I think probably everyone who will read my post knows this but I am going to say it anyhow just in case. I pastor a small church that is primarily made up of younger people. There are a few of us older people there but not a ton. I say this because I think it is important to be upfront about the congregation I am honored to lead before I write what I am about to write.
There is a church in Minnesota that has basically asked its senior adults to stop attending and that is awful.
I’ll admit I’ve oversimplified the situation but I believe it is the practical implication. I don’t know this church or the people in it, and there may be more to this story, but from the initial reports the church leadership’s action have, for all intents and purposes, asked the senior adults, that primarily made up the attendance of this church, to stop attending for the next two years. The Grove United Methodist Church in Minnesota is trying to restart one of its campuses and has asked the 25 present members, most of whom are senior adults, to go somewhere else for the next couple of years, and then to reapply to come back in. To quote the article.
The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.
You can read the full article HERE.
I get it to some degree. It is hard to revive a church. Sometimes the established culture can make it all the more difficult. Also young churches often seem fun and attractive. But I don’t think such realities justify these actions, and I fear the message the actions may convey is the opposite of the gospel.
The Church Is The Household of God
I am convinced that we need all age groups in our churches and those age groups need to purposefully mingle with one another. The church is the family of God (Ephesians 2:19-20). A household, specifically a household in the Ancient Near East, is made of up different age groups. Grandparents and grand kids would have been regularly involved in each other’s lives. Our modern Western concept of the nuclear family didn’t exist. Multiple generations lived in a household and they each offer and received from the other generations. They were their own mutual aide society. Thus why scripture again and again speaks of the church taking care of two of the most at risk groups in the Ancient Near East. Widows and orphans.
Widows and orphans were in great danger because they didn’t have a family structure to depend upon and to offer their own help to. Unlike the rest of the world in the church there were no longer any widows and orphans because those who had been widows and orphans suddenly found that they had lots of family within the church that they could depend upon and also to whom they could offer their own support. Thus James writes (James 1:27) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. ” Family takes care of family (or at least it is supposed to do so).
Our “widows and orphans” may be different now, but our need for family isn’t. There are still things in our lives that far too easily drop through the cracks without family. Couples struggling with marriage, individuals worrying about money, coupled parents and single parents worried about how to raise their kids, kids struggling with their home life, etc. etc. etc. We may enjoy hanging out with people that are the same as us in age and other demographics, but we need family who are in different situations than we are. They are the ones who can say “I’ve been there, I know it is rough”, or “Don’t worry I have enough energy to rake that yard.” It takes a village and when the church operates in the manner that I believe Jesus wants His bride to operate the “village” is helped by and helps all the various groups that make her up, because, as I wrote earlier, family takes care of family.
Paul wrote, ” Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Not to take care of your own family is to have “denied the faith”! The church is full of brothers, sisters, older aunts & uncles, and young nieces and nephews … or at least it should be. To chase our spiritual grandparents out because they don’t convey the youthful image that will attract new people very well might deny the faith the church is supposedly trying to live.
Denying the Faith
It is not just that this church may have thrown their “widows” into the cold, but that by doing so they may be restarting the church in a manner that actually denies the faith. It isn’t even just this church. So many churches have followed the same model and setup up a service to meet the need that will attract, rather than establishing a household that will take care of one another. Even churches that try to meet the needs of all ages often segregate every age. Our kids don’t know any senior adults in our churches because they never see them. The church is supposed to be the household of God.
A community to take care of the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45) and be taken care of by those same “least of these”. Thus our children, a group utterly without resources, become our examples of faith, and the need of the widow in the Ancient Near East our reminder of our actual status before God. The church needs to not only take care of its elders but also to learn from them, just as the elders in the church need to learn from our “youngn’s”. I’ll use an example from our small group (which I love and have written about HERE).
We have a wide age group that make up our small group – from elementary school students to retirees. A while back Pam overheard a conversation between one of our elementary students and one of our retirees. The retiree was telling the elementary student how much she had appreciated the recommendation to listen to some of Vivaldi’s music. Yeah our elementary students are pretty amazing (I mean I wasn’t listening to Vivaldi in elementary school … or maybe even now), but so are our retirees. How many adults do you know that allow kids to teach them? The young need the old and the old need the young. This happens in the church … at least it should.
One of my proudest moments as a pastor was when one of our senior adults heard that my parents wouldn’t be able to make Noah’s high school graduation because my dad was dying with Glioblastoma Multiforme and therefore he wouldn’t have a grandparent at his graduation. Her response was “I’ll be your honorary grandparent” and she came and sat through his graduation just to cheer him on. Do you know how boring graduations are? This was a sacrifice. This was love. We should all have tons of grand parents, grand kids, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews in our churches.
Your kids should have lots of “grand parents” in your church who love and are proud of them, and we older adults should know and love younger people because we are involved in each other’s lives through the community of our church. When this happens we are a prophetic community.
We’re Supposed to be a Prophetic Voice
We live in a society that worships at the altar of youth. Our media is full of advertising that swears that whatever product it is hawking will allow us to defy age and stay young for at least a little while longer, till another product will take over. Why? Well, because youth is of the ultimate value in a culture that fears death. Our television and movie stars literally have their bodies cut and reshaped in an attempt to pretend to be young, and we very often follow in their wake. Want to compliment someone, other than an adolescent, tell them they look younger than there actually are. Want to express that you are tired? Say that you feel old. But the church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to represent another the world where death has been defeated, and thus there is no fear of age.
We talk about the church being ambassadors of that other world (2 Corinthians 5:20), our very presence saying that something else is possible, and yet so often the culture within our walls also proclaims that youth is what is of ultimate value. Our leaders stand on our stages desperately trying to look younger than they are because that is far too often what we demand of them. The Instagram account PreachersNSneakers is full of examples of this behavior. We don’t want to be reminded of age even in the world that says it doesn’t fear death. We are supposed to be a prophetic voice of God’s kingdom, but too often we are priests of a kingdom which values youth out of an extreme fear of death.
So I guess what I am saying is that I am amazingly thankful for the few seniors adults we have in Tapestry, right now, and we will gladly take more. Our “youngn’s” need all the great things that come with age, just as our senior adults need all the great things that come with youth. The prophetic voice of the church speaks best when it speaks of its Lord in a harmony of high pitched pre-pubescent cracking voices, deep, rustling aged voices, and everything in between. I hope this church in Minnesota learns this lesson before it is too late, that the senior adults that feel disaffected by the church find a community that cherishes them, and that all of us together can proclaim to a world that is clinging to youth, because it is terrified of death, that there is a God values the beauty of every age because in Him is life.