August 10, 2016

An Appeal to Seasoned Saints: Don’t Avoid Young Churches

by Eric Davis

Young-leopard-tries-to-eat-porcupine-3-570x257The conversation has often happened like this: “Hi pastor. I’ve enjoyed the worship at this church and benefitted from it. I like this and that. But, I just don’t think I can stay. You see, there are too many younger folks and just not enough people my age.” Sadly, it’s something that not a few pastors and church planters have heard.

Now, on the one hand, such conversations evidence something wonderful. Christ is, indeed, building his church from the next generation. In the church I get to serve, few things are more thrilling than the fleet of 20-somethings following Christ, loving his word, diving into sound theology, and pouring themselves out for the church. And the more I speak with church leaders across the country, the more I hear of the same.

But more to the point: I often run into situations where seasoned saints avoid a church due to an age gap. Granted, some might be necessarily hesitant to plug into churches because of the irreverent, unbiblical tone too-often inherent to us youth (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12). But even then, seasoned saints should rethink avoiding such churches. The younger generation needs the older to hurry them out of youth. That’s a fact innate to every sphere of life: the less experienced need the shaping of the more experienced. But for some reason, we often see a lack where, of all places, it should be most embraced; the church.

Thistle-Kids-in-Charge-03

valenfoong.com

The area in which I pastor faces an interesting sort of demographic crisis. We have a situation something like that of various countries whose older generations have been wiped out by war and disease. The majority of the population where I live is young; between early 20’s and early 40’s. Naturally, a local church will mostly represent that demographic. Congregations in such situations face somewhat of a discipleship crisis. And one of the worst things for the older generations to do is avoid those churches.

For my older, seasoned brothers and sisters in Christ who might avoid plugging into a church because of few people their age, I would offer a few things for consideration.

  1. Consider that normal Christianity means prioritizing the kingdom of God above all things.

“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:30-34).

The call to prioritize the kingdom does not automatically mean seasoned saints must plug into churches full of young’ins. But it does mean that God’s people are to live lives which demonstrate that our highest priorities are things involving his kingdom values. Because Christ has redeemed us, the spiritual things take primacy; the salvation of the lost, sanctification of the saved (including our own), discipleship, and the edification of the church. Christ appropriately assumes that his glory and our salvation are so wonderful, that it is reasonable for Christians to center their lives around making disciples over avoiding discomfort.

It’s possible, among all ages, for our Christianity to be demographically centered over biblically centered. At times, we may be seeking the kingdom of self or comfort or easy relationships first. And I have no idea what it’s like to be 70 and seeking the kingdom first. I’m sure it’s hard. But I know that our God loves us so much that he can sustain us in such discomforts.

  1. Consider that external differences are never legitimate biblical grounds to dissociate with others.

“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (Jas. 2:1).

Perhaps we have never considered ourselves as struggling with partiality. However, it’s possible that a hesitance to associate with someone for demographic reasons (or any external reason) is a form of sinful prejudice. We back away from a situation or people simply because they are not like us.

We can be glad that Jesus did not use that reasoning with us. “Yeah, you know, Father, these people are not really like Me. You know, their sin and all. And, I’m, well, impeccable. So, I’m outta here.” Aren’t we glad that Jesus did not think like that? If he did, none of us could be saved. External differences, including age, are unwarranted grounds for dissociation in the kingdom of God.

  1. Consider that the older meshing with the younger shows something of the power of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

rugged-cross“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).

Dissociation on demographic grounds could be a form of failing to live in light of the gospel. Dunlop and Dever write, “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be with people of similar life experience. It’s entirely natural…But if this is the sum total of what we call ‘church community,’ I’m afraid we’ve built something that would exist even if God didn’t” (Compelling Community, 21). The death and resurrection of Christ means our associations completely transcend all things external. Our relationship doings ought to be mostly explainable only by the finished work of the crucified Savior.

