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The Slow Growth Crown of Glory

On Father’s Day weekend this year, I shall be raising money for the awesome charity Chapter2 by embarking on their Father’s Day Challenge. Each year the Reading based charity, hold an event to raise much needed funds for their work which aims to address the issue of fatherlessness and young people who are growing up without positive father or male figures in their lives. They do this by offering training, support and a designated programme of 1-2-1 mentoring. The challenge this June will consist of tackling an arduous 26-mile route across the mountains of the Lake District that will take in the ascent of Everest (basecamp to summit) in elevation.

This got me thinking about fatherlessness but also more generally about mentors and sages in the church culture that we live in today. Churches in different denominations and settings all look differently upon young people, but also upon those who may be a little more senior in years. Some churches are facing an ageing congregation with no younger generations to take up the baton, while other churches celebrate the infectious zeal and enthusiasm of youth while neglecting the wisdom and lived experience of older generations.

Surely there must be a balance to find somewhere.

I am the father of three boys and a girl. They always need our love and acceptance as well as guidance and affirmation, but in their younger years they looked to my wife and I for help, especially with tasks and environments that were frontier territory for them. I remember sending them off to the shops or the solo walk to school for the first time and watching them cautiously from the street. Their nervous glances back telling me they needed the assurance. The young and fragile souls require validation, and that comes from parents, family members, youth leaders and community elders. But now I have teenagers and they don’t always appreciate the advice and guidance that they hear from us. They, of course, know best! I can remember hearing the very same words from my parents that escape from my mouth these days. And I remember ignoring them too.

But alas, life moves forward. We grow a little. We try things. We experience some victories and some losses and we pick up some scars along the way. Until, hopefully, we reach the liminal space of the middle years where we begin to enter the second half of life. I am just making my way through this process now at age 45. If we’re paying attention, one of the major things we come to realise in this stage of life is the following little nugget, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know”. And thus begins a new stage on life’s pilgrimage, often called the ‘second naiveté’, the breaking of the ego and learning new depths God, His Kingdom and what it means to be human. It’s now that we realise we need those who are further down the road, those sage-like characters who have been trying to show us the way all along but we were so busy trying to change the world that we forgot to listen.

The wisdom of Proverbs 16:31 reminds us “Grey hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life”. It is to these wise elders that we must cast an eye and an inquiring heart. When we arrive at the many crossroads in life, they’re the ones to whom we ask which path is the Good Way (Jeremiah 6:16). They’re the ones who have been in the arena for years longer, they have tasted sweet and bitter fruits and they have learned the secrets of walking with God and living well.

After all, wisdom is bestowed. It is passed down from generation to generation. For all of human existence and in every culture around the world, elders have trained and apprenticed young members of the community, they have shown them the way, equipped them for the challenges that lay ahead. Of course, these challenges must actually be faced by the young person themselves, but they have been preparing for it by living in close proximity to those who came before and paved a way through. They must posture themselves in humility as a learner if they are to succeed.

Perhaps this is what is missing in the prevailing culture in society but also in the church, the willingness to be humble and curious with the posture of a student and learner. So how can our churches bring together the passion and energy of youth with the wisdom and experience of those further down the road? Is your church community doing this? What is working? Do you have a culture of mentoring and apprenticing that is implemented into programmes as well as relationships? Are young people being invited ‘up’ to learn and grow and actually participate in church and community life? Are older generations being invited to bring their wisdom, experience and their scars, are they given a platform and space to speak and teach and to come alongside? Are those in the ‘I-know-best’ years being encouraged in humility, to ask for directions and guidance? Do we have a culture of honour where those with the grey ‘crown of glory’ are being acknowledged and celebrated for their service and offerings (of course, they probably will not want the praise, but give it to them anyway)?

Jon Timms

Director: Scotland & Northern England

First published in MOSAIC Issue 13, May - August 2024


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