Having been a preacher’s kid and grandkid has given me a perspective different. I grew up meeting, hearing, and appreciating preachers from an insider’s viewpoint. One anomaly that came to light early on was the peculiar transformation preachers made as their many years of service grew to a close.
It seems that preachers tend to gravitate toward one of two different poles in the twilight of their career: apathy or hobby. Kindness and wisdom are often used as excuses for refusing to stand for principles and doctrines that were preached boldly in earlier years (often because those committing the infractions are now life-long friends or family). And, while love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12), it never excuses them (Joshua 24:20) or justifies them (Isaiah 59:1-2). On the other hand, as a career winds down, a growing sense of mortality compels some preachers to make their last and determined mark on society, to bequeath to us some lasting lesson, to give validity to their lifetime spent in the often grueling and thankless service of God’s people (Galatians 6:9). Nevertheless, finding a pet topic to stroke becomes an embarrassment to those who have long admired that evangelist’s equilibrium. The struggle for symmetry and soundness is a constant one, and I believe starts early in one’s career.
With most all of the apostles martyred early in their evangelistic careers, and precious little credible history on second-generation preachers (i.e., Timothy and Titus), we don’t have much in the way of illustration as to how to grow old gracefully… except in the beloved apostle, John.
The aged disciple gives us a sterling example of shining service in older years. With his epistles, particularly, he retains the balance of stalwart, doctrinal fortitude with just the right mix of empathetic concern. In the same breath, he calls upon “little children” to cast off the delusions of doctrinal compromise at risk of their eternal souls (1 John 3:7). Terms of endearment drink deeply from the wells of his heart while naming names (i.e., Diotrephes; Demetrius) and marking heretics (i.e., antichrist; liars). Likewise, strict demands are couched in kindnesses (i.e., love of brother; love not the world; and love not in word, but in deed). And, lines of demarcation are starkly drawn to identify those who belong to God and those who do not (1 John 2:15-16) side by side with gentle pleas for constancy (1 John 2:17).
Oh that we could all grow old so gracefully. Would that the church demanded from its elder statesmen the loyalty and courage they exhibited in their early years, and that with this conviction, the spiritual food they present in love to the little children of the Lord were a balanced banquet.