How Even Fishers of Men May Be Missing the Boat

For fishers of men, the American church is at great risk of missing the boat.

We know our calling is to make disciples. We’re bursting with the truth of Christ. It’s too good, too powerful, too transformative to keep locked inside. We’re as compelled from within as commanded from without to want others to experience freedom in Jesus.

But we’re myopic about who we target with our message. We’re fixated on reaching young souls. Young people are a vital part of our ministry, but not the entire scope and sequence.

It’s the heart of Jesus to love children and young people, but in the eyes of an eternal God, we’re all about a minute old. I don’t believe He makes as much distinction between reaching twenty-somethings and reaching octogenarians as we do.

Too many of us are operating from a false matrix that the church survives and thrives on a steady influx of youth. Untrue. This is “wisdom” from the enemy that keeps us focused on one segment of the world leaving us with pitiful few resources to reach the rest.

The lifeblood of the church is Jesus Christ. The future of the church is Jesus Christ. The church grows, expands, and passes onto the next generation through Jesus Christ. In HIM all things hold together, not in young families.

It’s understandable we think this way because we’ve lived so long with this understanding. Peter, James, and John knew how to fish. It’s what they’d done all their lives. They’d made their living at it. But, one day, their nets repeatedly came up empty. What if, like them, it’s time for us to drop our nets off the other side of the boat?

When the Pharisees demanded that Jesus rebuke His followers for singing His praise, Jesus responded that if they were silent, the rocks and stones would cry out. When the king in Jesus’ parable invited guests to a feast and they refused to come, He sent out the invitation to others.

We’re living in a time when many small churches are asking where the young have gone. Of course, many of us should learn to communicate with other generations, but what if that isn’t the whole message here?

Isn’t the kingdom of Jesus Christ greater than any one generation. Aren’t people over fifty, logistically closer to meeting their maker than those under twenty? Could it be that those of us who struggle to communicate with the young, may be perfectly adept at speaking with our peers? Jesus isn’t calling only the young to Himself. He calls every soul.

The modern church expends energy and resources relentlessly spinning over the “problem of reaching young families” as if the call to discipleship was only for those under thirty. Of course, we should be teaching children, reaching out to teens, and working to engage twenty-somethings. The college years are a prime time to make spiritual life decisions.

But, does the human soul have a limited window for conversion? Does the soul callous over at thirty so as to make it unreachable by the gospel for the following decades? It may be harder, sure, but the church is called to hard things.

Can these old bones rise? You know, Lord. Surely, if God could raise Lazarus from the tomb, He can bring people in their seventies into a relationship with Christ.

I’m fifty-six now and, believe me, my peers ask plenty of soulful questions. We’re grappling with our own mortality as we lose our parents, launch our children, and adjust to changes in our own transitioning bodies. We’re living longer and that means we’re facing a longer period of wondering why we’re on this earth, of living with the consequences of our early choices, of wondering about life’s meaning.

We may be the first generation of the church to see such an expansive gray-haired field ready to harvest. Are we ignoring souls in winter because we’re so accustomed to operating in spring?

What if young people witnessed transformation and revival in the older generation? What if they saw their parents and grandparents abandon life-long habits of sin and become filled with a passion for Christ instead?

What if they saw a hardened older generation suddenly open to love, sacrifice, patience, kindness, wisdom, and mercy? Do you suppose they may grow curious as to what was up in the church of Christ?

I had a widow friend who was in her seventies. Honestly, the dating relationships she was navigating were so similar to the teens with whom I worked, I thought to bring her in as a guest speaker. It was powerful for them to realize these issues don’t go away.

Whereas the youngest generation has been taken captive by countless distractions, the oldest generation is longing for company, for listening ears, and for something certain in the midst of cataclysmic social change. They long to know they are still visible, still valuable, still vital. How powerful would it be to bring them the news that Jesus sees them, values them, and still has a plan for them?

The Bible teems with stories of Biblical heroes who spent years of their lives doing everyday things before God pressed them into service. Isn’t it possible this might resonate with people wondering if their days of adventure are over by the time they reach seventy-five?

I believe it’s time to explore our assumptions about outreach. Could we be missing a vital part of God’s kingdom simply because it’s covered with snow?

What are your thoughts on this? To me, the possibilities for serving people fifty and older and incorporating their unique energy, talents, and perspective into the church are fascinating.

Might there not be some distracted grandchildren who suddenly grow curious when Jesus sets a fire in an eighty-something heart? And aren’t we all children compared to our Eternal Father, and so doesn’t He long for us all to come to His great heart, even those of us who are wrinkled and bent with age?

Who out there is ready to drop net?

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    The Conversation

  1. Yes, yes, and YES! Thank you, Lori! I have the honor of co-teaching a senior adult Sunday school class. My students are eager to learn, grow, and walk with the Lord. And what prayer-warriors! Their spiritual fire sends sparks throughout our entire fellowship. We must reach this mission field–for the excellent reasons you mentioned. Compared to eternity, we’re all just a few minutes apart 🙂 Thanks again!

  2. Jane Rattray says:

    Thank you, Lori, for this powerful message. I totally agree with you that we miss the point of the Great Commision when we hyperfocus on one age group. I think the world could see great change if those over fifty were reached with the Gospel. A great challenge!

  3. Bruce Cunningham says:

    We’ll written Lori! I couldn’t agree more.

    Besides, our stratagem are rarely what God uses anyway. We all have a much larger sphere of influence than we imagine when we take into account Christ’s ever-present Spirit within us to initiate divine encounters at any time.

    I’m a 56 year old Uber driver, and I’ve shared the gospel message with countless people, who either act as if they’d never heard such a perspective on life, or they’ve heard it, but not from an impassioned “believer” who loves Jesus more than their local Church.

    They come in all ages. The gospel is always fresh and encouraging to all sinners.

    We appreciate you girl. Keep disturbing the Hobbits!


  4. You’re so right, Lori. Even within the church, we can’t assume older members are confident of their salvation. Recently, an elderly “saint” of our church passed away. Just a few hours before, my friend learned this presumed “saint” was terribly scared about death because she had never had a personal relationship with Jesus! She had been faking it for years.

    The truth and joy of Jesus is for all people–not just of all colors but of all ages!