Friday, September 30, 2011

The Next Generation: "The 2020 Crossover"

The Next Generation:  “The 2020 Crossover”

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  Psalm 127:3-4 (NKJV)

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.  Deut. 5:16

One of the privileges of my ministry is the opportunity to meet and learn from other leaders across our state and nation.   Last month, as I retreated for 24 hours with other “heads of communions” that are part of the Minnesota Council of Churches, we heard a compelling presentation from Mr. Tom Gillaspy, the state demographer for Minnesota.

Statistics or “Sadistics?”

Now, I realize that statistics aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.   (When my daughter took a college class in the subject, she deliberately mispronounced “statistics” as “sadistics!”)  But we can learn much, for the sake of mission and ministry, about what statisticians study on a daily basis.   Demographers like Gillaspy carefully count the “trees” so that we can discern how the “forest” seems to be growing or not growing, as the case may be.

In the midst of a wide-ranging presentation on the U.S. Census of 2010, Mr. Gillaspy dropped one  factoid that has been exercising my imagination.   As I reported in my Next Generation column last March, it may surprise us to realize that in 17 of the 21 counties of our synod there are more children and youth under the age of 18 than there are senior adults who are age 65+.    In fact, this is and has been true across our entire state of Minnesota, as well.

But in less than a decade all of this will change.   Gillaspy shared a chart that revealed the population trend-lines, for youth and seniors, as crossing over in 2020.   When this “2020 Crossover” hits, our state will have more seniors than youth.

Awareness of this reality is already influencing political debate in Minnesota.   Two of the biggest portions of our state government’s budget involve education aid to public schools offering K-12 education and support for long-term care for needy seniors.   In this regard, Gillaspy pointed out that what it costs us to educate one K-12 student for one year is roughly what it costs us to maintain one senior adult in a long-term care facility for one month.

Pause for a moment, and let that sink in. 

Having recently served as power-for-attorney for a frail elderly adult, I can testify to the truth of Mr. Gillaspy’s observations.  I was startled at how quickly my late mother’s financial resources were drawn down by each monthly rent check paid to her assisted-living facility.  Yikes!

Inter-Generational Competition

One of the implications of these demographic trends is the disturbing specter of inter-generational competition and even strife.   Frail elderly persons (whose ranks many of us will be joining!) will need more and more from a system whose resources are not infinite.   Young workers will be supporting—through their Social Security and Medicare taxes—a burgeoning number of senior adults, making it all the more challenging to save up for their own retirements.

Precisely at this point we as people of Christian faith are called to speak up and enter the political discussions swirling around us.   Perhaps even more vitally, we need to engage deeply in the cultural conversation about the place and role of all the generations on our planet—from the youngest to the eldest.

Getting In A Word Edgewise
We come to these encounters with some deep convictions, drawn from the wellspring of biblical wisdom.   

First, we have a bias against viewing the world solely through the lens of “what’s in it for me.”    We have been fashioned by a generous Creator who bestows gifts in just one way:  abundantly.  There is enough to satisfy everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.   Living as Christian disciples we are called to speak out from the profound apostolic perspective that “you are not your own…you were bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:19b-20a).

Second, we will resist every effort to pit the interests of one generation over against the interests of another generation.   The scriptural witness is that God values the whole human family and the whole human being in every stage of development from the dawn of life to the sunset of earthly death—and, indeed, God’s care extends beyond earthly death, in the power of Christ’s Resurrection!  

The psalmist rightly calls children a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127).    We have a profound stake in the Next Generation of disciples.   But we also care deeply about those who have walked long in Christian faith.  The Fourth Commandment was given, originally, for the sake of older parents—an injunction to adult “children” not to abandon or dis-respect the generation that brought them into this world.   When we exercise proper care for all the generations, we will taste the fruits of the Fourth Commandment, which includes a promise:     “so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you”  (Deuteronomy 5).

Third, we will cling to the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.   These are sobering, even desperate, times.   If we stare right into the teeth of the awful truth that demographers bring to our attention, we will lose heart. 

But, as I am fond of saying, demography is not necessarily destiny.  We believe, teach and confess that the God in whom we trust is the God who specializes in “hopeless cases.”   The great British writer and Christian apologist, G.K. Chesterton, hit the nail on the head when he observed:  “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”

Beating Back Paralysis

As I write this column, I have fresh memories of our two weeks with five visitors from the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC).   The AELC carries out its mission and ministry on the teeming sub-continent of India—with 1.2 billion citizens of the world’s largest democracy.   A signature ministry of the AELC involves youth and education; church-sponsored schools are one of many “open doors” to India’s “seekers” who want to find out about the way of Jesus Christ.

As we visited some of the splendid long-term care facilities in our synod that are affiliated with our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our AELC friends talked about the fact that they don’t have anything comparable to our long-term care system.    All too often, the elderly in India are reduced to begging—and their families end up abandoning them.   (This isn’t necessarily as cruel as it sounds; some families are forced to choose between feeding the children or caring for the seniors, as a matter of economic necessity.)  This is a source of piercing pain for our sisters and brothers of the AELC.

 As we express care for all the generations on Earth, let us not allow paralysis to keep us from pondering the ministry implications of the “2020 Crossover.”   Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot sit out this critical discussion in our political life and in our wider culture.   God calls us to give voice to the convictions that arise from the Word of God, for this time and place.   God invites passionate Jesus-communities to enter the fray and ask ourselves:  “How might we reshape our ministries to respond to the challenges that will come with the ‘2020 Crossover?’”

 Walking together into God’s tomorrow,

 Bishop Larry Wohlrabe
Northwestern Minnesota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
God’s work.  Our hands.

For reflection and discussion:

1.      What feelings do you experience as you read about the “2020 Crossover?”

2.      Where do you already see signs of inter-generational competition in our communities?

3.      The column lifts up three implications from biblical wisdom for how Christian disciples will engage in the cultural conversation about the “2020 Crossover.”   What other implications for this discussion do you draw from God’s Word?

4.      What is one way your congregation might start preparing now for the ministry challenges that will come with the “2020 Crossover?”

This is the tenth in a series of columns on Bishop Wohlrabe’s “Next Generation” vision (available at'S%20PAGE.htm)  for the NW MN Synod.   These columns are designed to equip the disciples and leadership groups such as church councils, for faithful and fruitful ministry.   Feel free to use the column for personal reflection or group discussion, e.g. church council meeting devotions/discussion.

1 comment:

  1. For a slide show of Tom Gillaspy's and Tom Stinson's (U of MN economist) sobering thoughts titled "Minnesota and the New Normal" go to:

    It touches on jobs, wages, people in the workforce vs. those in retirement vs. those of school age, health care costs by age, MN future taxes and budget, and some ideas on what we can do.