In late October, speaker and writer Margaret Feinburg posted a piece on her website with the very insightful and thought provoking title of “An Open Letter to Everyone Over 40 Who Has Left the Church” which you can read by clicking on this link http://margaretfeinberg.com/margarets-monday-musings-an-open-letter-to-everyone-over-40-who-has-left-the-church/
(By the way Margaret I thought that it was interesting that you posted it on what would have been my parent’s 57th wedding anniversary had my father lived. Talk about two people who stayed, and have stayed with, the church (my mom is 88 and still actively attends the church she and dad started attending 30 years ago!) and through thick and thin!
What struck me about this post were the responses. The post struck a chord with many readers both over and under 40. As I read them, and I contributed one myself, and as I thought about what had been said, I stepped back and reflected further on my life and involvement in a local church.
I wanted to write a post on this subject last month but the draft (which has been modified into this post) did not satisfy me and so I let it sit and allowed my thoughts to ripen and they did. As I pondered the title of this post I was drawn to the word ‘adulthood’ and something clicked! While I am very much committed to the truth and authority of scripture I am also a student of adult development which became of interest to me in my seminary days in the mid-80′s.
I used to think that adulthood was static and almost like a flatline! In other words, once you hit 21 then life setting into a predictable hum of, well, monotony. How wrong I have been!
I think that part of Christian discipleship, is to help Christians navigate the developmental tasks of adulthood in ways that are, to quote the late Erik Erikson, ‘generative’ and not ‘stagnation.’
It seems from the comments (and I acknowledge that Feinburg writes only about the issue, and a very important issue, of the empty nest in her post) that for most people, adulthood goes flatline after child raising has been done! But there is life after parenthood!
And to me this is where local churches, and the church at large, needs to take discipleship further out on the time line. Much has been focused on the young adult and parenting aspects of living. Very important to address but there is more to adulthood and adult discipleship than being twenty or thirty and being a parent.
I am going to suggest here that perhaps one of the reason many people walk away from the church after the years of ‘active’ parenting are done is that there is no community in place for those people who are navigating and have navigated the turbulance of the empty nest period when, what is now beginning to be called “The Grey Divorce” (go to this Wall Street Journal article for more information http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203753704577255230471480276.html ) is on the rise.
In short, the local church needs to help those beyond the ‘active’ parenting years discern God’s direction for them because as life-spans increases Christ’s call to ‘follow me’ is still present. Maybe then, vibrant communities of post forty year olds will develop and truly become mentors and partners for the those under forty as Feinburg calls for in her post.
These are my Thursday Thoughts