society?
  • Is it because a generation of young leaders want to experiment with the latest fad, or do what they want to do and they don't want advice?
  • Is it because young people are easier for leaders to manipulate, ask fewer questions and do what we want them to do?
I fear for churches that, maybe even unwittingly, overlook those with more experience in life.  I don't think I have ever heard anyone in church quote the scripture below:

You shall stand up before the grey head and honour the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:32

Is that because it speaks of something so foreign to our present culture?  I believe the commandment:

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12

Doesn't just refer to to our natural parents.  Surely it also refers to our fathers and mothers in the faith.  I honestly believe that our trendy mono-generational churches are doomed to be a flash in the pan.  We need to welcome and involve our older folks.

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