By Eva Juliuson
There is a troubling trend in the church. In more and more cases, congregations are separating into age groups. Some churches have rocking praise bands to reach the younger generations. Then there are churches that only sing out of hymnals, often catering to the older folks. The division even shows up at the same church with traditional and contemporary worship services at different times. There are separate classes and activities for preschool, elementary, middle school, high school, college, young adults, middle age, and seniors. Often the age groups are so separated that they barely see each other and don’t have a real chance to know one another.
This isolation even affects families as they come to worship. They may enter the doors together but immediately separate into different areas. There is a critical shortage of opportunities for all ages to worship, learn, pray, and serve together.
If this generation gap continues at the present rate, the bride of Christ will suffer. A congregation that only caters to the young will have plenty of enthusiasm and ideas but will suffer from lack of experienced wisdom, discernment, and encouragement. A church filled only with older, seasoned Christians can soon become a virtual nursing home or worse an empty building with little passion and energy. There may be a tremendous amount of wisdom, but no one younger to pass the torch to.
The Bible does not tell us to segregate by age groups but to join together in unity, encouraging one another to grow more mature in the Lord. We all need one another to do that. Perhaps we should put more effort into bridging the generation gap instead of separating age groups.
We Are Family
I am an early childhood teacher. Most childcare centers are set up to have an infant move to the next class when they turn 1 year old and start walking, then another classroom when they turn 2, 3, and 4, and then another as they start kindergarten. Now our center is returning to continuous care where a baby stays with the same group and teacher as long as the child is at our school. In other words, a steady group forms with children of different ages, which more closely resembles a real family. The older children learn to be patient, helpful, and tender with babies and toddlers. The younger children learn much more quickly as they follow the lead of older kids. It is amazing how well it works.
By the time people reach their teens, they usually have some type of regular job and are preparing for their place in the world. By the time adulthood is reached, they are knowledgeable enough to care for, teach, lead, instruct, and help others. As family members enter their senior years, they have endured many seasons in their lives and not only share their stories but their patience, knowledge, and experience which is invaluable in helping younger family members.
All ages are a critical part of families. Grandparents, parents, siblings, and babies all interact to help one another grow in different ways. It is the same in the family of God.
The family of God has different levels of maturity and different roles people play just as regular families do.
Baby believers cannot lead yet. They need to be fed, cared for, and taught. Babies are wonderful, but it is not natural or beneficial for people to remain babies forever. Not only is it important for people to grow and mature physically and mentally but there needs to be evidence of ever-growing spiritual maturity. The Bible clearly states that it’s not good to be fed milk forever like an infant. We need to be fed solid food so we can mature in the Lord. Babies bring fresh hope and new life to those who have been around for a while, but they also need to be nurtured so they can grow to be productive believers.
Our roles in God’s kingdom go through changes as we mature. When we first hear and receive the good news that Jesus is God’s Son and died for our sins so we can have eternal life and are baptized, we are born as brand new infants in Christ. It is exciting for us and for all those around us. Someone has to feed us with the elementary truth. Someone has to hold the bottle. Then someone needs to help us crawl (maybe by teaching us in a Sunday School class). Once we are growing, we need to be encouraged to serve in some way, just like children mature by taking on more responsibilities like dressing themselves and doing a few household tasks.
God puts all kinds of people in various stages of spiritual maturity at just the right times to correct us, encourage us, and perhaps point out a talent they see that needs to be shared. An older brother or sister in Christ may see us going through a trial that they have already endured, and they are able to help us through that time.
All ages of believers with all their varied gifts are needed at all times in God’s church to work together so we can all mature in Christ.
Growing in Unity
It needs to be noted that chronological age does not always perfectly coincide with spiritual maturity. In any given congregation a young believer who is extremely mature spiritually can be found, as well as an older person who has just begun to grow in Jesus Christ. However, we still all need the input of all ages to mature in Christ. Time on this earth goes by much more quickly than we can imagine. It seems like not that long ago, I was baptized at the age of 8. God has used so many people in my life along the way to sharpen, encourage, correct, and pray with me onward and upward in my growth. Now I’m on the other end of the spectrum. It is my turn to make certain I am doing the same for those around me.
We should never be at a standstill in our growth. In my church I am blessed to be surrounded by a large group of mature believers. Most of them do not just rest and let someone younger with more energy do all the work. We have saints who spend hours working with the young children, sharing with younger adults, and still going to Bible study because there is so much more to learn. We have youth who greet and serve communion and sing or play an instrument on the praise team. There are older and younger adults all working together to spur one another on to keep growing in Jesus Christ.
No matter what our age, God sees all believers as his beloved children. It must bring great delight to his heart to see us all gathering together in Jesus’ name to pray, worship, study, serve, and encourage one another. After all, his family bridges all ages through every generation!
Eva Juliuson is a freelance writer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
SIDEBAR: 10 Ideas to Bridge the Gap
• Once a month have families worship together in the sanctuary.
• Encourage children, youth, and adults to serve together on outreach projects.
• Invite the girls of your church to a Women’s Bible Study.
• Invite the boys of your church to a Men’s Prayer Breakfast.
• Have a church-wide prayer service where mixed age small groups pray together about specific people or issues.
• Have a teen share a devotion or a mission report to an older class.
• Invite older people to mentor children and help them learn Scripture.
• Have children pass out hugs and cards to older adults on Grandparents’ Day.
• Have adults adopt a child or teen for a year to pray for them. Share photos. Form a connection.
• Have teens adopt a widow or older believer to pray for. Encourage them to talk together every week.