Thinking Out Loud

July 28, 2014

“and now it’s time to dismiss the seniors for their service…”

In today’s worship-team driven, seeker sensitive, multi-site, mega-churches, participation is increasingly a young man’s game. Relevance is achieved through having relevant communicators, so those of us who’ve been around a bit longer are often forced to listen to sermons being taught by speakers who seem to be barely out of high school; speakers whose primary qualification seems to be that they are standing at the front of the room.*

Three years ago, I wrote about supporting the youth in your church in their various endeavors. Days later, I wrote what you’re now reading; about supporting the middle aged in your church; the people who have suddenly become excluded from any ministry that is high profile simply because one week they forgot to touch up the single gray hair that has emerged just above the temple on their right side.

For Logan, 30 was the cutoff year. A crystal system like this was proposed for church worship leaders, but it interfered with guitar chording

In many of today’s modern churches, those in their mid-forties are senior citizens, at least in terms of public ministry. Which is a real shame on so many levels; but mostly because, given the chance, many of these people have something to say. I really applaud some of the next generation people who are stepping up and demonstrating real spiritual maturity when thrust into a teaching or worship-leading role. But for each one of those, there are just as many who, while they can wear the clothes, assemble the accompanying slides, and open with the right stories; they simply don’t have the necessary content to justify the 30-35 minutes they are usually given.

So what can your church do to keep middle aged people active? In the item I wrote two days ago about empowering your youth in ministry, it was a simple matter of looking at a problem and throwing some money at it. In other words; the greatest need of teenagers for mission projects — either global or domestic — is for financial underwriting. That’s not the solution needed to affirm your middle-aged leaders.

You need to be intentionally multi-generational.

Robert Webber had it half right when he wrote of “blended worship.” But beyond the what of a given church service, the blendedness (a word I just made up) must also involve who is at the front of the room as well as who is at the back of the room giving direction. In fact, I would argue that you can’t achieve Webber’s blended ideal unless you have people representing different constituencies in the church providing input to the worship team.

Today’s church is so totally youth cultured, that it’s not hard to imagine the following:

“As we sing the next verse, we’ll invite everyone over 55 to come to the front; we have a special story for you; and then we’ll have a word of prayer and dismiss you to your own service in the church basement, where we have milk and cookies just for you.”

High fiber cookies, presumably.

No, that would be wrong. The capital-C Church of Jesus Christ is an equalizer. Rich and poor. Male and female. Labor class and management class. AND: Old and young. The target demographic should be defined as “anyone with a pulse.” The message of the gospel is a call to each and everyone.

Because the pastors and leaders who operate under a youth culture paradigm are going to find themselves — in just a year or two — suddenly out of a job. In fact the crystal on the inside palm of their hands is getting ready to turn red right now.




*For any of my local readers; this was written quite some time ago. The young man who spoke at our church on Sunday was amazing; I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the sermon.  Sometimes the timing of an article is awkward!!

June 30, 2011

When 40 is Too Old to Serve Your Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

In today’s worship-team driven, seeker sensitive, multi-site, mega-churches, participation is increasingly a young man’s game.  Relevance is achieved through having relevant communicators, so those of us who’ve been around a bit longer are often forced to listen to sermons being taught by speakers who seem to be barely out of high school; speakers whose primary qualification seems to be that they are standing at the front of the room.

Two days ago, I wrote about supporting the youth in your church in their various endeavors.  Today I want to write about supporting the middle aged in your church; the people who have suddenly become excluded from any ministry that is high profile simply because one week they forgot to touch up the single gray hair that has emerged just above the temple on their right side. 

For Logan, 30 was the cutoff year. A crystal system like this was proposed for church worship leaders, but it interfered with guitar chording

In many of today’s modern churches, those in their mid-forties are senior citizens, at least in terms of public ministry.  Which is a real shame on so many levels; but mostly because, given the chance, many of these people have something to say.  I really applaud some of the next generation people who are stepping up and demonstrating real spiritual maturity when thrust into a teaching or worship-leading role.  But for each one of those, there are just as many who, while they can wear the clothes, assemble the accompanying slides, and open with the right stories; they simply don’t have the necessary content to justify the 30-35 minutes they are usually given.

So what can your church do to keep middle aged people active?  In the item I wrote two days ago about empowering your youth in ministry, it was a simple matter of looking at a problem and throwing some money at it.  In other words; the greatest need of teenagers for mission projects — either global or domestic — is for financial underwriting.  That’s not the solution needed to affirm your middle-aged leaders.

You need to be intentionally multi-generational.

Robert Webber had it half right when he wrote of “blended worship.” But beyond the what of a given church service, the blendedness (a word I just made up) must also involve who is at the front of the room as well as who is at the back of the room giving direction. In fact, I would argue that you can’t achieve Webber’s blended ideal unless you have people representing different constituencies in the church providing input to the worship team.

Today’s church is so totally youth cultured, that it’s not hard to imagine the following:

“As we sing the next verse, we’ll invite everyone over 55 to come to the front; we have a special story for you; and then we’ll have a word of prayer and dismiss you to your own service in the church basement, where we have milk and cookies just for you.”

High fiber cookies, presumably.

