I grew up in a tradition that had an unhealthy infatuation with youth. As an emotionally-unbalanced 16-year-old, my hormone-induced zeal was held up as a model of Christian virtue and commitment. I was one of the poster boys for what many in my denomination believed: that we needed revival, and that such revival would come for the young, so those of past generations need to get out of the way. My parents and grandparents were sometimes even portrayed as the enemies of God’s work in the world, and I needed to ignore their counsel in order to advance the kingdom.
While I am now in a less youth-focused denomination, I still feel the effects of this way of thinking. In particular, I often find myself seeing older, more experiences saints as the enemies of what God is doing in the world now. The more I recognize this proclivity in my heart, the more worried I am. I don’t want to look at the church this way, but it seems to be in the water. For whatever reason, I fail miserably to respect those older than me, or at least am very selective with that respect.
One of the biggest causes of my sin in this area is my constant obsession with the “new” and the “relevant.” For whatever reason, we Evangelicals have become convinced that the reason we’re losing the spiritual war in America is because we are out of touch. We don’t have the latest, shiniest weapons of our culture with which to fight for the cause of Christ, and hence we’re doomed to loss by attrition.
This is nonsense, for any number of reasons. In the first place, it doesn’t matter to Jesus how behind-the-times you are culturally. If you have the good news of Christ’s resurrection and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, you are far better-armed than any philosopher of this age.
What’s more, the cause of Christ is never served by mere hip-ness. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t speak in language people can understand or apply the truths of Christ to contemporary currents in society. Of course we should. However, our failure in these areas (if there has been one) is probably not themain cause of Evangelicalism’s decline. Our problem historically has not been irrelevance, but isolationism. Much of what we see as being “culturally relevant” is simply mimicking the culture around us while still living in isolation from it. Instead, we need to take the radical re-ordering of the world’s priorities which Jesus causes and then live out these new priorities before the world.
This is where reconnecting with the older generation is so important. In our talk of relevance, we have left them behind. As one younger preacher points out, how can we talk about “relevance” without our 75-year-old elder hearing that he isn’t. What’s more, we live in a culture that hates old age. While I don’t think it has been intentional, many of us have used cultural engagement as a clever disguise for hiding the elderly away where they can’t embarrass us.
One of the most critical things we must be doing as churches if figuring out ways to reconnect wise and mature saints with younger people, both Christian and not, who can benefit from their years of walking with the Spirit. In the biblical picture of the church it is the feeble 80-something who, having walked with Christ throughout life, occupies the place of honor. He is the man we should be looking to for wisdom, rather than our postmodern spiritual trendsetters with their soul patches and trendy glasses.
Of course those of us who are younger have something to offer, and as the church lives out the mission of God, it will be important to recognize this fact. I am far better equipped to talk with college students about how the movies and music they love shows forth the splendor of Christ than my parents. But the fact that they have never listened to Radiohead or Jay-Z is a paltry thing next to the lifetime of insight they can offer about living out Christ as a spouse, or an employee, or a parent. The fact that it is Radiohead rather than real spirituality that is at the center of our approach to Christianity shows just how desperately we need older generations.
I’ve been married for two years now. I have a number of friends around the same age who are also married, and we often discuss the experiences we’re sharing. However, I can honestly say that I have learned almost nothing about being a good spouse from these friends. They offer good support and sympathy, but have very little advice (and most of what they do have is bad). Every important lesson I keep returning to was taught by my parents, or a pastor, or one of the several older, godly men who has invested in me over the years.
Such is life in the world God has made. As long as Rehoboam takes counsel from those his own age, the kingdom will keep on dividing. We desperately need to get over ourselves. I am incredibly young. Thank God that he doesn’t wait for us to grow up and figure it all out to use us for His purposes. That said, you and I are fools if we take up this calling without also availing ourselves of the wise counsel of those who have gone before. And maybe as we seek these relationships, we’ll learn that it’s not just the 20-somethings for whom God has remarkable big plans.