. . . posts on faith and life
100 years ago the life expectancy was 47. Today it is 77. That is incredible! That means that we are currently adding one year to the life expectancy every three years. Given the fact that many of those 30 years have been added in the last few decades, this rate will likely increase exponentially for the next couple of decades. The impact that this is having on Social Security and other entitlements has been well documented in recent years. It was even considered a major talking point in the last two presidential races. Nonetheless, few solutions have been proposed. Social Security has been almost completely absent from the populist rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaigns. How is this difficult trend going to impact the church’s future?
I found myself surprised by the statement that John McCain would be the oldest elected first-term president at 71. “Really?” I thought to myself. “That doesn’t seem that old.” However, as I discussed this with others I found that I was in a small minority in viewing 71 this way. I do not know why I felt this way. Perhaps I thought 71 was the new 56. Perhaps I had grown accustomed to relatives and fellow church members being in their eighties and nineties. Perhaps I assumed that if McCain’s mother could look so strong at 95 then he must still be young at 71. It is likely that all of these contributed to my thinking. However, there was one more question that began to grab my attention. Have I grown accustomed to top leaders being in their 70’s because that has become the norm in our movement?
If you look around at the top-level administrators in our church you will begin to see the trend. I was recently trying to argue the other side of this with some folks. I was arguing that there were more young leaders than we thought. I mentioned a few, but the individuals that I was speaking with did not recognize them by name. Finally, someone asked me how old these persons were. I thought for a minute, and then had to laugh. The youngest one was in his mid-50’s. The heads of Departments and state administrators are most commonly in their late 60’s and early 70’s. Some are even in their 80’s. On the other end of the spectrum, young ministers are coming out of college and seminary with few opportunities to find a ministry position that will pay enough to cover student loans and support a family.
I understand that this trend is still shifting, that it is pervasive, and that it is impacting every organization in our culture, not just the church. The boom in the elderly population will continue for at least 20-30 more years under current conditions. The radical change in our concept of aging and the late life cycle will require widespread adjustments in any organization. I am not one who simply calls for anyone over 70 to retire and “get out of the way.” But at some point we are going to have to find a way to have this conversation. Intergenerational ministry is likely to increase in importance during our lifetime.