IVP - Online Pulpit - February 2012 Archives

February 24, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 2

by Emily Varner

The ways that elderly persons fit into our local congregations expose an “Age-Old Myth” many of us thoughtlessly buy into, not as much a wrong belief about aging but about what it means to be human at any age.

Christians are perhaps just as likely as unbelievers to define themselves by what they do, how much they accomplish, what their particular gifts and talents are, and other measures that, frankly, miss the mark of a biblical view of humankind. The starting point for a Christian theological anthropology, insists James Houston in A Vision for the Aging Church, is the life of the Triune God and the image of God stamped on each person. Fundamentally, then, to be human is to be in relationship. It is not our production or profession that give us meaning. Rather, the human-to-human and human-to-divine relationships in which we give and receive love make us persons of value and give us lives of meaning.

For those whose relationships seem distinctly one-sided, as for example those with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia, this idea of being defined by those who love us is particularly important. Think, for example, about the book-turned-movie The Notebook. Each day the husband, no longer remembered by his wife, redefines her by telling their love story to her. He has become the guardian of their shared history, their collective memories, and he determines whether their legacy will be one of love or estrangement. This concept related to God’s view of each person is profound.

God has a past, present, and future with each human being. All persons, regardless of their age or ability, are beloved by God and bear God’s image. When the church stands up for this view of the human persons, it does so in marked contrast to a society where the value of a person is measured by beauty, net worth, IQ, productivity, and a host of other measures that fail to account for the reason God created human beings: for a relationship with him that, in turn, redeems our human relationships.

The biblical witness testifies to this theological vision but also presents a very down-to-earth reason why the people of God must respect and value their elders: wisdom. The Bible identifies wisdom as reverence for God and often links wisdom with experiences that can only come through length of life lived before God. Simply put, we honor our elders by acknowledging that their lives have given them a perspective the younger people in their lives need to hear. There are exceptions to this rule—most of us probably know an old fool and a young person with a wise spirit—but the Bible admonishes readers to expect that the words of those who are older and wiser will benefit the larger community.

A Christian theological anthropology dignifies each human person, and a biblical understanding of wisdom refuses to discount the many experiences only an older person can draw upon in wise counsel. When these ideas bear fruit in churches, ministry changes result that congregants and, likely, community members notice.

A third and final post will lay out some of these.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:22 PM

February 17, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 1

by Emily Varner

As a small child, I was desperately afraid of elderly people. The white hair, the wrinkly skin, the change in vocal tone all seemed to me a dangerous and potentially contagious disability. I consider with sadness how my avoidance must have felt to my paternal grandmother—white-haired and arthritic from my earliest memory—or great-grandmother—bent nearly double with osteoporosis and missing an eye—neither of whom are around to accept an apology and explanation.

I blame this aversion partly on my temperament and mostly on the fact that I grew up in rather isolated military communities until I was six. My friends and I had young, fit parents and even the “older people” we knew were not yet retired. It took a change of scenery, some growing up, and simply more interaction with elderly people to lift me out of paralyzing fear at the less-than-pretty effects of aging.

But moving beyond simple fear doesn’t necessarily mean that my perspective on the elderly is healthy, much less that it is informed and (perhaps most important) biblical. The effects of sin undoubtedly reach into how a society views and treats its most aged members, and in the experience of far too many older people these days, the church often fails to challenge its surrounding culture with a new vision for both the value and potential impact of its aging members. (And if you haven’t noticed, the Baby Boom generation will very soon comprise the largest percentage of elderly persons our society has ever known.)

A new offering from IVP addresses this concern for the church to embrace its unique position in both improving the lives of seniors and seeking to learn from the lived wisdom of its elders. A Vision for the Aging Church is a partnership between an elder theologian, James Houston (one of the founders of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia), and Michael Parker, a gerontologist and public health researcher whose work has focused on increasing access to elder-care resources and encouraging community partnerships to benefit the elderly.

This book came to me at an interesting intersection of personal circumstances, not all dealing with aging per se, but changes that were very closely related. My husband’s grandfather was ailing and passed away while I read the book, my closest friend experienced a traumatic brain injury, and my in-laws and parents dealt with serious health issues that were severely impacting their lifestyles. I found its conscious approach to how the church approaches its aging and elderly members relevant to my personal life in ways it had not been even weeks before.

