When you start leading a church you get given lots of advice. One piece of advice that kept coming, particularly from some incredibly impressive American pastors who are growing big, big churches, was to narrow the demographic you’re trying to reach; You look young, put all your energy into serving young people. It sounds good; it’s tempting: churches are doing that and it seems to be working but it’s never sat comfortably with me or my fellow leaders. God is about something different at Westminster Chapel that we just can’t let go of: all-age church. To explain why, here’s the fantastic, faithful Stephen Sloan, one of our gifted elders.
“Forget millennials v baby boomers v Generation X. We need to be friends across all the age groups” – (Ellen E Jones – Evening Standard Comment column – 10th January.)
If this bright millennial is pitching for generational “community” how much more should God’s church?
Ellen’s article rests on a sensible pragmatism which we can largely agree with but we have a better template for community within our church setting (and indeed within wider society) – the wonderful Bible!
It begins with the Gospel – God’s great leveller. – “One body, one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4 : 4/5); (and we can go on) – one Saviour, one salvation, one entry point into God’s Kingdom, one church – no special pleading, no inside track, no first or second class, no special terms. Salvation – through Faith alone in Christ alone. AND – God values the salvation of every redeemed believer equally.
And yet Scripture is also big into REAL diversity and inclusivity. It does not reduce us to homogenous, grey, look-alikes, rather – “to EACH ONE of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (DIVERSITY)…. and – “from our Head (Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its’ work “ (UNITY) (Ephesians 4 : 7 and 16).
All this is amazing foundational “whole of life” truth and carries over into every aspect of our humanness as believers – including the issue of our age.
Scripture acknowledges, values and speaks into all the different seasons in our lives, as well as (wonderfully) tying the different generations together.
On childhood, as well as valuing individual human life from even before conception (Psalm 139 :15), childlikeness is a metaphor both for how we come to faith (Matthew 19 :14) and go on in the faith. This doesn’t infantilise or belittle essential maturing in grace but does remind all of us of our need to maintain an openness and receptivity to our Heavenly Father – uncluttered by some of the adult trappings/add-ons/sophistication which we sometimes allow to stand in the way of our growing in God. This simplicity should keep us generationally-connected to children.
We see further practical generational tie-in through verses like Psalm 78:4, – “What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children, we will tell the next generation” Part of the pledge church members give at our baby dedication services is (together with the parents) to play our part in modelling Jesus whether through teaching and training or simply by our conduct and conversation when we meet and fellowship together as a church. Children notice things! “One generation shall commend your love to another” (Psalm 145 : 4). We all have a ministry as commenders!
But what about the church’s attitude to older people/the elderly? – “A grey head is a crown of glory, it is found in the way of righteousness” (Psalm 16 : 31). This does not call for deference on the grounds of age alone nor does scripture always assume that seniority equals godliness – “Age SHOULD speak, advanced years SHOULD teach wisdom” – but it doesn’t always. Nonetheless, spiritual maturity which can often be found in the seasoned christian should be cherished and place given for the gifts and abilities of such a person to be exercised.
Of course the middle ground of the life of our church’s life in terms of demographic and ministries is mostly occupied by those who are strictly neither young or old. These twenties to thirties and middle-aged “inbetweeners” largely have the carriage of the leadership of our ministries. In the case of such leaders, the Apostle Paul is fairly forthright “ Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in llfe, in love, in faith and purity” (1 Timothy 4 v12). So such leaders are to be respected and followed – whilst Paul also reminds them that the bar is set high in terms of how they conduct themselves in the church.
So, all ages are to be valued for who they are and what they bring. The healthy church is an amazing entity – when all its different members are “fitly framed together” (Ephesians 2: 21 (KJV)).
And finally – one verse which wonderfully ties this all together – Acts 2:17 -“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit ”. Indiscriminate inclusive promises hanging over everyone in the church regardless of age -or any other distinction. Do it Lord!