Gerontophobia is a hatred or fear of the elderly. It seems a television reporter in Huntsville, Alabama suffers this condition (or joked as if she does) on her blog, “Confessions of a Red-Headed Reporter.” Shea Allen, a special investigations reporter at WAAY-TV Channel 31 was terminated when she posted a list of ten confessions. Item 6 was “I’m frightened of old people and refuse to do stories involving them or the places they reside.” 1
Are we seeing elements of gerontophobia in the church?
Ronnie Floyd was speaking in May to pastors in Alabama and remarked that many young pastors today have as their heroes and models for ministry people who are close to their own age, instead of a “Moses” figure with the benefit of experience. This remark reminded me of something written by Ed Spry:
You didn’t invent Christianity. You and I are at the end of a very long line of predecessors. Praise God for those who have preceded you. Even if they have long since lost their effectiveness… One day you be old and tired and ever mindful that those who came after you probably have no regard for what you did for the last fifty years. 2
Church history didn’t begin the day we were called to the ministry.
I heard a pastor explain his theory of church planting and approach to ministry is to build a church that he himself would want to attend. I see the “golden rule” in his motivation. I also see a danger. Maybe not for that pastor, but for others. We are building churches to reach only those people we want to have something to do with. As for others, it’s like the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you!” (I Corinthians 12:21)
It’s kind of ironic that the very generation of church leaders who have most disputed “the homogenous principle of church growth” is the same generation with a blind spot for seniors.
Many senior adults literally (not figuratively) saw us move from horse and wagon (mixed in with cars and trucks, of course) to the space program, from radio to high definition television. The technological differences are staggering. They have lived and suffered under Jim Crow and now see a large number of interracial marriages. Moral standards have not merely evolved over time, they have been flipped on their head. While many of these changes were for the good, the constant adapting has been work. If many had overdosed on change, one can see how. And one might understand why they would want church to be the one place that didn’t change. Sure they were mistaken; it is God Himself who is our in unchanging constant and only true source of security. One can see why an entrepreneurial pastor, trying to reach his city or community, would feel like he was up against a group of knot-heads.
So we see a generation of pastors starting new churches to reach millennials. The blog, Downshore Drift explains how the perceived challenge is thought to be that this generation wants the church to be “more progressive, more inclusive, and more embracing of doubt and difference,” but replies:
I think that the reason that Millennials are leaving the church in droves is that, as a generation, they were taught by our sick culture and their parents that they are at the center of the universe and that everything should revolve around them, their feelings, and their desires and when they are with a group of people who see things differently from them on issues, then they find it impossible to remain in those relationships. 3
Is it possible that the secular culture of this generation has slipped into the church? We are not going to listen to a music style we do not like, not even in worship, not even if it blesses someone else. We are not going to sit with someone from a different generation. We are going to reinvent the entire Christian church. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Admittedly, every generation has had some of this attitude – we felt something like that, too – but not to this extent. In fact, this has come to be different in kind, not just in degree.
Motives vary with the person. Sometimes there are mixed motives, the bad mixed in with the good. I am not qualified to judge the motives of others, nor do I desire to do so, but I think it’s time we discussed the danger of gerontophobia in the church.
2. Spry, Phil (2012-02-24). Guerrilla Evangelism: 23 FREE Things You Can Do Right Now to Get People into YOUR CHURCH! (Guerrilla Church Operational Strategies) (Kindle Locations 566-570). Church Plant Press. Kindle Edition.