Unless a periodic family visit, it seems like it’s becoming less and less normal for a 60’s something to be in public with a 30’s something. But at times, seasoned saints should be answering the waitress’ question, “Is that your daughter?” with, “Nope, it’s my disciple.” It’s fine for us to enjoy the 55 and older time at the pool or gym, but not in the church. Christ died and rose to do away with neoterophobia (fear of younger people).

  1. Consider that Scripture encourages us to search where we could sacrificially meet kingdom needs.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2).

Motivated by his mercy towards unworthy sinners, Christ offered himself in our place as a God’s acceptable propitiatory sacrifice. He has completed every ounce of labor to permanently annul our guilt standing before Almighty God. We will spend eternity with Christ!

Consequently, we get to offer ourselves in a small way back to him in worship. The way we do involves offering our lives as a living sacrifice. The idea here is that the process would often feel like sacrifice. It means decisions are made in which things like comfort might often not be the top priority.

img_sejour_vacances_jeunes_710px

croix-rouge.lu

I personally know of a couple in their 70’s who offered themselves in a big way. They heard of a need among God’s people on another continent. With the kids out of the home and commitments reduced, they sold their house and moved 10,000 miles away to serve the kingdom.

Romans 12 means that seasoned saints could, in some cases, intentionally plug into young churches. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some seasoned saints ought to speak with their current church leadership and pray seriously about leaving their churches in order to plug into other sound NT kind of churches which have a scarcity of grey hairs. Scripture encourages us to search where we could meet kingdom needs.

Finally, generally speaking, God calls seasoned saints to pursue discipleship needs (cf. Titus 2:3-5). This means that God’s will for our older generation is to either be biblically discipling the younger or pursuing personal training to learn how to do so. If I intentionally avoid a younger demographic, I could be forsaking God’s command to pursue discipleship. The younger generation needs discipling, not orphaning.

  1. Consider that avoiding younger churches could cause anatomical imbalance.

“For the body is not one member, but many…If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Cor. 12:14, 17).

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul refers not so much to a diversity in age but spiritual giftedness. Even so, chances are, a church heavy on the 20-somethings could be a lopsided body. Completion is needed. Seasoned saints can help that by bringing spiritual-anatomical balance to the skewed body. A lack of body parts ought to motivate us to help with the completion.

earbudOn the importance of a completed body, Dever and Dunlop write, “According to Paul, we need the whole body to preserve our doctrine, not just the part we’re most comfortable with. We need people who are different from us to keep us faithful to the gospel” (42).

A couple of closing remarks are needed. First, it could equally be said that young people often gravitate away from churches filled with seasoned saints. They, too, have a responsibility to consider the aforementioned. However, Scripture might nudge seasoned saints a tad more to set the example.

Second, some seasoned saints might respond, “Well, you younger generations don’t listen to us. That’s why we are weary of your churches.” No doubt, some of us in this generation have a bit of Rehoboam Syndrome (cf. 1 Kings 12:8). By nature of being young and sinful, we have yet arrived in being as teachable as we ought. So please pray for us. Be patient. And let not our lack of seasoning launch you out of our midst.

Third, a seasoned saint plugging into a younger church should also not expect to be in a leadership position immediately. Sometimes, individuals will approach a younger church assuming that age gratuitously grants the leader’s chair. While younger churches will be grateful for the individual’s desire to serve, it takes time for relationships and trust to be built. Plus, none of us are beyond the need of testing (1 Tim. 3:10).

Finally, for us younger church members rightly craving for more seasoned saints, recall a few things. First, God is sovereign over the “who” and “how many” are in our churches. This is something we simply cannot control. Second, God cares deeply for the spiritual health and holiness of his churches. He is not turning a blind eye. Third, we can still benefit in these demographic crises because sanctification is less a product of demographics and more God’s sovereign work through the means of grace. Speaking of which, fourth, we can experience great growth by plugging whole-heartedly into our churches, intentionally profiting from the teaching and discipleship. “I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts” (Ps. 119:100).

Eric Davis

Posts Twitter

Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • wiseopinion

    the definitive phase is “diving into sound theology”. It is hard to find these days and if it is flawed, then the foundation is cracked from the beginning. That’s why the seasoned saints need to attend and/or mentor when possible.

