Crossing the church generation gap

Crossing the church generation gap

Biblical teaching about the church assumes that there will be a mix of older and younger people present in the congregation. We see instructions directed specifically to older people (like 1 Timothy 5:9-11) and to children (like Eph 6:1-3). There are instructions on how younger people should treat older people and vice versa (1 Timothy 5:1-2). It would be normal in the church, as in a typical ancient family, to have various generations together and functioning together.

However, in the modern church, we often miss this kind of intergenerational ministry. One of the reasons for this is the modern trend to base church services and ministries around certain demographics. For example, a church might have an early morning more traditional service that attracts older believers, and an evening more funky service that attracts young adults. Or, even if a church is united demographically during their Sunday service, they might have their church separated by demographics during the week. For example, the high schoolers head to youth group, the young adults to the young adults group, the young families to the family Bible study, and the seniors to the seniors Bible study. It is possible that everyone is in a ministry with people exactly like themselves with little opportunity to minister to those much older or younger.

Even if a church is not divided along demographic lines, our natural tendencies do make relationships across the generations more difficult. Think about the last time you attended church on a Sunday. Did you naturally speak to people of a different generation? In all likelihood, you spoke to people kind of like yourself. Crossing the age divide doesn’t come naturally to many of us. It is possible to be in a church that has many older saints in it but never to have spoken to any of them.  

The logic of the gospel is that all believers are equal under God, all having been saved by the blood of Jesus. We are united across culture, gender, and age. We are brothers and sisters, even if some of our spiritual siblings are much older or younger than we are. This means we need to encourage and love and rebuke and teach and mourn together and rejoice together with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even the ones from a different generation.

Our church can help us to some degree with the structures it chooses to set up. Ideally, services and Bible study groups should be multi-generational. Everyone benefits when those of different ages and experiences share in such a setting. If at all possible, churches should try not to consistently split the church along age and demographic lines. If we are to love one another well and fulfil what is expected in the Bible, we will need to have contact with one another and know one another.

It’s not all about the church structures, however. Most church services do have a range of ages attending. It starts with you and with me. We need to intentionally greet and talk to and welcome those much older and younger than ourselves. When that happens, everyone benefits. Sure, maybe you can’t trade opinions on the latest popular music, but you can encourage one another with the Bible and learn from one another.

The church is supposed to be a family made up of older and younger people. Let’s make the most of this wonderful blessing.

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