A recent move by the Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove Minnesota has made national news. In an attempt to reach their growing community, the declining church with an average weekly attendance of 25 is being asked to close its doors for an intentional relaunch and replant. But, that’s not the reason the church made national news.
In a message sent to the members, they were given an opportunity to attend another Methodist church some 15 miles away during the process. However, they were also informed that when the church relaunched, it would be different and the changes were intended to reach a different group of people in their community. Specifically, younger people.
The church’s memo sent to the older members asked them to stay away for a period of two years and then seek permission before returning to their previous church. This is their strategy for connecting with the younger families in their community—by keeping the older families away. Jeremy Peters, the new 32 year old pastor explained it this way:
It’s a new thing with a new mission for a new target,” said Peters, “and a new culture.”
Some of the vocal church members are calling it age discrimination. At best, it’s one of the clearest examples of pragmatic church growth techniques of our era. In short, the leadership of the church cannot figure out how to reach their community. They’ve abandoned the sufficient Word of God and turned their back on the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
However, as we consider such a desperate move by the leadership of a local church —we must think critically about the emphasis that’s often placed on the youth within the church. In many evangelical circles, massive percentages of church budgets are consumed with strategies to attract youth and young families. In a neighboring town where I serve here on the west side of Atlanta, a Baptist church spent loads of money on gaming systems for their youth room. Meanwhile, many of the elderly are overlooked. They’re expected to put their tithe check in the offering plate each month (typically the first week of the month), but beyond that—the church growth strategy doesn’t include them in the slightest degree.
In the church planting world, many young church leaders put a great deal of emphasis on attracting millennials and specific demographics that do not have gray hair or need assistance getting from their car into the building on the Lord’s Day without stumbling. When a church overlooks the elderly, it can cause several big problems within the church family.
A Church Without Wisdom
God’s plan for the church is that it would pursue wisdom. One of the ways that a church gains wisdom is by one generation passing it down to the next generation. This is what we see put on grand display in Titus 2. The older training the younger. So, exactly how much wisdom is found in a church full of coffee snob millennials who are discipling one another—where no gray hair can be found in the building?
If I were involved in a church planting project, I would balance it between younger and older members in order to have wisdom and zeal mixing it up together. This keeps the older young and enables the young to grow stronger along the journey of faith. When we look at the institution of the family, there’s a reason why God didn’t create everyone to be the same exact age. Parents are older than their children for a reason—and that is the core of discipleship.
Proverbs 16:31 – Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.
A Discriminating Mission
Sure, statistically and practically it makes perfect sense. If you want to attract younger people, keep the older people away. However, that’s not what Jesus commissioned his disciples to do. He didn’t say, “Go and reach young families…” He said, “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:16-20). A disciple is someone who follows Christ.
One of the sad realities is that statistically older people are closer to eternity (according to the numbers and based on the mere scale of the average life expectancy rule). When you consider how many elderly unbelievers make up a single community, it should cause us to weep that they’re rarely targeted with the gospel. They’re more often overlooked and forgotten as local churches do everything under the sun to reach younger families.
Within the church, the elderly are given the command to persevere in the faith to the very end. Yet, far too often local churches are looking for ways to attract new younger families while forgetting that the elderly people among their local church need help and encouragement as they seek to finish well.
A Church with a Lack of Funerals
What happens when a local church targets younger families or plants exclusively with young people in mind? Such churches learn how to celebrate at weddings and the birth of new babies, but they rarely watch an older member persevere in the faith to the very end. They know what it’s like to dance at a wedding, but they don’t know what it’s like to weep at a funeral of an old man who spent much of his life serving the Lord in the life of their local church. They don’t know what it’s like to stand over the casket of a man with deep wrinkles and gray hair and praise God for his faithfulness.
In an age where youthfulness has nearly been turned into an idol—the church of Jesus Christ should reject such ideas. The value of older members must be something that is instilled into the minds of the young children among us. We must disciple them well and teach them the value of learning from the older members among our family of faith. An immature church is one that ignores the elderly.
Dear church—don’t overlook and undervalue the elderly among you.
In a recent article, I pointed out why the local church should not overlook or undervalue the elderly. Today, I want to address another group that can be overlooked or in some cases the basis of frustration within the local church. Interestingly enough, it’s the young ones—sometimes even the youngest of all.
We are living in a time in history where children are undervalued and often avoided. “When Virgin Voyages debuts its first ship in 2020, it will sail without a key market component for most cruise lines: young families.” While cruise ships and restaurants want to avoid young families and young children—the church of Jesus Christ should be the exact opposite.
