IVP - Online Pulpit - Reflections of an Aging Preacher

May 1, 2006

Reflections of an Aging Preacher

I recently celebrated one of those birthdays that marks a completely new decade in one’s life. In 1990, I was proud of myself when I turned 40. Having previously experienced a mid-life crisis, I cruised past my fortieth birthday with hardly a whimper. Many of my friends hit a brick wall when the big “4 - 0” confronted them. Not me! It was good to be forty. No gray hair yet, but my age was enabling me to open some doors that a younger man just couldn’t quite budge through. But turning 50 in the year of the new millennium has hit me pretty hard. I didn’t think it would, because it didn’t affect my wife that way. I don’t mean that my turning 50 didn’t affect my wife. I mean it didn’t affect her when she turned 50, two years ago. (Didn’t I tell you that she’s older than me? Yes, I married an older woman; now I’m nearly her age.) Well, last year we were living in different decades. Now we’re both in our fifties. All our friends say they find it hard to believe. They say, “She looks so much younger than you.” That’s depressing!

The gray hairs are showing more now. I don’t have that many, but friends accuse me of coloring my hair. They say they can tell I do because my hair has that washed out look. That’s encouraging, thank you very much: it’s my real hair and it’s its natural color. Other telltale signs are emerging, however. My eyebrows get bushier by the week. I’m starting to feel like Groucho Marx. Once in awhile I’ll find a hair boldly growing where no hair has ever grown before! (Let’s not go there.)

I’m not quite old enough yet to write one of those books under the genre “Things I Would Do Differently” or “What I Have Learned in Life,” but I can see its headlights in the distant horizon, and it’s coming fast.

Okay, what does any of this have to do with preaching? Well, when I was a young preacher (Oh my gosh, can you hear it? I’m even beginning to sound like I’m 50. I hate listening to old preacher stories; now I’m telling them!) it was easy to identify with the culture and with the younger members of the congregation. Identifying with them was important to me; I wrote my first book about preaching and identification. I knew what young families were going through. I understood their trials and temptations. We either were in the midst of something similar ourselves, or had just recently experienced it. I knew when they heard me preach, they knew I knew where they were coming from.

I didn’t worry too much about identifying with the older members of the congregation. They treated me like their son, or for that matter, their grandson. They were like my grandparents. They forgave my many mistakes. They tolerated my attempts at trying new things and using progressive preaching methods. They would say, “He’s young. He’ll learn.” They don’t say that anymore. Now they’re probably saying, “Don’t expect him to change now. At his age, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I guess that’s what worries me the most about preaching and growing older. Sometimes wedo get pretty set in our ways. We just assume younger people should listen to us, because we’re older and know what they need to know because we’ve been where they’re going, and if they know what’s good for them, they’ll just save themselves a lot of trouble if they’ll just bear with us and hear us out. And we assume that senior people should listen to us to because we’re all in this A.A.R.P. thing together, and after all, we are the preacher.

Instead of making those bad assumptions, maybe if we continued to try to identify with our hearers, listening to them when they speak, no matter their age, they’ll continue to listen to us, no matter our age. And maybe, if we continue to learn how to preach, no matter our age, and never assume that we’ve arrived, we’ll continue to use progressive preaching methods that will gain a hearing without merely tickling the ears of our congregations, no matter their age. And maybe, if we’ll rely on God’s Spirit like we did when we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, and we were scared to death at the mere thought of standing up to preach, we’ll be better able to usher all people—young and old—into the presence of the living God through the witness of our lives. Maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for us after all.

Posted by Craig Loscalzo at May 1, 2006 10:48 AM Bookmark and Share

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