Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Tale of Two Churches

This past week on vacation, I took the opportunity to visit two different churches. I found these two churches to be an interesting contrast.

One church was predominantly young. There were only a few hoary heads in the place, from what I could tell. I felt like an old guy. The other church seemed like at least half, if not more, of the people in attendance were older than me. To be fair, the latter church was a Sunday PM service, so I am not sure what effect that might have had, though I doubt that there is enough young people in the AM service to offset this factor.

So I wonder why this difference.

I think there is some merit to the idea that churches tend to reflect their leadership. One pastor is 30ish, and the other is probably close to 60. It is probably unlikely that the older generation will flock to hear a younger man preach every week. At the same time, the younger generation probably feels a bit disconnected to an older man. Of course, these are generalities. But I know as a pastor, I definitely feel these relational issues.

Let me tell you about these two churches.

Comparing the churches, there was a very distinct difference in the atmosphere of the service. One church had a piano, organ, full orchestra, and a choir. The other had a piano, an organ, a strong lead voice with two backup singers, and a recorder/flute player.

One church sang gospel songs from the early 1900s (including Love Lifted Me, All That Thrills My Soul is Jesus). The other sang a mix of modern hymns, Sovereign Grace, and old hymns (including And Can It Be and Be Thou My Vision).

One church sang songs in succession, with no speaking in between; there was only an instrumental transition. The other church took breaks for some instruction (welcome people on this next verse, ladies sing the second, everyone sing acapella, etc.).

Both churches featured a sermon from an OT text. In one church, the pastor took great lengths to labor in the text (a very difficult text), pointing carefully to words, verses, and constantly referring to the overall argument of the chosen text. In the other church, the pastor gave what seemed a fairly brief and surface overview with some applications that made me uncomfortable in terms of preaching the text faithfully.

In one church, there was a quick mention of Jesus at the end of the message. In the other, there was an more extended discussion of Christ and the gospel towards unbelievers.

Now, two caveats:

1. I realize some could suggest my description is prejudiced. And that may be true. I was asked by a friend at one of the churches to critique the service, and I will send him some thoughts. But I am trying not to be critical. In fact, when he asked me what I thought, I hadn’t thought of anything to say really. He needled me to give him more.

2. Even though my description above is randomized in terms of presentation, I imagine that most of you could put the service together and get all the right pieces in the right church.

So why is one church younger and one older? What are the dynamics and factors of age in church?

I wonder.

Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Dan said...

I was reading through the Pastoral Epistles again recently and noted the following: Paul admonished Timothy to live in such a way that his youth wouldn't be an obstacle, because of his good testimony (1 Tim 4:6-7, 11-16; 6:11, 20-21; 2 Timothy 2:22). He also repeatedly encouraged Timothy not to get caught up in arguments over, for lack of a better phrase, minor points. "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Timothy 1:5). When we stray from focusing on those, perhaps it's easy as the next verses say to get caught up in things that cause more strife than edification (1 Tim 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 2:23), or even stray into false teaching (1 Tim 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:16-19)?

So, I think, or I would hope, that a younger pastor could be edifying and ministering to people of all ages. He would need to guard against the tendency to alienate those older than himself or see them as irrelevant. Or to do strictly what appeals to those his age and younger in the congregation. But on the other hand, those who are older would have to be willing to distinguish between important doctrine and "endless discussions," which have sometimes plagued churches in our circles.

Furthermore, Paul indicated there should be teaching, older of younger, e.g. Titus 2:2-6.

John Frame makes a related point in one of his books on worship about how it's easy for both older and younger church members to have an "I like this" approach to music particularly, rather than being willing to show deference when it does not contradict biblical principle to do so. But I think that principle holds true generally, in that sometimes both older and younger church members alike are unwilling to flex on extra-biblical comfort zone issues, e.g. when to wear a tie, or when not to wear a goatee. I'm not sure music falls into the same category, but some aspects of it might.

I can't speak from the perspective of the older man, but hopefully the above is biblical. I would appreciate your thoughts on that assessment.

I am curious which church preached the 'better' sermon. If you prefer not to say, that's fine.