  • Larry Pauley

    Actually, my experience is often the opposite…younger people leaving to look for a church where there are more “like me.” They express a desire for the church to be like an episode of “Friends” (without the lewdness). Switch the generations around and you have sound advice for both groups! Thanks for the useful reminders.

    • Eric Davis

      Larry, agreed, as I mentioned towards the end of the article.

      However, please see my comment to Gary below.

      • Larry Pauley

        Definitely. My earlier comment was never intended as a disagreement or counterpoint. I agree with you that both “ages” need the other. An inter-generational church certainly better represents the gospel.

        • Eric Davis

          Agreed, thanks Larry.

  • Jason

    As someone who just left the designation of “younger crowd”, I think the youth share a lot of blame in this issue. Society is pushing a culture designed “by the young, for the young” in every area of life.

    Businesses lay off senior employees so they can be replaced by fresh college grads (I’m sure part of it is to avoid all that goes with retirement, but the experience loss is often pretty hard on the company). In communities, we want political leaders with “fresh ideas”. In the families, it’s common for grandparents to be treated as “out of touch” instead of respecting their life experience.

    The church has largely followed suit. While the New Testament gives instruction to raising leaders up in the body of believers, we instead find our leadership through a resume process that considers any number of younger guys just out of seminary two states over. Afterward, the people who should be recognized as elders are treated as obstacles for the “new administration’s” agendas.

    Overall, especially as a culture but even in many congregations, we have done a terrible job of respecting elders and recognizing the benefits that only they have to offer.

    • Eric Davis

      Jason, I hear you. The youth need to grow, no doubt. I’ve written about that a bunch.

      Precisely since the youth need sanctification, the seasoned saints ought to consider sticking in there longer than shorter with them. We cannot always expect that the less mature will seek out the shepherding of the more. In fact, in my experience, b/c they are less mature, they usually will NOT seek it out. Hence the need for the more seasoned to patiently, persistently, and longsuffering-ly pursue them and not spiritually orphan them.

      • Jason

        Certainly we shouldn’t give up on one another! However, don’t you think it will take a paradigm shift within the community for persistence to pay off?

        At what point does a mature believer’s persistence come across as anything other than old-fashioned stubbornness from a kind but backward relic of days gone by?

        Right now there’s a lot of the immature leading the immature and
        making maturity seem unappealing (judgemental, rigid,
        boring, whatever…) We’re a culture (worldwide it seems) who spends more time inventing ways out of consequences than admitting a problem, so it’s not just a matter of waiting for people to have an epiphany moment.

        I don’t think picking/leaving a church based on demographics solves any of this. I think it will take people willing to set aside the systems and traditions we’ve put in place to mitigate our need for discernment, because they are no viable substitute for meaningful involvement of all members.

  • Gary

    As an almost older now, I would say that those younger rarely want to learn and listen to season in the Lord. They are slaves to their electronics and will not get their heads or hearts out of them. They want the older to embrace what many of us consider folly in their “worship”. The younger, almost without exception, want the older to jettison former sound and true paths for the new. Finding a group of younger who truly want to learn from those older and wiser in the Lord is a rare find. The younger professing saints seem only to want the next thrill – if church life is not a thrill, they are uninterested. Unwilling to consider the foundational things of life and godliness in home and church. The younger generation of my encounters, even recently, is unteachable. This is folly and will bear longterm bad fruit.

    • Eric Davis

      Hi Gary, thanks for chiming in. What you observe happening w/ the younger generation is, sadly, too common.

      But, as I attempted to do in the article, I want to push back a bit on your comment, and that of many others so far.

      Yes, the younger generation is often unteachable, fickle, decadent, theologically shallow, relationally shallow, no doubt. I live in a town where the 20’s-30’s dominate, and, often presume wisdom was born with them. And, obviously, they need to repent, change, be teachable, get theologically grounded, and grow. However, let us remember that they are *young*. Pride and folly are to young people what wet is to water. This is not excusing them nor giving them a pass in their sin and shallowness.