Perhaps you’ve attended a service recently where young children distracted you. The more baby noises you heard, the more you found yourself not listening to the sermon. Perhaps the baby a few feet from you caused you a great deal of frustration. Why should we value the babies in the room and the young children among us?
Perhaps the foundational reason for children to be among the church and among adults often within the life of the church is so that they can look, see, hear, and observe the way the church functions on a normative basis. This is essential in their formation. If they are sequestered away on every occasion to a special “fun” place for children each time they arrive on the church campus—they will likely find “big church” quite stale, boring, and unattractive once they graduate from kid church.
Although I’m not one to draw a hard line in the sand on children’s ministries, I do believe we must place a great value upon the children among us. I do think churches that offer special classes for young children on the Lord’s Day can still put value on the gathered church with intentionality—especially if you have an evening service. To be frank—children need to hear the gospel boldly preached and they need to interact with adults other than their parents as they observe faithful men and women persevering in the faith to the very end. When Jim who greets families at the front door of the church dies, the children in the church should know that he’s more than a kind man who opens the door. He’s a member. He’s actively involved in weekly worship. He’s a man that loved Jesus. He’s a man who was in some way involved in influencing the children in the church and for that reason—children should hear of his faithfulness and perseverance at his funeral.
Was Jesus Frustrated with Children?
I remember when I went to pastor a small country church as a seminary student. The church body was small. The church building was small, and there was no special ministries for our children. I had been accustomed to the main worship service being a somewhat controlled environment. My first Sunday proved to be anything but a controlled environment. A couple of young mothers were on the back row with their children who were making all sorts of noises, crawling beneath the pews, and there were numerous attempts to keep them quiet. I recall being a bit distracted. However, soon enough, I became accustomed to the sounds of children and it was not a source of frustration for me.
Consider how Jesus approached children. Although the disciples believed that the parents and their children who were coming to Jesus would be an added burden or perhaps a distraction—Jesus insisted on giving the children attention. We find the following account in Matthew:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away (Matthew 19:13–15).
Notice that Jesus was not frustrated by the presence of the children. He was not distracted by them. He made it very clear to his disciples that they were important and he demonstrated that by how he gave time and attention to them. Consider the important lesson we can learn from Jesus.
Striking a Good Balance
In every church, there will be various different unique circumstances. For instance, we are experiencing a baby boom in our church presently. With such a boom, there’s a need for both service and patience with the young families. As we consider the life of the church and how the church functions—it’s important to strike a good balance among the parents of the young children and the church who is covenanting to care for them properly.
Balance as a Parent: Sure, the church should welcome you and your children into the church or discipleship class, but keep in mind baby noises are different than lengthy crying spells that could endure for 10-15 minutes at a time. For the church to hear and for the time to be profitable—there might be a time where you need to excuse yourself from the church or class in order to settle your child. But, if that’s the case, don’t be shamed into staying away!
Balance as a Church Member: Expect wiggles, potty breaks, and the occasional outburst of a young child. It happens in your home (or did once upon a time), so you can expect it to happen on the church campus too. It may not be your conviction to have your children with you during the worship service or small group discipleship class. Some churches may offer various discipleship classes or nurseries for younger children and you may choose to use such resources for your children. However, don’t look down upon mothers who have different convictions. Furthermore, don’t become frustrated with children and babies near you during a worship service. Consider the sound of babies among your church as a sign of health and the blessing of God.
In short, the church must learn to show love and patience toward one another within the family of faith. To become frustrated and divisive over non-essential matters in the church is one quick way to divide a church and stiffen spiritual growth among the members. Make sure your church values young families, young mothers, and young children. In a culture where young families are often shamed into sitting in the corner of a restaurant away from the normal customers and during a time where cruise ships view children as problematic and unprofitable—we as the church must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and demonstrate a great care and affection for the little ones among us.
For many years, the light of the gospel was veiled beneath Rome’s liturgy that was led by the Latin tongue even when people didn’t understand what was being communicated. The worship of the Roman Catholic Church was filled with obscure phraseology and polished sentences that served as word salads at best while never providing true nourishment of the soul. In short, the Roman Catholic Church withheld the gospel from the people and it was the Reformation that released God’s Word from the dark dungeon of man-centered religion.
We look back beyond what was taking place in the days of the sixteenth century in Europe to the ministry of the apostle Paul. His resume speaks about his high education and training as a pharisee. Paul was no dummy to say the least. With a high pedigree regarding education and a very advanced vocabulary and command over human language—this brilliant pastor-theologian refused to speak over the heads of the people. Instead, he spoke to the people. Listen to the words of Paul as he wrote to the church at Corinth.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).