How a church involves older members speaks to the deep-seated theological beliefs of the people responsible for these programs. In my experience, church ministries for the elderly can be reduced to either day trips and entertainment for the active elderly or individual hospital visits to ailing congregants. My cynical side questions this as an attempt at keeping the old people happy so they will continue to give the church needed monies. But the more a church utilizes its aging members’ skills as volunteers and their accumulated wisdom in teaching and mentoring, the more it speaks to the continuing value of every person. Fostering intergenerational relationships and offering practical assistance to the elderly (not to mention the adult children who often care for them) does not come to our churches nearly as naturally as it should.

Part two explores the central theological idea that plays in the background of these issues.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:03 PM

February 9, 2012

Encouraging Vocational Stewardship

by Amy Sherman

I’ve never known of a church that doesn’t encourage its people to serve God with “their time, talent and treasure.” Sadly, though, few congregations—even those sold out to the missio Dei—actually facilitate “serving God with your talent” in an intentional, sustained, practical and strategic way that pays attention to members’ vocational talents. In a telephone interview, church-equipping guru Don Simmons, who’s helped innumerable churches with volunteer mobilization for decades, reports:

There are very few churches that have strong, intentional systems for deploying their people’s time and talent. Churches would not consider doing a stewardship campaign for money and not having systems in place to be able to gather it in, to disseminate it [and] report back how it’s being used… . But they don’t think of people’s use of their talent in the same way.

Congregants in our pews need to know that they should—and can—connect their workaday world and their faith. So often they feel a disconnect between Sunday and Monday. When we exhort congregants to “live for Christ’s kingdom,” we need to show them what that can look like in their lives 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. We need to do better in training our people to live missionally through their vocations.

kcOP.jpgIn researching Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, I discovered a handful of churches that are trying to do just that. We can learn much from their efforts.

At Christ Community Church outside Kansas City, pastor Tom Nelson has been preaching for a decade on the high calling of daily work. He visits parishioners at their job sites and uses workplace illustrations in sermons, diligently avoiding language intimating a sacred-secular dichotomy. Instead of only recognizing Sunday school teachers and missionaries, Nelson publicly commissions members for their professional service in local government and public schools. As a result, Christ Community congregants are living out their faith at work in fresh, thoughtful ways:

  • Dave and Demi, business owners, go the extra mile in supporting their employees’ families. Their firm’s light-drenched facility boasts a room for nursing mothers and a playroom for kids who come to visit Mom or Dad on site for lunch. And they offer financial aid to employees pursuing adoption.
  • David, an architect, now articulates his calling as one of redeeming architecture—designing buildings that “contribute to human flourishing.”
  • Jay, an attorney specializing in business transaction law, has found deep fulfillment in realizing that his work is all about advancing the kingdom’s values of peace and reconciliation.

At Church of the Good Shepherd in Durham, N.C., associate pastor Sean Radke has encouraged congregants to meet in vocationally oriented small groups. There they can share ideas about how to advance the kingdom in their particular fields. Already the law fellowship, Justice Matters, has launched a new legal aid clinic.

Grace Church in Noblesville, Ind., Northwood Church in Keller, Tex., and Crossroads in Cincinnati encourage congregants to serve abroad using their unique vocational gifts in specially designed short-term mission trips. For several years Grace has sent IT professionals to serve a seminary in Nairobi; Northwood has sent teams of educators to a partner ministry in South Africa; and Crossroads has sent lawyers, cops and researchers abroad to serve in special projects with International Justice Mission.

Let’s stop asking our bankers, engineers and artists for their canned goods and used clothes instead of their unique vocational knowledge and networks. When we create onramps for parishioners to advance the kingdom in ways that specifically draw on their vocational talent, we’ll find that they experience newfound joy and purpose in their work while the church significantly improves its effectiveness in bringing neighbors near and far greater foretastes of shalom.

shermanOP.jpgAmy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, where she directs the Center on Faith in Communities. Her latest book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, was released in January by IVP.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:41 AM | Comments (1) are closed