Titus Who?

I’ve seen it before.  You probably have, too:

Twenty or thirty-something women who feel like the sixty or seventy-plus crowd is out-dated, out-of-touch and out-to-lunch.  The patronizing condescension they perceive from senior citizens rankles and annoys them.  This may be especially true if the “younger” women have educational degrees, professional backgrounds or other credentials lacking in “older” women.  (This is exacerbated when “seasoned saints” address anyone under age 50 as “Honey.” Talk about setting someone’s teeth on edge!)

I’ve also seen “older” women who feel disrespected and displaced by what they consider to be naive, inexperienced, or immature “younger” women.  They may feel their wisdom and experience aren’t valued or taken seriously.  They may feel they have important, time-tested wisdom to contribute but no one’s listening.

Suspicion or antagonism on either end of the age spectrum may have a perceived lack of respect, value, or understanding at its core.  I’m not sure what the answer is en toto, but I am convinced that knee-jerk assumptions and broad-brush generalizations regarding either “younger” or “older” are unnecessary and unwise.

Good intentions and life experience notwithstanding, do we overlook and undercut women who are well-trained, well-educated, articulate, capable and willing to serve and lead within Christendom in general and women’s ministries specifically simply because they haven’t sprouted a sufficient number of gray hairs yet?

Some women show up at the church every time the doors open.  Does good attendance qualify them for leadership or a teaching capacity?  Some women are scholarly and academic.  Does being a pointy-headed intellectual alone qualify?  What if the only person interested in launching or leading a particular ministry doesn’t carry an AARP card?  Does being 20 or 30 or 40-something automatically disqualify a woman from leadership?  BTW, what is leadership, anyway?

Opinions on this subject vary.  At its core, IMHO, leadership may be defined as “the art of influencing and directing others so as to obtain their support, respect, confidence, and loyal cooperation.”  Leadership is mainly acquired by observation, experience, and emulation.  Some individuals possess greater “instinctive” gitfs of leadership than others, but anyone can sharpen her leadership faculties if she tries and is willing to learn.  In my observation, age alone is no guarantee of Leadership qualities or ability – or lack thereof.

Rather than relying on years or gray hair alone, wouldn’t it be better and wiser to recruit ministry leaders from a broader, more inclusive criteria?  Instead of using age, grandchildren or years at the church as the sole or major determining factor for leadership, why not include such additional factors as:

— Spiritual maturity (deserves a book on its own, but I’ll just list it here first)

— Track record and experience

— Prior ministry involvement and effectiveness

— Passion – is this particular role something the candidate is passionate about, or is she just filling a slot because no one else will take it or no one else has been asked?

— Giftedness. 

— Able to exercise a specific set of skills and attributes which represent a unique blending of natural and spiritual gifts as well as acquired or learned abilities.

— Training and education

— Communication skills

— Organizational abilities

— Sensitivity

— Leadership skills.  Before placing anyone in leadership, why not first acertain whether or not she has any leader skills?  If she doesn’t, how teachable is she?  Can she learn “on the job,” or should you find someone else? 

While this list is far from exhaustive, some of these traits may be more fully developed in the “older set.”  But the converse is also true.  Some of the most dependable people I know are under age 40; some of the biggest flakes, with the greatest dearth of basic people skills can order off the Seniors menu at Denny’s.  Ditto education.  I know some grounded, down-to-earth, no-nonsense ladies who never went to college.  I also know a couple of Ph.Ds who couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag without a map.

There are other factors.  Some older women may be willing and able to lead a particular ministry, but failing health prevents them from doing so in a “hands-on” capacity.  Capable, qualified younger women may beg off leading a group due to family issues, a perception of limited relevance, time crunches or other issues.  College-degreed professionals may have the credentials but lack the heart.  Lesser educated women may be willing but feel intimidated about tackling a curriculum that is primarily cerebral or academic. 

Isn’t there a place at the women’s ministry table for all?

Since we’re all fallen, weak vessels with our own chips and flaws, painting with a broad brush – whether it’s Titus 2, marital status, educational attainment, age, or number of grandchildren – may be a hazardous undertaking at best.  Thus, when choosing leaders in any capacity, it might behoove us to consider women as individuals rather than as assembly-line cookie-cut-outs  divided along arbitrary timelines. 

My point: I’m not so sure that age alone should ever be the sole determining factor in selecting or recruiting leadership in any capacity.  “Older” may be a factor – one among many – but not The Whole Tamale.  (See my prior post, Titus 2 and You, for more.)

Tangentially, we might also do well to remember that ministry leaders have their work cut out for them, particularly when it comes to selecting or recruiting “lieutenants” or associates.  Nit-picking, hyper-criticism and cheap pot shots doesn’t make it any easier.

Finally, I’m convinced that leadership ultimately depends on where God leads, and how.  As in the case of a certain shepherd boy destined to be King of Israel, God looks on the heart.  Being human, we can’t quite pull that off all the time.  But we can be alert.  We can listen.  We can be responsible and responsive.  We can keep our eyes and ears and hearts open.  Look for clues and pick up cues.  Observe fruit.  And see where the tree may grow – young or old.  When it comes to leadership, age may be a good place to start but it may not always be the place to end, nor is it the only place to look.

  ***

For a great discussion on Titus 2 from Elisabeth Elliot (a personal favorite), see:

http://girltalk.blogs.com/girltalk/2006/10/heres_elisabeth.html

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