This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. The one thing you’re supposed to bring as you get older is wisdom, which in turn could make you a mentor to younger, less wise, persons. I mean, everything else about getting older sucks, so this should be the one huge thing you can take to the bank. Wisdom.
Wisdom, however, is not simply knowledge or information. Wisdom is related to experience in a shared world. At 52, it should be axiomatic that I would have more experience in the world than a 30 year old, for instance. And if I have been reflective about my experience in the world, that should translate into wisdom.
The problem is, in very real ways, the world is changing every few years. That wouldn’t be a problem if this change were gradual or continuous. But it isn’t. The change I experience feels abrupt and discontinuous. (Take for instance the fact that I am typing this for a remote and instantaneous audience on my my iPad while sitting in a Starbucks. In contrast, I wrote my masters thesis longhand in a library and sent pages along with white out to a typist who left room for footnotes by measuring with a ruler). The world is new, not simply adding onto the old. It feels like I have to unlearn things to be able to learn the ways of this new world. So, my age actually gets in the way. People who are younger than me have as much experience as I do in this world and adapt to it much quicker. That cuts downing the wisdom edge that my advanced years should bring.
I’m fortunate to have taken a decidedly unorthodox path to education. At 52, I’m still working on a degree. The fortunate part to this is that my training is fairly current. I’ve constantly been retooling and experimenting, and so have advantages over peers who finished their formal training years ago and the world has moved faster than their ability to keep up. It’s certainly one reason why men my age who have lost their jobs in our current economy have had the toughest time finding a new job.
This whole phenomenon applies to church as well. I have tons of full time ministry experience. Over 20 years worth. And that experience includes a lot of innovation. I was not a status quo guy, protect the tradition, stay on the familiar path. Not me. Still, in some ways my experience helps me very little as I work with young ministers who are imagining a faithful engagement with the world in ways very different than I did. What I did and what they are doing are sometimes like apples and oranges–two very different things.
Right now, I am learning a lot about ministry from them. One of my mentors is my son, Josh. He’s a new monastic. And he’s very sophisticated in his understanding of what he’s doing. I am convinced that this is not a fad or a short-lived experiment in North American Christianity that will last until they get jobs. New monasticism represents, I believe, a viable future as a post-partisan, world changing expression of Christianity. I am learning a lot about ministry by listening to him and by thinking about the challenges that confront them as they move forward.
Similarly, I am learning from Ryan Woods, a church planter and new monastic? in Vancouver, Wa. Ryan is creating Christian community with everyone he meets in Vancouver, even if they’re not Christian. As he says it, they’re living in such a way with their neighbors so that the formation of a church will be inevitable.
People like Josh and Ryan are sages for me. They have more experience in this emerging world than I do. They, and others like them, are my mentors.
I don’t want to undersell the ways I am also a mentor to them. I know the Christian story through time in deeper ways than they do. And I know what it is to have lived through shifts and stages and phases. I’ve seen things come and go and I’ve learned a thing or two in the process.
Still, I’m struck by the ways I feel mentored by those much younger than me. And it makes me mindful of the angel’s words to Zechariah in the opening verses of Luke’s gospel. In the upside down world of the Kingdom of God, the “hearts of parents will be turned to their children.” the way of the kingdom is not always or even usually the gradual culmination of events, but more often the surprising in-breaking of a new possibility that the next generation is in a better position to receive. I am thankful for my mentors.