      However, this means that the seasoned saints need to make efforts to make christlike attempts to patiently shepherd them in, and out of, their folly. God desires we take the approach of 1 Thess. 5:14. They will be unteachable. They will often stiff-arm it. They will do so precisely b/c they need that seasoned shepherding-care. The worst thing for a crying, tantruming, un-potty-trained little kid is for his parents to abandon him. And he will hit them when they try to train them; and he will yell at them when they discipline him; and he will hate it for a bit. But, with the godly, patient, seasoned longsuffering approach of the parents, that child will eventually grow.

      It is the responsibility of those seasoned saints, who have distanced themselves a bit from pride and folly by God’s grace, to come alongside those who have not. It will be messy. It will be uncomfortable. The young will often pull a Rehoboam towards the older. The young will offend the older and treat them like a hot-dog stand and carry shallow conversation. But, that is just a normal part of shepherding and discipleship. That is how Christ’s disciples often treated him (cf. Mark 10:32-40).

      Some seasoned saints will need to exercise great longsuffering (Eph. 4:2) towards the spiritual immaturity of the unseasoned. That is what good disciplers and shepherds must do. When we experience a measure of unteachability from the younger, it is not best for us to take our bat and ball home, grumbling that no one will listen to us. We must check our own hearts, and examine if, we too, may need to mature spiritually a tad. Complaining about the youth is not what God would have us do, though it can be tough not to (Phil. 2:14). Perhaps, as well, the Lord wants to sometimes use the younger as his instrument to sanctify the older. Sanctification can happen both ways in a discipleship relationship.

      So, the great spiritual immaturity of the younger is no grounds to be abandoned by the older. That is not the Lord’s model for discipleship in the church. Again, the great immaturity is all the more reason for the seasoned to say, “Ok, they won’t listen, which evidences their need all the more. By God’s grace, I will take a long-term view of this. I will not expect them to grow out of their folly overnight. By God’s grace, I will embrace this as my opportunity to grow in christlikeness since I, too, have not arrived. May God help me bear with the younger, knowing it will take years.”

      Thanks Gary

      • Gary Fore

        Eric,

        Your reply is well taken. However, I was not saying abandon them, but saying that they remain largely unteachable. My wife and I have seven children in their 20’s down to under 10. I understand the process of time and that the great grace of God in Christ is the hope in it all. He will build His true church, but I do mean my comments as a rebuke to the younger who refuse to listen. Solomon wrote in Prov 23:26, “Give me your heart, my son…” In our church, there are several teens to thirty-somethings, but none of them will even submit to regular instruction in the Word. They are sporatic on Sunday AM and virtually never Sun PM and Wed PM when we study the Word together. They call themselves Christians ( maybe – maybe not), but instead will sit in another room playing with their phone rather than come sit under the Word. Their heart is owned by the world, so their actions declare. If we throw in some sort of wild party or VBS frenzy, they will engage, but attention to plain ole’ instruction in the Word – not interested. Boring…

        I do not really blame them as much as my own generation who did not disciple them or discipline them in the Lord. I John 2: 15-17 describes the warning of the world capturing a heart. Unless the men who lead our homes and churches pander to their shallow demands, they sit like a sullen child.

        Do we quit on them? No – I intend to go on further with them and try again to call them out of their self-centeredness to a true salvation and/or true sanctification. However, the heart of man is evil from his youth, so it will be the kind grace of God that awakens them. If He does?

        My observations are not mean-spirited. They are factual and it is time that the leaders of our congregations face this and admit it, then act upon hopeful solutions by stop pandering to the younger with gimmicks and gadgets. Give them the Word. That is what they need – not worship lights, not frenzy on Sundays, but faithful instruction in the Word, but they must be within earshod it hear it!

        The foremost fault lays with the parents and church leaders of today’s teens to thirty-somethings…my generation. However, my observations are that the younger are unwilling to repent – by and large. They do not believe that the Word alone is enough for them, instead they want the world intermixed. But they cannot mix and be true to our Lord.

