"The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair" (Proverbs 20:29).
I recently visited the website of a church I interned at several years ago. I was surprised to see the sermon on 7/25/10 was delivered by Eugene Peterson (the man who wrote The Message translation of the Bible, among other things).
Fortunately the audio was available online, so I clicked the link and listened to his words. His text was the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. He didn't say anything revolutionary. He didn't make any fresh proposals. He didn't say anything I hadn't heard before...
BUT...his words resonated deeply with me. There was a unique splendor that came through those fragile words of a frail man in his late eighties.
In our day, the new is automatically assumed to be superior to the old. Advertisers spend outrageous amounts of money to convince us that last year's model simply won't do. The story that drives the American economy is, "Out with the old, in with the new."
But the church lives with a different story. It's a story that honors "the old" and is cautious about "the new." This is true about everything from people to doctrine. Therefore, to let the old folks speak is a way of subverting that "newer is better" story that we encounter everywhere in our lives.
Peterson's many years have included teaching at seminary, pasting churches, burying one of his daughters (who died in her early 30s), providing for his mentally disabled granddaughter, and caring for his wheelchair-bound wife. That gives him a certain authority that is not yet available to a younger guy like me.
As this relates to youth ministry, the point is this:
Students need to see and hear from faithful people who are older than the youth pastor, older than their parents, and maybe even older than their grandparents. They need to see that Christianity extends beyond the student room, beyond "this generation," and beyond here and now. To be a Christian is to surrender the story of your life to the story of redemption that God has told, is telling, and will continue to tell.
We owe it to students to let them know there's another story on offer than the one the advertisers are telling them, namely the Christian story that says to everyone - young and old - there's a place for you here. Therefore, I encourage you to figure our various ways to let the old folks speak. Doing so will expose students to a world of possibility that is larger, deeper, and longer lasting than the next new thing could ever legitimately offer.
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