Earlier this week, 78 year-old Dr. Tony Campolo announced he would be closing the doors of the ministry he launched three decades ago. I appreciate his faithfulness and consistent voice on behalf of the marginalized, and applaud his wise words in the RNS piece about his retirement from the organizational part of his speaking and writing ministry:
“Too often, we old guys hang on too long and steal the spotlight from the new, bright, shining stars emerging as speakers and leaders,” Campolo said. “We keep occupying leadership without stepping aside and getting behind these speakers.”
I wholeheartedly agree. However, I wonder if it is as easy as simply having the “old guys” turning over the mic and stepping out of the spotlight.
Younger people have told me that older people don’t know when to step away from the mic, and can’t seem to relinquish the reins of church or organizational leadership. The result is either frustration and unfulfilled potential or exodus by Gen X’ers and Millenials. Granted, many people in my demographic (younger Boomer) may not be able to afford the financial move out of a paid leadership position. Others among us are laid off or forced out of our roles. But the reality is that many who have a death grip on the mic as well as those want to pry that mic out of those white-knuckled hands really have no idea how to use the gifts and experience of older members once they move or are moved out of the spotlight.
Older adults may fear there isn’t a place for some of them once they’ve handed the mic to another person. Sadly, we ourselves are somewhat responsible for creating the very culture that has unceremoniously dumped older folks out to the proverbial pasture or treated their gifts and experience as irrelevant. In any case, there are good reasons for this fear of handing over the mic as I learned last summer when I did an informal survey to sound out the experience of those over 40 in their local churches.
I am wondering if it merely my perception that too few churches or organizations know what to do with the gifts and experience of their older members after they’ve handed the mic to someone else. A man like Tony Campolo, at 78, with a full slate of speaking engagements and plans for a book, seems the exception rather than the rule.
So I ask you, dear readers – what do you think? Have you seen older adults serving meaningful roles once they’ve stepped out of leadership positions? How?