I must warn you in advance that this article will be slightly blatant, so church goers may want to use discretion if they are easily offended by people pointing out the weaker points of the church. If you do choose to read, my hope is that you seriously consider these words and know that I am not attacking or condemning any person or any specific church by publishing this. I only feel something needs to be said and not many people are saying it.
I am disturbed by the growing discontinuity between the younger and the older generations in our churches. A Google search turned up article after article on why young people are leaving churches and what churches must do to reach young people. It is true that young adults are leaving churches and it is true that churches could be doing more to fix the problem, but I’m not sure the problem is younger people leaving the church. I think the problem runs deeper. After all, we do not want to judge a church as doing something wrong just because it looses people, for the people it is loosing may be the ones acting unjustly. It seems un-beneficial to judge rightness by measuring the number of those who agree or disagree.
Consider the traditional congregation. Assuming the church is a good church, we can know that the Bible is its authority. The preaching and teaching of the church is derived directly from Scripture and the members are present to worship Christ, to love God and to love people. Now consider the more contemporary congregation. Assuming the church is a good church, we can know that the Bible is its authority. The preaching and teaching of the church is derived directly from Scripture and the members are present to worship Christ, to love God and to love people. The churches look the same! The only difference may be that one church has more gray heads than the other, or one has a different style of music and better decorations. My question regarding the dissention, then, becomes more acute and direct: Are people really so trivial as to choose a place of worship based on stage design, lighting or the median age of the congregation? Pitiful. It seems the church is more self-gratifying now than ever, and we wonder why she struggles…
Before I continue, I should probably clarify that I am only 25 years old. I have been to churches where there are young congregations. The music is awesome and the preaching is on point, but there is a dangerous void. Without the elderly, there is no wisdom. As I read through Paul’s letters, I notice something very important about having elderly people in the church. They are to pour their wisdom, knowledge and experience into the younger generations. Even as he address Timothy, the young preacher, Paul instructs Timothy not to “sharply rebuke and older man, but to appeal to him as a father” (1 Tim. 5:1 NASB). Young people of the church who love God and want to honor Him and keep His word will not only content themselves with being around an older generation in church, but will actually appeal to them as parents (yes, even when they are harsh). We live in a church culture, though, that is so self-centered that I see people my own age forsaking older congregations and starting their own churches or moving to younger congregations. Might I be bold enough to say that God is not pleased with our blatant self-interest and our need to be immediately gratified with what we want; or do we think that God would, for some reason, forsake the older generations? No! It is more likely that my generation is more cowardice than ever: that we would run from problems instead of fight to honor God and to be where God wants us to be. I have a feeling that we will feel the compounded consequences as we become the older generation and as thousands of churches die because we have forsaken them.
The older generations, though, are not without responsibility. Only a few verses before, Paul urges Timothy not to let the older generation look down on him because of his youth (1 Tim. 4:12). The challenge is two-fold. Young men and women are to live in such a way that older generations have no reason to look down on them because of their immaturity, and older people within the church are to treat them as though they matter: not as if they were troublesome kids. It seems the older generation channels human selfishness quite differently than the younger generation. While the younger generation flees, the older generation fights. Instead of leaving every church and making up a reason for leaving (e.g. the music is not just right for me), the olders condemn everyone they feel doesn’t quite meet par. Same sin, different manifestations. The result is two churches; one traditional and one contemporary.
In this case difference in musical style, difference in the style of preaching, difference in stage decorations or size of buildings, number of gray heads in the auditorium, difference in service times, difference in attire or in atmosphere are all facades both the young and old generations use to hide selfishness and human pride. When any of these reasons is cited for leaving one church and moving to another, my first thought is that those people are leaving for a reason that is so trivial that they will never be committed to being where God wants them to be because they are more concerned with getting what they want. When any of these issues becomes the basis for a church quarrel, I am convinced that the older generation of the church is also hiding selfishness and pride and is only concerned with having its way.
Truth be told, I am just tired of stupid people. It seems to me that churches were meant to be multigenerational and that all people were created by God with equal worth. Without multigenerational churches, we lose discipleship. Any church that is only either old or young will eventually die; either because its people perish or because young people can only grow so much without the older generation.
At the end of Paul’s letter to Timothy, he encourages those in Timothy’s church to not be self-centered, but to “be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:18-19 NASB).
I am all about empowering youth and young adults! I am also not willing to ever forsake the elderly. Let us not be selfish, for our satisfaction is not in this world anyway.
How then should we find a church? If it is not about us, then it is obviously about God. We ask the question, “Where does God want me to be?” Suddenly, that becomes the only thing that matters. We commit to being where God wants us to be whether we like it or not, because we live to please God, not self. This is the mark of a true Christian: that he or she strives to please God above all else. So we discover where God wants us to be, and we commit wholly to being there and to doing what God wants us to do while we are there.