Is it biblical for a church to reach out to just one generation?
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” - 1 Timothy 4:12
When Paul placed Timothy within the eldership of the Ephesian church I bet it was intimidating. I bet it was intimidating for Timothy to be preaching and exhorting his seniors. I bet it was intimidating for the elders to see someone who had the potential to replace them joining their ranks. I wonder if Paul knew the frustrations of the elders in that church. I wonder if Timothy had been pressured to step down even after Paul had placed him in a position of leadership.
If you look into the history of Timothy's life, you’ll see that this isn't the first time he was rejected by religious authority. Timothy was only half Jewish. This is why Paul later had Timothy circumcised before going to Jerusalem. The Jews would have called Timothy a momzer. According to a mix of levitical and rabbinical law, Timothy would never be able to go into a temple, be circumcised or read the Torah. According to Deuteronomy 23:2 he and nine generations after him would be deprived of these privileges. Ray Vander Laan postulated that the way he learned the Scriptures was by hiding close to the temple so that he could hear the rabbis teach. Fast forward to the time that Paul met him. He was beloved in his Christian community. In finding Christ he overcame the rejection of his childhood.
Paul encourages Timothy to not be timid, but rather bold in Christ. I wonder if he had a timid disposition because of the discouraging shame of his past. Garnering the support of his fellow elders must have been paralyzing. Thankfully, Timothy had Paul to serve as a good father in the faith to stand behind him and encourage him onwards.
I know so many young men like Timothy. Gifted, yet timid. Anointed, yet out of place.
A couple years ago my church adopted a church that was struggling after a long string of pastors who had betrayed their trust. This church was in a rural area just outside our city limits, and most of the congregation was middle-aged or older. Our church adopted this group of believers and together, everyone set to the work of combining the two different cultures into one church. There were obviously some generational preferences, but we knew that if we were going to do things biblically we would need to allow the younger people within the community to contribute their gifts. Enter the plugged-in worship band. A lot of churches deal with generational differences, and many unfortunately don’t give credit to the new but different talent growing within their congregations.
Some churches, looking to find a middle ground, create a traditional service to satisfy an older generation and a contemporary service to phase in younger members. The two alternative services eventually ends up hurting rather than helping, As Pastor Ross Parsley says in his book Messy Church, “The grandpa and the grandchild need each other. The grandpa needs the grandchild’s energy, vision and hope and the grandchild needs the grandpa’s wisdom, discernment and patience.”
Separating a congregation into two parts is never what Christ desires. So we gathered the elders and decided to create a new team consisting of a variety of ages within the congregation. Many of the older generation had already been serving but we decided to introduce quite a few younger people and started a rotation. We gave sermons about the importance of being a multi-generational church and we talked about how we wanted to revitalize a culture of worship. Some people in our congregation still deeply struggled with our new directions. They weren’t just uncomfortable; they were angry. They felt that their values and traditions were being ignored. Unfortunately, their anger focused on one person in particular: the drummer. Before we started this transition the church only rarely used bongos or a cajon(a box drum).
"I know so many young men like Timothy. Gifted, yet timid. Anointed, yet out of place."
The drummer was used to this sort of behavior. This wasn’t the first time his gifts had been under-esteemed. This definitely could have been the last straw, just another reason to be bitter. Yet in those moments we saw God work through him. With a strong elder backing him he continued serving, played quieter, and formed stronger relationships with his congregation. The angry emails went away and the complaining in the lobby stopped as God began to move.
About a month later we had a night to celebrate our serving team. To my surprise, the elders brought the drummer to the stage and thanked him and apologized for their old behavior. I was stunned. What a picture of letting go of pride in order that God might be honored!
With both Timothy and this drummer, God had a plan to bring them into a position of blessing and gifting. There may be young men or women within your church who have gifts and abilities that have not yet been utilized for the body of Christ.
In some cases, the opposite issue arises. Many older Christians get pushed aside because of a lack of perceived relevancy. Their life experience and practical wisdom is overlooked even though the epistles clearly state that we should go to our elders to receive healing, prayer, teaching and wisdom.
One solution to these generational issues is plural leadership; many of these problems come to an end when we have a rotation of people preaching, teaching, and ministering to others. We need to hear exhortations from both our seasoned elders and our equipped youths. The Holy Spirit will speak from the mouths of both the young and the old if we give them a chance. After all, there is no favoritism in Christ!
Let’s Pray Together:Holy Father, I want to see all of your children as you see them. I want to value all of your children as you value them. Grant me special opportunities to recognize the God-given talents of both young and old saints. Help me to distribute positions of serving without prejudice. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…. (Continue praying as you feel led...)