Is grey the new green?

Posted by on Apr 1, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

On my flight back from New Zealand I got to watch The Intern. To be honest it is largely forgettable, but in my opinion it did have one memorable line – ‘grey is the new green’ – that in explanation of the companies decision to employ elderly interns as a gesture of social responsibility and as a way of recycling former abilities. What do you think? Is grey the new green?

It is becoming an issue in the political landscape. A few radio talkback programmes this week explored the question of the employability of seniors, with all too many callers saying that it was nigh impossible to find a new job if you were over 60 – even if you had many years of experience, excellent health and were willing to adapt to new workplace challenges. If grey is the new green, it would seem as though most workplaces are not very green.

How about the church? On the one hand, those who study church demographics lament that the picture which emerges is of excessive amounts of grey hair. Speak to those with the grey hair, and they often complain that church programmes are almost entirely targeted for a younger generation and that the talents and tastes of older members of the congregation are largely overlooked in planning. At best, there might be a ‘seniors’ program for them, but many feel that reinforces their sense of not being part of the main body of the church – ‘are we little children, needing our own separate programme because we can’t cope in the main group?’ one over 60 asked.

There is nothing new about inter-generational stress in church life. You can often see which generation has won the battle in any particular congregation. Go to one church, and it is filled with young families, to another, and it is largely young people, yet another, and you struggle to spot anyone under 70. It seems a little sad. The early churches vision was of a church which was deeply inclusive, one where the old divides no longer mattered. Listen to Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ I don’t doubt that Paul would have happily added ‘old nor young, married or single, able bodied or differently abled, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’

Actually Paul wouldn’t have thought to add in the ‘old nor young’ proviso. If he had, it would have been to safeguard the young, not the old. His was a world where age was automatically respected. True, not that many made it to their senior years. Life expectancy was in the mid-thirties, so having an 80 or 90 year old in your midst was something of a novelty.

Today it is a very different story. Unless already struggling with poor health, your average 6o something is likely to live another 20 years or more, and there is every chance that those years will be essentially healthy and potentially very productive. It is here that we face the great irony. It has never been more difficult for the church to find volunteers than it is today. The average church is employing more and more staff members to do what was previously done by church members. In an era where people are retiring relatively young, and potentially have another 20 plus years of energy, health, wisdom and creativity to bring to various ministries in the life of the church, why aren’t we targeting retirees a little more intentionally?

True, some older people exclude themselves from serious consideration for significant roles because they are wedded to singing the tune of yesterday, and constantly refer back to the way things were. The trouble is that no matter how great the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s were (or weren’t), they are not coming back again. We all need to learn to sing a new song. But so many older people I know are wonderfully adjusted to the 21st century. They have so much to offer. We really must open doors for them to walk through.

What about those churches dominated by older people? They should be willing to adapt and change, but should not think that they do not have a valid mission because they primarily reach older folk. All people matter to God… so if one church is more effective at reaching under 30’s and another over 70’s – well, people are being reached, and that is a good thing. But isn’t the first prize when the church is a model of the reconciled community it is called to be. And that community is one where every age and stage in life is celebrated – and celebrated together. The elderly need the young, the young need the elderly – and when we belong to Jesus, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

So is grey the new green? Hopefully not as some kind of silly (and somewhat patronising) fad that quickly passes. Rather let’s strive for church communities that truly welcome and embrace all.

As always, nice chatting…




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