We know the Body of Christ as the entire communion of saints, past and present, who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We sometimes refer to ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ. What, then, does the Emergent Body of Christ look like? I would challenge us to look beyond the typical, narrow, and exclusive memes found in the institutional church that say things like:
- We must offer more youth and young adult activities, because our future is the youth and young adults. That’s why investing in youth and campus ministry and camp and conference centers is the most important use of our resources.
- Our youth and young adults are not just our future. They are our “Now.”
- We must change our liturgy and music to appeal to youth and young adults.
- We must change our buildings to provide spaces that appeal to youth and young adults.
As a society, we have a tendency to think of emergence as being the purview of the young, especially the millennials who are characterized as those born in the 1980s to the 2000s who arrive at adulthood in the 2000s. Millennials sometimes are referred to as the children of the boomer generation.
My husband and I are both senior citizens, ages 76 and 66, and I’m a boomer. We think of ourselves as emergent people. We think of emergence as a state of mind and energy. “Emergent,” according to the dictionary, refers to something that is in the process of becoming, of rising out of something old into something new and different.
With life expectancies much greater than those from the years of our births, there are new opportunities for older people like my husband and me to experience emergence once more in our senior years. The kids are grown and established. We’ve retired from paid jobs more than once. We’re still doing volunteer jobs like serving on boards and mentoring younger families. We’re ready for new adventures in our own lives. We’re ready to learn new skills in new fields and to meet new people. We have the mental energy for novelty and discovery even as our physical energy might lag a bit. Doesn’t that sound like emergence to you?
Viewing the elder generation as emergent makes me wonder if the institutional church has gotten it all wrong with its over-emphasis on youth and young adults and trying to get the spiritual, but not religious, crowd into our pews. Many institutional churches offer little in the way of enrichment and continuing spiritual formation for the elder demographic. Yet, the 2010 census and other studies on age demographics show that seniors age 65 and up are the fastest growing group in these early years of the 21st century. The task facing the institutional church is to ensure that it is not only relevant, but inspiring and challenging to all its demographics. Just as each sheep was known to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and not a single one could be allowed to stay lost, so, too, should the institutional church care about each member of its flock, whether they are elders or youth and young adults.Many of us seniors have great curiosity and appetite for more personal growth in things that matter. Yes, we want to serve, and we are able to serve, but we also want to learn, and we have the time and desire to grow deeper in faith. My friends and I are constantly seeking opportunities to expand our learning horizons and dig deeper into subjects that we have only read about.
I wonder . . . Would devoting some resources to enhance the intellectual, spiritual, and faith growth of seniors in our institutional churches reap significant rewards in the form of better stewardship of seniors’ time, talent, and treasure for the benefit of our religious communities? Would seniors feel more invited to make bequests to their religious institutions if they experienced ongoing spiritual nurture and growth even in their senior years? We support and give to the institutions that support and nurture us and that we see and experience as supporting others in their spiritual journeys.
What if we also paid attention to these memes:
- Our elder adults have been faithful church members for a long time, and they will be with us for a long time further, because aging today involves a whole new set of living conditions.
- Our elder adults are our “Now.” They’ve been present for a long time, and they will continue to be present for a long time to come.
- Our elder adults like a lot of our existing liturgy and music, and they are open to being exposed to new liturgy and music, especially if they are included in the discussion and decision-making to choose the new liturgy and music.
- We must change our buildings to provide handicap access as our elder adults experience body changes that limit their mobility and access.
What do you think? Who makes up the Emergent Body of Christ in your community?