Recently I was challenged by someone who, having had the misfortune of hearing me preach, wanted to take me to task over my making the old and disabled feel criticised and abused when I said, 'Building church was not the responsibility of the paid clergy or those who take upon themselves the role of leadership but is something every member of the Church should be doing.'
What, apparently, I should have said is, 'Well done you good and faithful servants, you are now too old to witness and we thank you for the part you have played and now respect the fact that you are no longer able to witness or share your faith in any way - enjoy your retirement !'
Now what happened next was quite a change in method for me, for instead of my usual, 'Oooh, that's an interesting take on it, let me go away and think about it,' I told the person challenging me that as I understood it neither age or disability provided an exeat for those in possession of a baptismal calling and so thought my comments were correct - a viewpoint that didn't appear to go down too well I'm afraid.
But let's take a look at the background to this situation, which is the words of Acts 4 as found in last week's Sunday readings:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
As I have pointed out on many occasions, the cheery verses from Acts 2 and 4 make for great reading for those who like to think of unity and fellowship (koinonia) and church growth and the needy being dealt with and everything is wonderful at St Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm Fellowship. Well it is fine until I point out that the model of Church shown in Acts requires people to:
+ Meet the needs of others whenever a need arises
+ To share in the duty of pastoral care - ministering to those who are in need, contacting
those who are noticed as being absent from church meetings and all that stuff
+ Taking the time to meet with others to share Bible study and to pray together
+ Being reading to give an answer for the hope that they have in Jesus, the Christ, to
anyone who might ask (1 Peter 3. 15), and I quote:
'Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you have.
Be ready to give the reason for it. But do it gently and with respect.'
+ To be willing to share their faith, in and out of season, in whatever way they feel is most
accessible to them. It might require words, it could be actions, it could be something as
simple and being hospitable - find your means and engage with others
Now I have checked my Bible again and can find no place where it says there is an upper age limit when it comes to salvation, or witnessing, or leading people into relationship with God through the Gospel of Jesus, or even ministering before the Lord (we leave that to the apparently ageist attitudes found in the Church these days!). Such findings lead me to consider my views, however unpopular, to be correct and so the issuing of what we call in the Army, a 'Biff Chit*' on grounds of age of medical problem is just not going to happen - end of!
The problem with Church growth is that all too often there isn't any and the all too often reason for this is that of finding an excuse for us not to get out there and do what we are called to do, which is:
Witness the love of God as shown through the servanthood and sacrifice of the Christ
Share in the care and support of those around us
Live - in such a manner that others realise that you are, and have, something different from
that which the world has and offers
Learn - Everything you can about God and His dealings with the world and the solution for
the problems that is Jesus - read your Bible (and do it with others)
Pray - and do it regularly (and 'No' - praying for the bus doesn't count as prayer time) and
intelligently and with others and check what needs there are and what your prayer
might be doing - and keep doing it!
None of this is rocket science - but the lack of it is the reason Church Growth isn't
Now - anyone else want an apology - because the person who took me to task has just had one**
* A light duties permission issued by the medicos to those excused boots, running and much, much, more.
** apologia: an answer or defence of who we are and what we believe.