Paul was full of wisdom and had the unique capability of using lofty speech if necessary, but he chose to set aside his capabilities in order to accomplish something of far greater importance. Rather than inviting people to praise his vocabulary and knowledge as a theologian, he wanted to use human speech to direct people to the wisdom, beauty, and majesty of God. Paul’s motive was not to have the people become impressed with him, instead, he desired for the church to be impressed with the Christ who died on the cross. It must likewise be noted that it’s often the mark of a skilled preacher who can articulate grand truths in a simple and yet accurate manner.
Far too many preachers seek to unleash their theologically robust and esoteric vocabulary upon the church without considering the common man and woman among the church who may not get it. In other words, it’s best for the preacher to put the cookies on the bottom shelf as often as possible in order to deliver the truth and unleash God’s gospel.
According to Paul, his words were in “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” and the overall purpose was that the faith of the church would rest in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men. Preachers are not poets. Pastors are not philosophers. It is our duty to make sure the message of Christ is clearly articulated and powerfully communicated so that men, women, boys, and girls might have their faith rooted and grounded in Christ alone.
We must remember, it’s not the eloquence of the preacher, the clever cliches in his sermon, or enticing words of man’s wisdom that brings people to faith—it’s the power of the gospel. Remember, Charles Spurgeon learned that lesson as he walked into the Crystal Palace test the acoustics. Listen to Spurgeon tell the story of what happened that day:
In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, I went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God.
Just a few days after that event, 23,654 would gather in that same venue to hear Spurgeon preach. However, just days prior, only one verse was thundered from the pulpit and God used it to convert a lost man. The converted man would tell that story upon his deathbed. The next time you’re preparing a sermon or a lesson to teach in the context of the local church—think about how you can simplify the message and make sure that it’s clearly understood by everyone who will be in attendance. That includes both the carpenter and the surgeon—the little boy and the elderly woman. When you prepare to preach or teach, think about your goal of causing people to be impressed with God rather than you and your gifts.
Today when you walk into St. Pierre in Geneva where John Calvin served as pastor, written on the walls of the cathedral are these words, “post tenebras lux” which means, “After darkness, light.” Our ministries need to be known as ministries of light that point people to the beauty, wonder, and majesty of the God who saves sinners.
Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to preach from Romans 4:16-21 in our morning worship service. We continued in our study of Romans together and the sermon was a continuation of Paul’s illustration of justification by faith alone in the life of Abraham. Paul demonstrated the reality that Abraham was saved by faith and then continued to walk by faith rather than sight.
As we will see in this text today, God promised Abraham and Sarah a son—Isaac. They were elderly when the promise had not yet been fulfilled, but God always keeps his word and in their old age, Isaac was born. After their son was up in age — God asked of Abraham something that placed him at the juncture of trust and doubt. Would he trust God or would he doubt God? God commanded Abraham to take Isaac up to a specific location that he would tell him, and to sacrifice his son. Abraham prepared for their journey and took Isaac with him. As they journeyed to their location to prepare for the sacrifice, Isaac asked his father a very important question.
Genesis 22:7–8 – And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
Notice the words of Abraham—”The LORD will provide.” This is coming from a man who trusted the LORD to provide a son, and now he’s trusting the LORD who is telling him to take away his son. In the Genesis account, we find God proving Abraham’s faith and prevented him from sacrificing his son—while providing a different sacrifice.
Genesis 22:9–14 – When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.  But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
Paul is driving home the point that since Abraham was not saved by his law keeping, his salvation is not only initiated by God, but it’s performed and preserved by God—from beginning to end. The beautiful reality that’s also driven home is that this promise isn’t merely a Jewish promise. It’s a promise for all of Abraham’s seed who are in Christ and circumcised of the heart (Rom. 2:29).
In the text of Romans, Paul points to the promise of salvation and uses the word Guaranteed (βέβαιος) to drive home the reality of and certainty of God’s promise! Paul later drives that same point home with a theological focus rather than historical focus as he does here in the fourth chapter of Romans. In Romans 8:29-30, the component elements of salvation are clearly demonstrating the security of our hope and promised salvation in Christ.
The God who raises the dead and called into existence everything that is from nothing—is the God who secures our salvation in Christ. We can be grateful and thankful that our salvation is not up to us. Mark it down, if it was up to us to keep ourselves saved, we would have fallen from grace long ago.
No matter what we face in this life, we always have the hope of God before us. Thomas Brooks once stated, “Hope can see heaven through the thickest clouds.”
