Catch the Age Wave: a reflection

Catch the Age Wave is a book about how the church should seize the opportunity of deploying the church’s seniors to reach a rapidly aging population. The church’s seniors are defined by the authors Win Arn and Charles Arn as those in the late 50’s and 60’s – the “soon to be retired” or “the recently retired.” My purpose was to survey what has been written about how churches pastored their seniors. Here are my brief reflections.

The Arns feel that there we should view seniors today differently from how they were viewed in the past. They are not weak and sickly. Today’s seniors are healthier than their counterparts a decade ago. They do not yet need a great deal of volunteers to take care of them. In fact they are potentially a great source of volunteers for the church. They can be great care-givers. Their retirement motive is not necessarily to play or rock the chair. They want to work, learn, grow and serve and play too. Evidently churches in Singapore need to revise their views of the seniors, and give more attention, more resources to deploy seniors and reach the unsaved seniors. I cannot but agree that we need new eyes. Ageism, that bias against the old, has no place in the church that boasts of Abraham as the father of their faith.

However, I was dissatisfied with the way spiritual development was dealt with superficially in the book. The tasks that seniors have to tackle and the spirituality of this stage of life were not spelled out nor examined. There was no mention of the very stark reality of the challenges of ministry to the seniors – especially the older old. Nothing was said of the infirm, the shut-ins, the poor, the sick and dying and their needs. The focus was heavily focused on the hope, the positive, the opportunities and ideas for ministry. It was imbalanced but their purpose was different from what I was searching for.

Their methodology was based on the “homogeneity principle” of church growth. This is the idea that the more people are of the same race, status, language and age group the higher the likelihood that such a homogeneous group would grow.  I thought that such a mental model would deter church leaders from seeing the church as ideally multi-generational and meant to be so because holistic, deeper and richer learning of the faith takes place more effectively in such a social context.

Arn, W., Arn, C. 1993. Catch the Age Wave. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House.

Crossroads Cup: Singapore’s inter-church football league

WRPF plays a Methodist Church
WRPF plays a Methodist Church

WRPF playing a Methodist church team

The Crossroads Cup is an inter church football tournament. Bless the people who organized it for it has offered an opportunity for men passionate about football to express their witness and worship in play. Many church activities does not press the button for Christian guys. This one does for those with an interest in football. And its a good way to bring in pre-believers into the squad. People often come to faith through experiencing Christ in Christian community. In the safety of the football pitch, under the open sky, or over meals at coffee-shop, hawker center or a home, the pre-believer encounters the Christ in community.  Stories are told. Acceptance and love is experienced. Seeds are planted. Who knows?

World Revival Prayer Fellowship joined the inter-church league this year. We have a team of church members as well as pre-believers. They pick up good values on the field. They fall, they fail in more than one ways. They learn character; they learn values. They learn Christ not by studying the Bible but by experience, observation, and reflection. A different way of learning than in the classroom, or in the worship service or in the small group. Nevertheless, learning takes place. Probably in ways that cannot be replicated by other church programs. More churches should join in next year. Winning, everyone says, is not the main thing. Even so, WRPF is currently fourth on the table, and everyone loves to have a sense of progress, and if it includes winning, why not? Maybe in three years time, this is a probability. Amen and amen.

Focus on God’s agenda for the gays

The church in Singapore could do herself much good by reorienting her focus on God’s agenda for the gays, instead of the publicly perceived homophobia of the church and its fear of the gays’ agenda for the world. The gays may have an agenda, but so does God, and God’s agenda and love plan for the gays and the world is what will prevail. The church can ask, “Lord, how can we partner with You in what You are doing among the gays, and how can we  join You in Your work”?  One thing this would involve is the church seeking to understand and inculcate compassion and develop church ministry and care of gay inclined believers. It will take the church out of a war footing into a posture of peacemaking, towels and basins. It will mean the church  identifying with the marginalized, taking risks, and serving with humility.

I was reading a friend’s review of a book titled, ‘Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality’ by Wesley Hill, who is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry. Sze Zeng summarized three lessons he picked up. They helped me see the struggles and loneliness of believers who experience same sex attraction. It helped me feel the plight and pain of brothers and sisters who often endure it all in anonymity. I have quoted two of his lessons. For the third lesson, please read his full blogpost.

Lesson 1: Same-sex attraction is real—the need to struggle with it.

There are those among us who are really and genuinely feel attracted to people of the same gender. For this reason, many have tried to find a connection between same-sex attraction and their childhood. Some even try to link sexuality to gene. Hence the whole debate between ‘nature versus nurture’. Accordingly, there are ‘therapies’ designed to help people to change their sexuality.

The author cuts through this impasse debate by talking about his own personal discovery of his homosexual orientation. He was brought up in a non-abusive childhood and had a fairly good upbringing. It was during high school years that he sensed a “steady, strong, unremitting, exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex” (p.13). The unchangeable sexual desire for homosexual relationship is real to him and to those who experience it. Since then his life is marked by fear, persistent loneliness and inner conflict.

Hill asked a probing question, which I think many homosexual Christians are asking as well, “Can we gay and lesbian Christians who experience no change in our homoerotic desires live in the joyful assurance that our lives are satisfying to God? Can we who remain homosexually inclined actually please God?” (p.135).

To Hill, the answer depends on our understanding of homosexuality: What do the Scripture and Church tradition say? Hill is clear that same-sex attraction is “one of the myriad tragic consequences of living in a fallen world stalked by the specters of sin and death” (p.32). With full conviction and tireless struggle, Hill writes, “I abstain from homosexual behaviour because of the power of that scriptural story” (p.61), and such endurance is a “daily dying” (p.71). As Hill further affirms, “I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, […] “Well done, good and faithful servant” (p.150). Hill’s spiritual persistence is exemplary for all Christians in dealing with our own temptation, be it on sexuality or otherwise.

Lesson 2: Homosexuality comes with unbearable loneliness—the necessity of a trustworthy and supportive community within the church.

The loneliness experienced by those with homosexual inclination is not easily understood by heterosexuals. Gay Christians cannot relate to their heterosexual peers’ interest in the opposite gender. They have to be careful not to jeopardize their friendship by developing romantic interest with friends of the same gender. They are afraid that they will be rejected and discriminated when their sexuality is known by their family, friends, and church-mates. They have to constantly struggle against the desire of entering into a monogamous homosexual relationship, especially in society where homosexual practice is widely accepted and legally protected (e.g. civil partnership and same-sex ‘marriage’). On top of these, they have to face negligence in various degrees by their heterosexual friends who eventually get married and start their own family. To Hill, loneliness is the “defining struggle” of his life (p.92) that makes him feels “painfully contradictory” (p.115).

“What I wish,” as Hill once said to his pastor, “is that I could feel the church to be a safe place” (p.42). “The remedy for loneliness—if there is such a thing this side of God’s future—is to learn, over and over again, to do this: to feel God’s keeping presence embodied in the human members of the community of faith, the church” (p.113). Writing from Hill’s own experience with his church, “I began to learn to wrestle with my homosexuality in community over many late-night cups of coffee and in tear-soaked, face-on-the-floor times of prayer with members of my church” (p.48, italics original) Are we, as part of the local churches, willing to learn to provide the kind of safe space for our brothers and sisters in Christ to wrestle with their same-sex attraction?