Worship That Divides – Ageism
Many churches choose to have worship that separates congregations by generations, such as a separate children’s worship or youth worship. Additionally, churches offer several styles of worship which often divide congregations along generational lines. I talked some about this in my Worship Summit video, Unified Worship. Today, I share with you a blog post written by my friend, Dr. Paul Clark, Jr., former Director of Worship & Music Ministries for Tennessee Baptist Convention, who confronts the problem of ageism head on.
Caution: I have many friends I love dearly who practice that against which I preach in this post. Most do so because they desire to reach outsiders with the Gospel. Some because they are under authority of those who instruct the practice, and some who do so out of desperation for contextual “relevancy” as perceived by some, and an inability to see another way of its achievement. The very sad fact is that I could fill a book with stories of servants who have fallen victim to ageism thinking and actions. One such casualty was quoted as saying, “I refuse any longer to serve someone else’s burnout.”
The evangelical church in America seems to naturally struggle with the same “isms” that are prevalent in the rest of the culture, frequently falling woefully behind in overcoming some of those that are most divisive, and whose resolution seems the most challenging. A prime example of this is my own SBC faith tradition that took 150 years to pronounce its resolve to eradicate racism in all its forms from SBC life and ministry. That was in 1995, and now, Hallelujah! we elected Dr. Fred Luter Jr., an African-American pastor to lead the denomination this year. Not too surprisingly, though, the adage tends to remain that “Sunday morning at 11:00am (or whenever the church worships) is the most segregated hour in the week.” One hundred-fifty plus years of divided worship practice does not dissolve overnight. Certainly there are exceptions to this practice, and a desire for racial integration in worship is surely more prevalent now than in days past. The ongoing reality of divided worship, however, remains, and this is not just an issue of conservative and fundamentalist-leaning communions. Cultural differences present high walls of separation that can be observed in most protestant churches, even those who have pronounced themselves open.
Other “isms” remain intact as well. Sexism will likely continue to present overt challenges as pastoral leaders struggle to adequately articulate biblical teachings of complementarian vs. egalitarian views, and negotiate the resultant tensions associated with either. At times the worship setting becomes the proving ground for the tensions, providing some unexpected resolve in some instances as worship bands feature female vocalists, and as churches struggle to staff leadership positions.
The human predicament continues on display as we have morphed now into an “ism” that would seem to be of our own making, ageism. Granted, like other misguided exercises, ageism may have been adapted to suit perceived cultural context, but also like other truncations of Christian practice, its implementation has served to severely divide the church at its most needful point of unity, Christian worship. Recognizing there are multiple justifications for slicing up a church body into separate worshiping venues, and not questioning that many motives of such dividing may be logical, and in fact almost always pragmatic in nature, I must, nevertheless, point to biblical teaching. Here are but a few examples:
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. 1 Timothy 5:1-3
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
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. Psalm 145:4
Most convicting, perhaps, of all is the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17 in which He pleas for our unity:
That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. John 17:21-26
Sending children off to their corner for “Kids Worship” and teens to their room for “Refuge,” or style-specific worship venues that target for similar age-divided effect seems simply contrary to biblical teaching of how we are to be church in passages like these:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:9-13
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:1-4,11-16
Here are a few thoughts for your consideration and response.
Worshiping through all stages of life is best learned through shared observance of those who are living through those stages
Genuine relevance is rooted in the Gospel, not in personal preferences
Worship that engages all ages effectively takes intentional planning
Like racism, ageism is not overcome by segregated practice, but rather yielding our lives to follow the way taught in scripture (see above).
If you are interested in learning more about Unified Worship, take a look at these posts.