“If you want to attract families and young people into your church, you should ______. Families and young people are the type of people you want to bring into the church.” You’ve probably heard a comment like this before with one of many catchy outreach or worship ideas in the blank. Perhaps you even have made this comment to your pastor or to a worship or outreach committee.
Are families and young people the type of people we want in our churches? Certainly we want families in our churches along with all the blessings and challenges that a family brings to a church. Even the occasional interruption of laughter or crying during a sermon is a blessing, not a curse.
However, does this mean we want only the young? Does this mean we believe the elderly somehow are holding us back? Does this mean for every new member couple over 65 we need to make sure we also receive into the congregation a couple in their 30s with two kids?
When this becomes our mindset, we become guilty of two errors. We have failed to recognize the blessings God desires to provide through the elderly and we have failed to recognize the blessings God desires to provide to the elderly.
Yes, the elderly are great blessings to a congregation. They serve as role models both by example and by offering advice and guidance to the young (Titus 2:2-5). Some have been blessed with great material blessings and are able to help the congregation through generous giving. All, even shut-ins, even those confined to their beds, are able to participate in the work of building up the church through their prayers. God blesses the church through the elderly.
And yes, the elderly still have much to gain in this life. Every day we have on earth is an opportunity to grow in the Word of God. How blessed are the elderly who remain able to attend worship regularly! How blessed are the elderly who are confined to their homes, but for whom the Lord has provided faithful pastors to visit them regularly with Word and Sacrament!
How blessed are the elderly who have doctors, nurses, and loved ones caring for them. We may tend not to think of this care as a blessing because we would prefer not to need it. We value our independence. We desire to be young and free again.
Our Savior would, in fact, have us be like children again (Matthew 18:3). However, the child-like virtue Jesus encourages here is not youth or independence (small children are anything but independent). On the contrary, Jesus extols child-like faith, neediness, the lack of pride, the joy of receiving the care and compassion of others. As we grow old, we do well not only to recognize where we may still be of service to others, but also to recognize where we are in need of assistance and to accept that assistance as a blessing from God.
Most pastors have heard shut-in members say, “Why am I still alive? Why doesn’t God just take me to heaven?” The reality is that so long as we remain in this world, God still has blessings to provide to us through others and God still has blessings to provide to others through us. In the words of St. Paul, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, ESV). This is an excellent reminder for young and old alike. Just as the young should not long for death before God chooses to call them home, so the old should not long for death before the appointed time. Just as the old should not fear physical death and desire to live forever on earth, so the young should not be unwilling to endure physical death and to enter into eternal life when God wills it.
Young or old, rich or poor, healthy or infirm, every day we spend on earth is a day filled with blessings from the Lord. God be praised!
Reverend Luke Willitz
New Life Lutheran Church