“Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come” (Psalm 71: 18).
In 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was enacted to protect those age forty and above. In spite of this attempt to stop the practice of age discrimination in employment, it remains steadfastly embedded within American society today.
In 1968, Pulitzer Prize winning author, gerontologist and psychiatrist, Dr. Robert N. Butler coined the descriptive term, “ageism,” to describe discrimination against older adults (a term consistent in usage with ‘sexism’ or ‘racism’). Here is my point. While the problem continues in the secular world, age discrimination is also tolerated and practiced widely within the Church. This is not only not right, it runs against the grain of biblical scripture.
In recent years, when church professionals, ordained ministers and Directors of Christian Education reach the magic age of older adulthood, Search Committees often overlook these experienced persons because they are “too old to attract young people.” The practice is a subtle one. Committees say they checked out older candidates, but they did not meet the qualifications; a practice that appears legal even though the primary qualification not met was one of suitable age. One seminary has reported some alumni pastors in their late 40s and early 50s being let go in order make way for hiring a younger person “to bring in the young crowd.” Wisdom, skill sets and life experience no longer count as they once did.
While recently traveling with one denomination’s presbyter in California, he spoke to me of the difficulty leadership is having in connecting young pastors with those older and more experienced. “The younger leaders are not disrespectful,” he said. “They simply don’t want to waste time interacting with leaders they believe have little in common with them and with the way they want to ‘do church.’”
The challenge of connecting the generations is increasingly difficult. My presbyter friend said that even some 30-something pastors are beginning to have trouble connecting with and keeping their 20-something constituents.
Dr. Richard Gentzler, Jr., Director of the Center on Aging and Older-Adult Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, is a proponent of “mobilizing our older men and older women, organizing them to confront the ills of our society, sending them out in pairs like the original disciples. He declares, “We could change the face of this land. Our times demand just such a ministry.” I concur. Failing to inspire and equip the entire body of Christ will over time topple much of the Church’s leadership resources, both spiritual and financial.
Ageism separates societies and divides churches. It is an issue that church leaders must speak into. It is not going away. Wise leaders cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand nor talents enriched with age in the ground. “Young men and young women, old men and children … let them all praise the name of the Lord. For his name is very great; his glory towers over the earth and heaven!” (Psalm 148:12,13 TLB).