Have you ever walked into a new church and all you see is older people? What do you usually think when you see this? Do you think it must be an old-fashioned or boring church? Or maybe you experience just the opposite: you only see young people and young families in a church, so you think it must be a contemporary, laid-back, fun church?
We all know that appearances can be deceiving, but the fact is there are lots of churches around this nation and the world that lean heavily one way or the other. Some churches seem to draw mostly younger people whereas other churches have mostly older folks.
Generations in the Church
The truth is, God wants His church to be multi-generational. Remember the young pastor that Paul was mentoring? Timothy was his name. Paul said to Timothy, “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you” (2 Timothy 1:5).
Clearly, Paul recognized that Timothy had received godly instruction from his mother and his grandmother as he was growing up. Timothy’s mother and grandmother could have chosen to just keep their faith and wisdom to themselves, but they decided to plant it into Timothy instead. This, in turn, prepared Timothy to become who he needed to be: a pastor.
Likewise, Paul, who was experienced in both life and in religious teaching, came alongside Timothy to guide and help him. We all need someone more experienced to help us along in life, and that’s exactly what Paul did for Timothy. Later, it would be Timothy’s turn to do the same for another young preacher. This beautiful cycle of receiving, then giving, is how God’s Kingdom should work.
There should be a healthy dependency between the generations, especially in the church. For example, just before Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, Moses told him to be sure to teach the younger generations about the Lord:
“Call them all together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living in your towns—so they may hear this Book of Instruction and learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully obey all the terms of these instructions. Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13).
It was the older generation’s job to teach the younger about the Lord, and that’s still true today. The future of the church and Christianity is dependent on older generations training and teaching the younger generations. Equally, the relevancy of the church and its message is dependent on younger people finding their place in the church and using their gifts to further the Kingdom of God.
It’s not unusual for young people to undervalue and misunderstand older people. Nor is it uncommon for older people to do the same to younger people. We must guard against this mindset and remember that each has strengths; each can help the other.
Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.” Obviously, God values each person in every stage of life, and the church should do the same. Young people are strong and energetic (which older people often lack), and older people excel in experience and wisdom (which younger people usually need).
The older and the younger can balance each other out because the former often display stability and maturity in their faith whereas the latter exhibit a freshness and zeal in their faith.
Teaching and Learning
With experience and maturity comes wisdom. Titus 2:4 says, “These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children.” There is much that younger people can learn from those who are more mature. From how to manage money or raise a family to being a good worker, wife, or husband, young people can learn a lot from those more experienced than they are.
Likewise, youth and young adults can help seniors to understand technology, offer new ideas to maintain the church’s relevancy, and to share different perspectives on important issues.
On both sides, one critical factor is required: each person (young or old) must understand that he or she doesn’t have all the answers and can learn something from anyone! Everyone must maintain a humble attitude that is open to hearing others’ perspectives. Older people cannot be “set in their ways,” and younger people cannot simply “write off” the older generations.
Passing the Torch and Working Together
We already mentioned Moses and Joshua; this is a great example of passing the torch. Moses had been the man of God for many years, but then it was Joshua’s turn. Moses knew this day would come, so he had been teaching and training Joshua for a long time.
The same is true today: people in the older generation need to stay connected and invested in not only the Kingdom of God but also in helping to raise up the next generation who will continue to “carry the torch” when they’re either unable to or are gone. And those in the younger generation need to respect and honor the older generation, learning from their experiences and wisdom.
This is a win-win all around, and it’s the type of church that Jesus wants to find when He returns.
~ Jennell Houts