Colonial America was filled with white wigs. The 18th century was ripe with the wig wearing men who from young ages were already desiring to fit in among the wise men of the day and it was the wig that created such a bridge of opportunity. Men wore them openly in order to make a statement. Their statement was not so much to do with fashion as much as it was to do with wisdom and knowledge. We see this all throughout our nation’s history as well as church history in America. Men such as George Washington (who reportedly never wore a wig, but embodies the iconic image of the wigs of that era) and Jonathan Edwards are depicted with long flowing gray curls—although undoubtedly fake—they were wigs worn to symbolize their wisdom far more than their age. We see this all through the Puritan age of church history.
Where are all of the gray wigs today? Why do we not see them worn openly in our culture today? The evidence may point to a shift in ideas—one that favors immaturity in this youth-driven culture. What exactly does the Bible say about this whole youth focused culture? Does the Bible say anything about age and how we should approach the inevitable?
Gray May Not Be Your Thing—But Wisdom Should Be
In recent years, I have addressed the need for the younger population of the church of Jesus Christ to know, be involved with, and attend the funerals of the elderly. Tragically, our society looks over the heads of the elderly in favor of the young, the strong, and far too often—the immature. Since we live in a culture that despises the aging process and thereby disrespects the elderly—it would be wise for Christians to consider what the Bible actually says about this matter rather than adopting the culture’s patterns.
In Leviticus 19:32, we see that the Law of God insisted on the honoring of the aged. Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” In other words, the biblical text points to the idea of honoring those with gray hair, but not just for the sake of their hair color. The graying of the hair represented more than an aging process—instead it pointed to the wisdom that comes with age. In most cases, the aging process allows a person to accumulate a certain amount of wisdom through life circumstances (practical wisdom) and through the study of God in theology and walking with God in life.
When we see the words of Proverbs 16:31 and couple them with Paul’s words to Timothy (a young pastor in Ephesus) regarding how he was to address older men (1 Tim. 5:1-2)—it would be extremely healthy for us to learn to respect and honor the aged among us in society in general—but especially within the local church. We may not see gray wigs on sale in a center kiosk at the local shopping mall and they may never be en vogue in our culture at any day in the future—wisdom should be attractive to us—especially to those who are followers of Jesus (James 1:5).
Do Not Worship Adolescence
It should be plainly evident to all of us that we’re living in a culture that celebrates youthfulness and despises the aged. A trip down the cosmetics section in the supermarket will reveal many products designed to take away gray hair, smooth out wrinkles, and make the body look and feel young. Any trip through a major city will certainly reveal our culture’s love for shopping malls. When we examine the stores in the malls, the overwhelming majority are centered on young people who linger in the atrium of the mall for social purposes with their friends or gather for coffee and entertainment outlets such as theaters—largely designed to entertain young people. The men’s clothing or women’s clothing stores are few and far between these days because—quite simply—the profit margins simply don’t compare.
This cultural shift leaves much of the focus of our society centered on youth—and that spills right over into the context of the local church as well. We often hear much talk about how we have to focus on the youth of the church because they’re the next generation of members and leaders. While we certainly need to invest in young people and children within our church—the lack of respect for the elderly in society as well as within the church has done far more than remove men’s clothing and men’s shoe stores from the front street of our communities. It has likewise affected how we worship. In many evangelical churches, the worship is designed around the young people rather than adults—resulting in a concert with a sermonette attached to it or in some cases the feel is more like a VBS for adults—complete with all of the light-hearted entertainment and canned jokes.
Paul, in his words to the church at Ephesus, implores them to strive for maturity as God has given them leaders for that very purpose (Eph. 4:12). While there is nothing inherently sinful by shopping malls turning to the teens for profit margins—the church of Jesus Christ would do well to celebrate maturity and gospel-centered wisdom that comes with age. This is one reason for the title of the office of elder—driving home the point that wisdom is needed in order to properly lead God’s people theologically and spiritually. Fools despise wisdom (Prov. 1:7). We’re living in strange days to be sure, days when immaturity is championed among a culture demonstrating just how much wisdom is needed in the end. This, to be sure, is a tragedy. Remember what happened to Rehoboam when he despised the wisdom of the old men and gave his ear to the immature voices of the young men (1 Kings 12:8)?
Our culture and our churches are filled with wise older men and women who are overlooked because of their age. Gray is not proof of wisdom, but it would do us well not to view gray as outdated, expired, or irrelevant. Once upon a time young men wanted to look old. Today, old men want to look young while young men never want to grow up. Fashion may change, but it’s the heart that truly matters. May the Lord grant us wisdom and enable us to value the wise and aged among us in the life of the church in such a way that creates stability and maturity among God’s people.
Proverbs 4:7 — The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.