40+ Case Study: Jeanette

40+ Case Study: Jeanette August 5, 2013

Sarah Bessey, a gifted thirty-something writer, noted in her post last week at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog that as she was pulling together research for an upcoming book, she discovered how many midlife women felt marginalized by church and culture alike. She noted that the church often mirrors culture in way that cause pain for those of a certain age:

Sadly, perhaps we need to admit that we don’t honor age in our churches either, particularly for women. Once a woman reaches a certain age or if a woman is not considered beautiful or outgoing or charming, she often disappears in the eyes of her community.

Few of us who’ve reached the midlife would disagree with this contention. But I wonder how we might begin to think and act in kingdom terms about this issue. I’ll toss out a “case study” based on the experience of a friend of mine, along with a couple of questions, for your consideration:

Jeanette*, age 58, has spent spent about a decade working as an administrative assistant for a faith-based nonprofit organization. She’s been divorced for many years, and lives on her own. Her adult children have long ago launched from her nest. 

She’s attended a large non-denominational church with about 1500 in attendance on Sunday morning for the last 7 years or so. She’d been in a couple of small groups over the years, but these groups were typically short in duration (12 weeks or less). She would occasionally volunteer to help out at special events the church hosted, serving as a greeter or on the clean-up crew. In other words, she was a bit more involved than many who simply attended Sunday morning services, but she was not deeply involved in the life of the congregation.

A few months ago, Jeanette decided to take step toward greater involvement at church when she responded to a bulletin notice inviting people to come audition to be a part of the church’s worship ministry. The church’s young worship pastor told her that though her singing voice was lovely and he sensed she had a true worshipper’s heart, the grandmotherly figure was “too old” for the platform team. “You can be a part of the worship team who sings in our preschool ministry if you’re interested,” he told her. 

She beat herself up for days afterward: How could she have missed it all these years? She’d honestly never noticed that everyone on that platform each week was attractive, young, thin and stylishly dressed.

What would you do next if you were Jeanette? Why? Do you think the worship pastor may have been justified in his choices? 

*Jeanette is a composite of two women I’ve known who’ve had experiences like this in their churches.


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  • Tim

    If I were Jeanette, I’d be having a talk with the senior pastor or chair of the elder board. If that worship leader’s philosophy of ministry is one approved by those two, then I’d be looking for a new church.

    • Boyd

      That this has been allowed to go on for years (she–the composite–just hadn’t noticed it) speaks volumes about the philosophy of ministry. That the senior pastor AND elder board (and other leaders) hadn’t noticed it and done something about it long ago also speaks volumes.

  • Don

    There is nothing “Christian” about this kind of discrimination! This is nothing more than a “sex sells” mentality … the same reason female CCM artists must be attractive and tease their hair and pout their lips for the photo shoot of their newest worship album. To contrast, in our church, the leader of our Junior High ministry is a lovely soul in her late 50’s … many, if not most, of the women who are in the Music Ministry are 40+. Our Pastor (although by our Tradition is a male) is 70 and certainly not particularly hip or attractive. In spite of this, our congregation has many, many college-age and young families who apparently missed the memo that they should be attending a Church that the leadership needs to be young and attractive in order to deserve their patronage.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    I agree that a conversation is in order with someone in charge, though the Jeanettes I know are not the confrontational types. In “real life”, one ended up decreasing her church involvement, the other decided to sing for the toddler group. Neither said anything to church leaders, and frankly, I can’t imagine the conversation would have gone well for either woman. It’s more likely she may have been branded a trouble-maker or a crank, and further marginalized.

    • Boyd

      I agree. Talking about it with the leadership who had not noticed it by this point would be futile. It would require a complete admission that the notice in the bulletin was only meant for certain people who could pull off a Greg Brady “Johnny Bravo” because they “fit the suit.”

  • Is this a function of gender? Older women dominate the demographic of many churches. I wouldn’t in fact be surprised if nation wide women over 60 weren’t the most churched demographic there is. They often wield considerable power and influence. I wonder, however if the subset of churches where this isn’t true is large big box churches that seem to mostly cater to families with children at home. “Church” is a very diverse category.