Dear Church, Old People Matter

In the process of watching hundreds of music videos of church songs for, I realized that the overwhelming majority of the people in the videos are 35 years old and younger. Here’s just a few different examples.

Church-Pew-with-WorshippersThe church has long had an obsession with youth culture in its attempt to stay “relevant,” and in the process the people deemed by each church to be “old” are relegated to nursing home status—we’ll visit you a few times a year, but otherwise just stay out of the way.

I can think of a number of issues with this, chief among them is how Scripture teaches the older to pass on their faith to the younger. Psalm 71:18 and Psalm 145:4 speak to this directly, and the idea of older passing on to the younger is an idea exemplified all throughout the Scriptures in story form. So in churches where the only people present are younger, how is this possible?

What these videos and the larger church’s focus on youth culture subliminally teach is that if you’re deemed to be too old, the church is done with you. You’re forced out to the peripheral.

Now, of course, this is a two-way street. Many churches devalue the importance of those who are deemed to be “young.” They don’t get an opportunity to lead. Their opinions are rarely, if ever, considered for important decisions on direction of the church. In fact, many of these churches with a strong focus on youth culture are full of people who left churches where they were devalued due to their age.

What must be brought back into view is providing an answer to these questions:

  • What is the church?
  • What does a healthy church look like?

The local church is meant to be a unique expression of the universal church, comprising all followers of Christ. It’s more than a gathering once a week, the church is a people who have placed Jesus at their center. With that in view, a healthy church represents the diversity of the universal church. When it comes to age, it means all ages are present and all ages are valued. It also means providing space for the older to impart their wisdom to the younger.

This is much more difficult than just placing a 20 year old and an 80 year old in the same room, but that is the starting point. The life of Jesus centrally teaches us to live sacrificially. In this instance that means laying aside our own desires for what church should be to consider how we might connect with those generations gone before. They matter too.

I do not reject the movement toward youth culture by many churches, but it must be questioned whether it is ostracizing the older and wiser church members. Sure these churches may look full and alive, but they certainly cannot have the wisdom Scripture speaks of if it is not passed on to them by those who have gone before.

I’m all for helping churches connect with my generation, and even those younger, but please remember, those who have gone before are not to be passed by. Your churches will suffer without them.

 (Image: Van Gogh’s Church Pew with Worshippers)