I recently attended a conference at which Christian “senior leaders” discussed what would be their legacy to a younger generation. White-haired gentlemen greeted each other with backslaps; they had known one another for a long time, or at least had read each other’s books.

Many of these men still led sizable institutions. Yet they did not act like a small club trying to hold on to dwindling power. They spoke keenly of the demands of our times, and seemed anxious that a younger generation be empowered to tackle them. “Whether we like to admit it or not,” several said, “our day is coming to a close.”

Such magnanimity often characterizes the elderly. In my own church, seniors are among the fiercest in insisting that we have an outstanding youth program. As they put it, “The young are the future of the church.”

While admiring this generosity, I believe it has become dangerous—an old virtue out of place in these new times. For it assumes that the world belongs to the young, and that the elderly may (and should) retire into the background.

Yet America increasingly belongs to the old. Those white-haired leaders, ready to retire into the pleasures of travel and golf, are far from finished. In 1933, when the new Social Security Administration set the age of retirement at 65, most 65-year-olds were within a handful of years of death. Now, 65 is quite young. The average American, retiring at 63, has between 15 and 20 years of good health ahead. If seniors opt out of the challenges of the coming century, if they retire into senior hedonism and toss away a quarter of their adult life, we will lose our wisest, most experienced leaders before their time.

And if the church neglects ...

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