Are Your People Young at Heart?

Is there a relationship between age and flexibility? What do you notice about the older people in your congregation and how you relate to them?

I’ve been watching more movies this Lent since I gave up genre fiction for the season (rather than reading more non-fiction as I had hoped…). One documentary I highly recommend is Young at Heart. It’s the story of a chorus of people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who perform songs from James Brown to the Talking Heads to Coldplay. The movie is inspiring without being sentimental. My husband, Karl (who hates sentiment), told me, “No, I don’t think I’m interested.” Lured into the living room by one of the songs he overheard, he sat down and watched straight through to the end.

The director, Bob Cilman, is in his 50s. He’s terrific at encouraging the group to try new songs and to persevere when things are difficult. One of the members describes the way they used to sing songs like “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” and over time he has led the group in some radically new directions. Some of the members prefer opera, and yet they are singing songs they themselves would never listen to.

No doubt some dropped out of the group when Cilman began to lead in some new directions. The movie doesn’t address that question. But his calm presence and ability to challenge people to do more than they thought possible is instructive. I wondered what leaders of churches filled with mostly older people might learn.

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