Does your church have a youth service? A number of churches have youth services targeted at the young. These services are different in feel from the “main” services. The worship style is more contemporary, the music modern and louder, and hymns are usually taboo. The rationale for such services — to reach the young who may be bored by traditional services. Besides, young people like to hang out with their peers and so setting up a peer service seems a logical way to reach young people with the gospel. So what’s the problem?
Recently, a church leader told me that his church was having difficulty helping their young people make the transition from the youth service to the main service. The youths were supposed to “graduate” from the youth service to the main service after they finished high school. Many refused to “move up.” When told they had to, some left the church all together. The church had to return to the drawing board. They were looking at how they could do transitions better. Perhaps we should relook at our rationale for having youth services in the first place.
At a very basic level, I think something critical is lost when we have one worship service using mainly newer worship songs, and another using mainly hymns. The older songs are usually more theological, more objective. They declare truths of the faith that are always true irrespective of the feelings of the individual worshiper on any given Sunday. Hymns help to reinforce the fact that God, not our subjective experiences of Him, is the foundation of our faith. Besides, when we sing hymns, we are reminded that we stand on the shoulders of giants, that we are but the latest generation of many generations of the faithful, many of whom paid dearly for the privilege of following Jesus.
However, the newer music is often more personal. They are much more helpful in expressing our relationship with our Abba father. And they help us celebrate our faith in music that is more accessible to modern ears and hearts. They remind us that God is not locked in the past. He is alive today and He is still working.
It should be apparent that the church is impoverished if we neglect either the hymns or the newer worship songs. The whole church, including the young, need to be enriched and tutored by all types of good worship music. By having two or more types of worship services with different worship styles, we present to the church and to the world, a truncated picture of the church, and of the God we worship.
Indeed, one of the key realities of the living God is that He is one, yet there is diversity in His oneness. God is one yet he is also Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Unity with diversity is why God’s image is represented by a humanity that is both male and female. Unity with diversity is why the body of Christ, the church, consists of many parts which are different, yet who form one body (1 Corinthians 12: 15-20). Furthermore, church members are also different because they have different contributions to make to the communal life of the church. We need each other.
The young are to learn from those who are older (Hebrews 13:7; Proverbs 1:8). We may the first generation where the young know more than the old because of their access to the internet. But we must not confuse knowledge with wisdom. The young need to be mentored by those who are older. Keeping our young from ongoing meaningful relationships with those who are older, minimizes this.
But the old need to learn from the young as well. Jesus tells us to learn from children (Matthew 18:1-5). And Paul tells Timothy he can be an example to the believers (1 Timothy 4:12). Timothy may be about 30 at that time but the point remains: the old can learn from the example of those who are younger. In the church of Jesus Christ, young and old need each other.
Youth services may have been started with the best of intentions, but I wonder if something intrinsic to the DNA of the church has been violated in the process. I fear that our starting point is pragmatism, the desire to achieve certain results, not the bible. In starting youth services, we may have lapsed into some kind of ecclesiastical consumerism. If we have, then the message we send out is that the “consumer” is king. If this is our message, we should not be surprised that people remain loyal primarily to themselves and not to the whole body of Christ.
I am not arguing for the total abandonment of age group ministries. But I believe young and old alike need to know that unity with diversity is norm, because it is the nature of the God we worship. And if this is true then intergenerational congregations ought to be the norm. An intergenerational approach to church life will not be easy. Indeed, it will be a key test of our spiritual maturity. Peter tells us that the young should submit to their elders but he also says that all should “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another . . . ” (1 Peter 5:5a TNIV).
And the apostle Paul tells us:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4 TNIV)
Somehow, I don’t think Paul was thinking of generation specific congregations when he wrote the above. But I can see him writing the above to congregations of people of diverse races, social status, men and women, and yes, people from different age groups.
No, an intergenerational approach to church life will not be easy. It can only be done in the power of the Spirit. But we do it because intergenerational congregations better reflect the nature of the living God. We do it because it is a demonstration of the power of the Cross to bring different people together. And we do it because we need each other.