        May the Lord indeed awaken we older to the plight of the younger so that the older will care genuinely for the younger who are both lost sheep and straying sheep – some of both. And maybe some of the younger will indeed awaken.

        Gal 6:8 is true and it is time that my generation admit it – we are the cause of the current generation’s demise. We sowed to the flesh and our children are reaping the flesh, but the responsibility nonetheless is for everyone to repent, older and younger.

  • Pingback: An Appeal to Seasoned Saints: Don’t Avoid Young Churches | A disciple's study()

  • Jane Hildebrand

    First, thank you for using the word seasoned vs. old. I appreciate that. As one in their mid-50’s I must agree with much of the comments so far. Sadly, it is rare these days for young people to seek out wisdom from the older ones, especially on topics of faith and doctrine. Conversations tend to revolve more around finding their true selves, pursuing their dreams, organic food and essential oils, than wanting to how they can grow in their relationships with Christ. It is easy for seasoned believers to feel unwanted and unnecessary these days.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks Jane. I understand feeling unnecessary at times.

      As you listen to musings about oils, diets, and kombucha recipes, I would also point you to my reply to Gary above. That the younger are so teachable to the older means that the older ought to consider, all the more, patiently bearing with them, taking a long, long-term view of discipleship.

      • Cecilia Connell

        Thanks, Eric! This is a good and encouraging reminder for all of us, regardless of age, that we as individuals are crucial parts of the body of Christ wherever He decides to place us. As you know, we have moved about the country and overseas more than 15 times, due to my husband’s military career, we have been active and serving members of almost as many churches, and after the first 2 or 3, we realized people tend to seek churches where the pastor is in their own age bracket, because of ‘culture’ and generational prefereces. For a long while, WE were the youngins looking for sound advice and discipleship, and sadly were left wanting in many cases and places (it’s not a new problem)- the older folks were “retired in Florida, enjoying their over 55 only commities”, if not literally, at least in attitude… Sin is insiduous, no matter how old you are. Now, we are in our late 50’s and have come to terms with the fact that it is all a matter of sactification and contentment. About 20 years ago someone shared these passages with me: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; … and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, – Act 17:24, 26 NASB, and “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” – 1Co 12:18 NASB. This person meant to teach me as I groaned and bemoaned the fact that my church was not as “fill in the blank” as I wanted, that it is GOD who moved us around according to His will, His holy purpose, and His glory. Brothers and sisters plug in with all your might, and seek to glorify God in the few inter-generational relationships He allows you to have. -Love you, and pray for you and your family often!

        • Eric Davis

          Great word, Cecilia. I like the application of Acts 17 & 1 Cor 12 to this issue. So important for me to remember. Thank you for the encouragement and prayers.

  • Brian Morgan

    Eric,
    This is a necessary piece. From my perspective, where we have a decent cross section of ages, there is simply the lack of a discipleship paradigm in place. This leads to natural divide where we collect based upon interest. There is a drift for the seasoned saints into not feeling as needed, or not knowing how to be needed, since the paradigm isn’t there to support or “expect” the activity.
    In my Associate Pastor role, I am trying to teach very clearly on this calling when I am able to, and have received interesting replies. One man, after appealing to the men regarding Titus 2 and the need to demonstrated soundness in faith and charity, etc….stated, “I go around and try to shake all your hands…I am not sure what I else I am supposed to do…….”
    Ecclesiology plays a big role in this, in my view. With God’s help, we will experience reform in this area where I serve. Patience, I know…..patience..
    I appreciate you Brother,
    Brian

    • Eric Davis

      Brian, appreciate you too, brother. The lack of discipleship paradigm is a big problem. It’s foreign to many in our day, and pretty discouraging. We’ve had people leave when encouraged to embrace the joy of obedience in discipleship. But with prayer, modelling it ourselves, proper teaching, and some individual conversations with people, I trust we’ll see a bit of repentance along those lines in the church.