“What Do We Do With All the Old People??”

If anything forces us to “live intensionally” (as explained further in a previous post), learning to be a part of a Christian community is definitely toward to the top of the list.  Particularly in the social and religious climate in which we currently live, we find ourselves living in tension between what used to be and what is to come. 
Walk into most churches 60 years ago and you would find nearly everyone in the local community in attendance.  Dad, mom, sister and brother, sitting together in a pew, dressed in their “Sunday best.” 
Walk into most churches today, and the congregation looks vastly different.  Gone are the days when “everyone” in America was a Christian, and “everyone” in America spent Sunday morning at a local church.
The tension exists when those who lived during the era of the church’s prominence in America worship under the same roof as those who did not.  Those who have a more historical perspective of the traditions of Christianity in America become frustrated when the “newbies” attempt to introduce new ideas and methods of ministry.  Those who are younger, or maybe just less steeped in American church culture, become frustrated when their new ideas and methodologies are met with disapproval. 
And let’s get real for a second: the real tension exists because those who are older usually have the resources (monetarily, as well as influentially) that the younger people need to implement their new ideas and methods.
This often leads to the building of a wall of separation.  What do we do??
Some churches offer two different services as an answer.  The more “traditional” people can have their church and the more “contemporary” people can have theirs.  As a result, the two services end up becoming two distinct churches that happen to share a building.
Other churches have observed this type of interior-split and decided to start brand new churches all together, leaving the older generations completely to themselves.
But there has to be a middle ground, a Via Media, if you will.  How do we affirm the realistic differences in worship preference without creating isolated churches within our churches?  And how do we refrain from giving up on those who have gone before us, simply because they never seem to change in the ways we think they should?
How different would our churches look if we recognized the tension in which we live, and committed together to live in Christian community in spite of it? 
When I hear younger people in the church say, “What do we do with all the old people?” I want to respond, “You respect them for who they are in Christ.”  In the same way, when I hear older people in the church say, “These young people will never understand,” I want to say, “You’re probably right.  But we still need to respect each other for who we are in Christ.” 
Living intensionally isn’t about finding the easy way out.  It’s about finding the way that we believe God has challenged us to live.  And when we do, we will discover things that we didn’t even realize our own stubbornness had been blocking us from. 
I think this is why the article on intergenerational ministry that I recently wrote has been getting such positive feedback.  Somewhere within us we long to experience Christian community as God designed it, with all generations represented. 
As a young pastor in the church, I need to be asking the question, “How can I be a steward of those who have paved the way ahead of me?”  Yes, this means making compromises and not pulling teeth to change everything at my preferred pace.  But, if I’m living intensionally, keeping stewardship in mind, it also means creatively building bridges so that I can encourage the changes that may be necessary to keep the church alive and effective in the 21stcentury.
Living intensionally—not always easy, but so very crucial.     

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