It was reported recently in the news that a struggling church in Minnesota asked its’ elderly congregation to not attend church for the next couple of years. This is part of a re-launch strategy the church is attempting so that it can appeal to a younger more vibrant demographic.
This sort of practice comes as a shock to me. But at the same time, not really.
The Young And Hip Church
Several years ago I attended Elevation Church here in Charlotte, pastored by Steven Furtick. The church attempts to appear as young, hip, and full of energy. As such, just about everyone on stage you’ll ever see there is somewhere under 40 (ish). Someone older may occasionally be platformed, but they are usually only a special guest speaker or musician.
Elevation Church isn’t alone in this practice. So I’m not going to sit here and just hate on them. As we can see, a small struggling church in Minnesota is trying to catch onto this church growth strategy. They’ve even brought in a 30 year old “specialist” to make this happen.
Pushing senior saints out the door or moving them off the platform might be the cool thing to do these days. But, make no mistake about it, such age discrimination is not only possibly criminal, it’s definitely a sin. A sin that I believe can destroy the church.
Senior Saints Are A Special Gift
As the church, we must show honor to whom honor is due. And, I believe our senior saints who have often walked with Jesus for more years than we’ve been alive, are of infinite value to the cause of the gospel.
We must not treat our senior saints as second class citizens in the church. We must not push them out of roles away from the spotlight. Instead we should be celebrating them as individuals from whom we have much to learn. We must see them as a precious gift that must be shared with everyone else in the church.
Many years ago I remember attending the Troutman Church of God, and there was a special woman there by the name of Eileen Miller. We affectionately called her “Sister Eileen.” Eileen was in her 70’s or 80’s when I attended, and has since gone home to be with the Lord. She was a tiny thing, barely 5 feet tall, and had hair that was as white as white could be. Eileen served the Lord almost her entire life, and had been attending the same church for as many decades as anyone could remember.
Over the years she served in a wide variety of roles in the church. By the time I met her, she was a bit more limited in her involvement as far as what she could do physically. But there was one thing Eileen could do, and that was sing.
When sister Eileen sang her “Wednesday night special,” there was seldom a dry eye in the house. Eileen sang songs I had never heard, but were obviously full of meaning to her. And being rich in such meaning, her specials always touched us in a profound way. Her singing voice may have not been the best you had ever heard. But, Eileen’s voice carried the depths of a woman who had spent the ups and downs of her life loving on Jesus. and loving her church.
A voice like that is simply not something that you can find in a 20 year old hipster bouncing around on stage in their torn skinny jeans. And I don’t say that as a slight against the youth, as we need them just as much as we need the senior saints. They will one day be the Eileen Miller’s of the church.
Passing On The Torch
My fear, however, is that decades from now, there won’t be many sister Eileen’s left in the church.
Especially if we aren’t making any place for them to be platformed in the present, and to pass on the torch to the next generation. If they aren’t around to share with us the things they have learned, and to impart something of their spirit and wisdom to us, then from whom will we learn such things?
Do we really think the Steven Furtick’s of the church are going to pass along to us the wisdom, brokenness, and the depth of our senior saints? We are only kidding ourselves if we do.
Yes, we might be tempted to cynically look at seniors as old, slow, and stuck in their ways. They may keep the church from making all the changes we all want to make. But in an age where we want to tear up everything from the last generation and build something new, I think that’s a good thing.
We need something of the wisdom of that generation before us. Individuals who know what it’s like to weather the storms of life and our culture, and what it takes to steady the ship, and to pass on the faith once and for all handed down to the saints.