Some years ago I was chatting with local Baptist pastor Dr George Lazenby, still then preaching each Sunday at the age of 90 (he has since gone to be with the Lord). He told me that he was writing his autobiography.
Knowing Dr Lazenby as I did, I had no doubts his story would be provocative, and so it has proven. He gave me permission to publish the following excerpt, about our society’s – and the church’s – fascination with youth.
We are living in a time when the ageing population is now seen as a threat. The next generation may well make demands that the present taxation system cannot carry. Which seems to fly in the face of the belief that we should retire earlier than was the case when 65 was the usual age for retirement.
This is not to say that retirement should follow that pattern, but that it appears to be a waste of what experience can give. And this attitude has somehow spilt over into the church.
The emphasis today is on youth, and pastors for youth are seen as essential. When seeking a pastor, few churches would be likely to consider a man in his sixties.
Some of the most impressive preachers I have listened to have been old men.
I shall never forget hearing Dr. A.J. Gossip preach in Glasgow in 1938. He made his way slowly up the stairs leading to the pulpit. He seemed so frail. His thin white hair covered what seemed to be a small face lined by age.
But when he preached!
I could do no more than listen entranced at the way he opened the scriptures. Age had not diminished his preaching ability – it had enhanced it.
Reading Christian newspapers, I am continually confronted by churches seeking youth pastors. As far as I recall, I have not read one which focused upon the needs of the elderly in the congregation.
People over the age of 50 often comprise the greater part of the congregation. They have their special needs. Many are facing the closing years of life – and with it the prospect of sickness and death. To their needs many churches seem deaf.
Subjects that come within the category of ageing and death would be regarded as morbid and consequently avoided. The elderly are left to work things out for themselves without hearing what the word of God has to say about these matters.
Why must the emphasis be so frequently on the needs of youth?