Since moving from Florida to St. Louis, I’ve noticed something surprising…
Everyone is suddenly younger than me!
I guess it’s to be expected when you move from the retirement capital of the world. When we’d go to restaurants there, even in our 50s, we were some of the youngest people in the room. Grumpy old people would glare at our table as our two little adopted toddlers did what toddlers do.
But here in our new town, people stop by our table and say how beautiful our “granddaughters” are! Now I’m the grumpy old person glaring at them!
I’ve noticed something about a few of the other pastors who serve in the city with me. No one wears a suit anymore. In fact, even wearing my sport coat with jeans is the subject of mild joking by them.
Oh, and most of them have beards. Long beards. Very long beards. Pastor’s meetings are like going to lumberjack conventions. And yeah, there’s lots of plaid happening as well.The folks at Eddie Bauer must be rolling in cash right now.
It’s like one big high school production of Brigadoon. I’m expecting kilts next.
A lot of them are even into drinking beer, which was always a big no-no in the ministry before. I used to think I was hip because I drank Starbucks coffee all the time. But these days, some folks prefer a pastor who runs his own microbrewery.
And they all work out. A lot. That’s quite an important thing, because you want your arm tattoos to bulge noticeably when you hold up your Bible on Sundays. This says to everyone, “Hey, I love Jesus, but I am still edgy. So I can pray for your soul, or I can help you out if you get in a street fight too!” Sweet, right?
So while I love my new pastor friends, their habits and look are, let’s say, unique compared to what I’ve been used to. Even a bit idiosyncratic, perhaps. Maybe “iconoclastic” is the word I’m looking for.
In other words, they’re all a bunch of hipsters. Does that sound grumpy enough?
Every now and then, all the beards and plaid make me wonder that age-old question guys like me ask in middle age (Middle age? Yeah, as if I’m gonna live to 110). And here’s the questions.
Am I still relevant?
That’s the one that makes pastors like me stay on unending diets. It makes us dye our hair. It makes us wear tragically hip clothes so that we appear like a teenager who suddenly aged way too fast and got fat.
It makes us question whether God is through with us.And it’s all a lie from you-know-who.
And it doesn’t help that some churches seem to worship at the altar of youth. For example?
Ever notice most church’s worship teams?
Notice how all the “pretty young things” are up front leading, while the old folks are dumped in the choir loft or off stage altogether? We say we don’t discriminate, but when it comes to age our platforms acknowledge that “youth sells.”
You have to read between the lines to see it, though. When churches set parameters for their new pastors, they often say they want a man who’s “energetic and forward thinking.” That is actually code for “we want him young, with most of his life ahead of him, and a cutie-pie for a wife.”
In other words, we want some “eye candy.”
Th funny thing is, I consider it an advantage to have years of experience under my belt. As I look back on my early years in ministry, I realize I was just faking it most of the time. No, I didn’t fake loving Jesus. But I did fake knowing what I was doing…a lot!
So it’s ironic that when I’ve gone through years of trial and error and actually DO know what I’m doing now, Satan (and others) say I’m done.
To that accusation, I’ll simply respond, “Talk to Caleb.”
Caleb was one of Moses’ original spies who sneaked into the promised land and reported back to him. He was also one of only two who saw the promise in that task and said they should listen to God and take the land. And he was one of only two God kept alive after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and whom God let finally enter that promised land.
Now here’s the best part. By this time, Caleb is in his 80s and they are dividing up land for the children of Israel to homestead and subdue. This was not an easy task, because there were still people on those lands who were going to fight them for ownership. So this was going to be a battle—in the worst sense of the word.
So what territory does Caleb pick? Now in his later years, does he pick some nice level ground that he and his family could more easily conquer?
Not on your life. He looks upward into the distance, completely ignoring the difficulty of the fight ahead, and says boldly, “Give me that MOUNTAIN!”
That’s right. Not just any piece of land, but a treacherous piece. One of the hardest pieces he could have chosen.
Why? I believe because with his advanced years, he had also acquired advanced faith. He knew it would not be just “Caleb” taking that mountain, but God doing it!
To me, his years qualified him more than the others. He truly had the experience that would inform the best strategy for conquering such a difficult place.
This is one reason I believe God sent me to a tough assignment at an inner-city church. Some pastors would prefer a nice, safe church with no challenges. But not every pastor can handle a church smack dab in an urban area, teaming with problems and obstacles.
I’m realizing it’s my age that qualifies me for the tougher tasks. Other easy churches wouldn’t need my skills, but a church in a city with the country’s highest murder rate and plagued with racial division does!
So I guess I won’t let those younger pastors intimidate me anymore. It’s okay if their age and style draws a crowd attracted by that sort of thing.
Crowds are easy to attract. But capturing a mountain is hard. And that’s the adventure I’m asking for.
After all, anyone can be young. It doesn’t take any brains or skill. But it takes a true cage fighter to make it to old!
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.