No, that would be wrong.  The capital-C Church of Jesus Christ is an equalizer.  Rich and poor.  Male and female.  Labor class and management class.  AND: Old and young.  The target demographic should be defined as “anyone with a pulse.” The message of the gospel is a call to each and everyone.

Because the pastors and leaders who operate under a youth culture paradigm are going to find themselves — in just a year or two — suddenly out of a job.  In fact the crystal on the inside palm of their hands is getting ready to turn red right now.

= = =

There’s more on this in a Spring, 2009 piece I wrote called The Growing Easter Void.


1600th post coming on Saturday

SATURDAY will mark 1,600 published posts here at Thinking Out Loud.  If it were number 1611, then perhaps the theme would suggest itself, but for number 1,600, I keep thinking we should do something special, especially since we didn’t do anything for number 1,500 or number 1,273 for that matter.  Your suggestions, complaints, encouragement, criticisms are all appreciated. Or we might just pretend it’s just another day…


For my Canadian readers, as you know I fought bravely in the early days of this blog to promote the British spelling of certain words.  But with a dominantly U.S. readership, I was forced to surrender to my American-based spell checker.  But this particular piece shattered my previous record, so here are the conversions you need to translate this article to Canadian:

endeavor = endeavour
gray hair = grey hair
high fiber = high fibre
labor class = labour class

Unfortunately, I can’t help you with blendedness; it doesn’t exist on either side of the 49th parallel.

March 3, 2011

The Accountant at the Christian Camping Seminar: An Original Story

The director of a large regional camp center had just returned from a large Christian Camping conference when he decided to host an all-day meeting for directors of smaller facilities who would never be able to attend such an event.     He gathered the names of about a dozen small places from around the state, found 14 people who were interested in coming and amazingly found a Tuesday that they could meet.

Some of them only ran day camps, and one of them had a parcel of land that only operated as a camp for only two weeks out of the summer.     He shared some things that had taken place at the conference but was careful not to be the big camp telling the small camps how to do things.    They watched a few video clips, ate lunch together, and gave a tour of his site to those who hadn’t seen it before.

Mostly, he led discussions.   Realizing that it was becoming a one-man show, he tried to get someone to come as a speaker to wrap up the thing before dinner.    Everybody he picked, including members of his own staff and board, were tied up that day, so he invited a guy from his church who was a good Bible teacher but honestly wouldn’t know the difference between a camping facility and a dairy farm.

At 4:00 PM, his friend arrived, coming straight from the office in the city still wearing a suit and tie.    Not a jacket and tie, but a suit that looked like he had just stepped off a New York subway into downtown Manhattan.     He stood and stared at the group of nine men and five women who were wearing mostly jeans and golf shirts.

If he didn’t feel out of place enough for that reason, he had also realized about half-way through the day that he’d left his Bible and his notes somewhere else.  However as he kept driving — and praying — a backup plan slowly began to take shape, so that when he was introduced, he knew the exact direction he wanted their time together to go.

“I don’t really know much about what you do;” he started, “but I want to ask you just three questions about your facilities.  The first question is, ‘Do you have hard water or soft water?'”

This took everyone by surprise, including the person who had invited him.    But it recovered quickly into a lively discussion on how all water is not the same, and how it affects everything from laundry to making coffee.

“The second question,” he continued,  “is, ‘Do you have hard soil or soft soil?”

This time around they knew the drill, and discussed not only the growth of plants and trees, but how soil type affects drainage during a storm, or putting up new buildings.

After another few minutes on that one, he put up his hand to calm the discussion and asked a third question.

“The final question,” he said, “is, ‘Do you have hard people or soft people?”

One person laughed out loud but mostly there was silence.

At this point he said, “You know, I got invited here because I teach the Bible at our church, but the truth is I’ve checked my car twice at lunchtime and my Bible and notes aren’t there, and I’m lost without them.

“But I really felt directed to talk about this.    In any organization there are people.    Some work behind the scenes and only interact with the other staff.    Some work on the frontlines and interact with the broader community.   But all of us need to be people who the Holy Spirit can work through and can be seen working through.    All of us need to lose the tough and rough edge and be people who have been softened, so that the higher purpose of what we do is evident to anyone who meets us.    All of us need to develop the ability to communicate the love of God to people, not over the course of several days or hours, but over the course of several seconds.    It needs to be something we wear on our faces.   There needs to be a difference.   The problem — and I expect it’s true in Christian camping as much or more as anywhere else — is that we’re so task driven and so physically stretched that we lose sight of being the people God wants us to be in encouraging others and being salt and light in the bigger world.   We miss an opportunity to show that what we sing or confess on Sunday morning is a real factor in our lives.   We appear to have it all together, when in fact, Christianity is meant to be a community of broken people.   We give the impression that the job at hand is more important than the people we’re doing it with.

“I guess that’s it;” he concluded.   He had driven for an hour out to the country to deliver less than 300 words of exhortation.

He decided the closing prayer would take the form of silence, with each person praying their own benediction on the time they had spent together.

So… here’s the question:  In your church, in your ministry organization, in your family, do you have hard people or soft people?

~PW, July 15, 2006

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