The Big Trees

As far as I can penetrate into your character I convceive it to exhibit an extraordinary assemblage of lovely qualities, not without considerable defects. The defects do and always have arisen chiefly from this source – that you are still very young, and that in certain essential respects you do not sufficiently perceive that you are so.” – The philosopher William Godwin writing to 21 year old Percy Shelley.


Bear with me as I pontificate.


The mid 1800’s brought a strange phenomenon into Western civilization whose reverberations are still sending aftershocks.


                        It was the exaltation of the youth –

                        and the diminishing of the worth of age.


Many tributaries led to a mighty river.


Hegel, the leading philosopher of the day, said that truth and ideas are not absolute but evolving. Today’s thesis will be challenged by tomorrow’s antithesis that produces the compromise of a synthesis that becomes a later thesis and thus the evolution of idea continues. Point being – the past must give way to the improvement of the modern. New is good. Old is inhibiting.


Karl Marx brought this into economics and politics. Politics would evolve into the final resolution of the sovereignty of the working class and all would resolve into the utopia of communism. Yesterday must give way to the hope of tomorrow. Communism was predominately a movement of youth seeing the Ancient Regime as holding back the march of time.


Darwin seemed to underscore these movements scientifically in his evolutionary theory. Time will produce improvement and change upward. The old must give way to the new. Yesterday is bad. Tomorrow must replace it.


German liberalism said the same thing in a literary sense. The Bible, so they said, is an evolutionary thing. The Jewish idea of God evolved from polytheism to henotheism (a chief god among many) to monotheism to the loving deity of Christ. Once again, the old inhibited the marching on of truth. The new is what will free us from the dominion of the ancient. New good. Old bad.


Plus at this time the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Each year it seemed brought the obsolescence of yesterday and the new and improved tomorrow. Yesterday bad. Tomorrow better.


Another factor is that at this same period there was the Great Migratory Movement into all frontiers. Russia into Siberia, Britain into Africa, India and Australia but even more the U.S. into the West. The West was opened and the country was flooding into it. But in all of these immigrations it was not an old man’s sport. Remember the words of Horace Greeley, “Go west young man.” The future belonged to the new, the young, and the strong. The old must be left behind.


Coupled with this in the U.S. was the movement to the cities and the rising need for young men to gain discipline where there was no longer the demands of the rural and the farm. From this came the modern phenomena of “sports.” First collegiate then in high school, and finally professional sports. With that came the almost cultic rise of “the fan” – the paying fan, mind you. In keeping with this movement came the international rise of the modern Olympics. The modern hero, the 20th century hero, was the athlete, the new Greek god. The coin of the new realm was youth.


But what put the coup de grâce to age was Hollywood. America that never had royalty finally found it in the youth, talent, sensuality, and romance of the “visual art” of film. The leading man was strong and handsome. Leading women, sensuous. Youth now flooded every nook and cranny of Modern America. It covered our magazines and shaped our longings.


In short where modernism arose in the late 1800’s the aged was seen as inhibiting. Music, advertising, fashion, literature, fitness, education – virtually everything reflected the cult of youth. By the 60’s the new wave was of tsunami proportion. We were floating away to the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in Our Beautiful Balloon amidst Times That Were A-Changin’. It was the first time in history that youth took the lead in the culture. (Think about it. What’s more youthful than hair?)


            Incidentally, it didn’t work.


Maybe I’m wrong but I’ve got a feeling that, as always happens in the church, worldly ideas have been baptized into Christianity. The leaders in Jewish culture were the “elders” of the nation. The young were told to “rise up before the grey headed.” The proverb says, “the glory of young men is their strength. The glory of old men is their wisdom.” And “the grey head is found in the way of righteousness.” Timothy was told to “flee youthful lusts” and “let no one look down on your youthfulness…”  The leaders of the church are called “elders.” Paul said older women are to “train younger women” (Titus 2) and older men are to be “temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, love, and perseverance.” Older men and women are the pace setters, the great oaks, the timbers upon which the church rests.


I am old. I was young. I was a young pastor. Now I’m an old pastor. Many of our staff could be my children. I’ve noticed some things. Young people bring life and excitement. They bring hope for the future. They are your tomorrow which is why Paul places a responsibility on the older saints to raise them. You invest in the young. You build on the old, mature, tried and tested. The young are a joy but they’re green. A question mark hangs over them. The jury is still out. Many and most have yet to walk through the fires of life. It is the old who can say, “walk my path.” For the young to become all they can there must be the old saying, “come children and let me teach you the fear of the Lord.” The young have “pop!” They are starbursts and that is wonderful.


But they are novices. “Nova” . . . new . . . novel . . .

They can make dumb decisions.

They are potential. Not proven.

They must be surrounded, led, mentored, tutored, encouraged, challenged, cautioned, directed, comforted, guided, corrected, inspired . .  

. . . by the grey seasoned heads.


There is a craze at present – I’m not sure where it came from – for a bunch of young churches and young pastors to abandon the demographic of the church as the whole spectrum of the body of Christ, kiss off the elderly and go with youth and the young.


Nothing could be more crippling to the church . . . no resource more critically lost . . . nothing more disastrous to the young.


When this happens the church loses its big hitters . . . its clout.


What blessing our church has received through

Mel Sumrall in BTCP, 86.

Gene Wilborn and Jim Roberts who took the scriptures to Burma. Ann Little leading the Women’s Ministry, 75, 73, and 66.

  Jean Klughart teaching Young Nuns, 52, Janis Saville with BTCL, 62, “moi” discipling Young Guns, 63, with John Brown and Charles Stolfus, 44, 55.

 Jim Hill with Grief Share, 66.

 Al Jacobson and Pat Smith heading up Vision Ministry and Serve Denton, 71 and 51.

Lloyd Campbell and Bob Nelson in Jail Ministry, 73 and 67.

 Wayne Carrigan leading the Sweat Teams, 73. Kent Hansen and kids, 72. Gene Gumfory in Shiloh Garden, 74. Clark Vaughan with Christian Service Brigade, 74, and so many others that I don’t have space to name!


One famous author said that youthful faces are shaped until 20 then set by 30, and once immovable, time and life put their final ruts, chinks, erosions and touches. Age adds character and nobility to the freshness of youth. The face of the old is the face of truth.


Be honest. When as an older person you go to a wedding and watch the gala of noble intentions – how many of you smile to yourself knowing that once the rice is swept up they will enter the gauntlet?


Or when you see mortar boards at graduations sail in the air you smile knowing that the keelhauling is about to begin?  When I attend DTS graduation I rejoice with the Novitiates but I know that Normandy awaits and the casualty reports will soon arrive.


                        Moses said to God at 40, “What took You so long?!”

                        At 80? “Who am I?”


What did Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Wesley, Bill Bryant, Dawson Trotman, Mel Sumrall, John Walvoord and Howard Hendricks all have in common? They all had an older believer to guide them early on. Me too.


Be honest. When you look at old pictures of yourself (especially if you were from the 70’s) how often do you recoil in horror saying, “What was I thinking?!”


Old guys market the highest commodity – they are weathered, blistered, leathered scouts who know the terrain and trepidations of life. Don’t discount your training and failures.


Young studs don’t be deceived. As Ahab’s only words of wisdom said,


“Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” (I Kings)


Meaning, “Don’t talk until you’ve finished the job.” Nothing is worse than for y’all to be continually surrounded by your age group. And remember, you’re only going to be young for a wink of time. You will end up as all of us.


Find the veterans . . .


 Copyright 2013 Tommy Nelson