Ageism in the Church

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ageism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly.” When this term pops up in the news or on social media it is usually in regards to employment, but I think it is safe to say that ageism is running rampant in the church. Read these quotes and see if any of them sound familiar:

“We don’t want the religion of our parents, or our grandparents.”
“Old pastors can’t reach young people.”
“We can’t risk losing our youth to appease the elderly.”

What you see here are classic examples of ageism within the church. The church now seems to believe that the elderly are expendable. They have done their time, and now they are no longer useful to God’s kingdom. They have no value or knowledge or insight to provide us. We don’t need them.

This mindset is obviously blatantly wrong. Every single individual making up the body of Christ is a precious commodity. To neglect that commodity, or write it off as worthless, is an abuse of that person, and a horrific mismanagement of the people God has placed within the church body.

Our senior saints are not just a commodity for what they have done in the past, but for what they continue to do every day. These amazing men and women have walked the walk and fought the good fight for decades. They persevered through trials, tribulations, persecution, and temptation. And decade after decade they remained firm in their faith, trusting in the Lord, and leaning on Him. They have so much wisdom and knowledge to offer us. To say that these people have outlived their usefulness and are no longer needed is the height of sinful arrogance and pride.

And let’s just agree right now that segregating church services based on age and musical preference is just a pathetic copout. Sure, some older folks can be set in their ways. But you know what? Younger people can be just as stubborn and tight fisted, and in a lot of cases even more so. Each generation needs to understand and accept that everyone worships differently, and as long as that worship falls within Biblical guidelines then it is something to be celebrated. But the church often tries to twist it so that only the senior saints need to “get over themselves” and embrace the new culture. But what about the younger generation? Are we somehow above having to compromise? Are we so sensitive and weak that singing a hymn or hearing an expository sermon rather than topical would just cause devastating psychological damage? Come on, folks.

I believe it was Augustine who said: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In the vast majority of generational conflicts in the church, the younger generations are screaming at the older generation that it is non-essential, and they just need to have unity with us. But what about US having unity with THEM? The hypocrisy is stunning. And it is such a reflection of the ageism we have embraced. The desires of a 25 year old are not magically more important than the desires of a 75 year old. Churches prioritize youth over the elderly because the elderly will most likely be joining Jesus before the young ones, and they desperately want to keep the young around so the church still functions. But God help us when the day comes when our last saint crosses into eternity, and we are left without their wisdom and guidance. We should be utilizing our time with them to glean every scrap of holiness and faith possible, not chasing them away and segregating them to the 7AM service. If we truly believe that God is in control and that HE drives HIS church, we won’t have to pit generations against each other. God will fill the church as He sees fit, even if we incorporate some hymns, and (gasp) an organ every now and then.

If I go into a church that doesn’t have a decent percentage of senior saints, I know immediately that that is not a church I want anything to do with. These churches do not welcome everyone. These churches do not have the benefit of first hand knowledge and wisdom passed down through the ages. These churches do not have balance, or accountability from wiser people. These churches are full of arrogant young people who value themselves more highly than others. And that is not the kind of church anyone should be a part of. Because that isn’t even a church.

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