Against the Youth-Driven Church

This video has been posted by a number of people in the blogosphere. Like most others, I strongly disagree with this guy in a number of areas and believe that his argument against the Emerging Church is riddled with problems. However, rather than mocking, I think that it might be helpful to try to see where he might just have a point.

There was a time when many Christians were very concerned to keep away from pop music and TV because they believed that they introduced dangerous ‘worldly’ ways of thinking and acting. As sophisticated and enlightened contemporary Christians we tend to look at such notions with amusement and see the preoccupation with avoiding such ‘worldliness’ as being largely a concern of a naive fundamentalism. We happily watch 18 (or R)-rated movies and provide clever reviews that show the Christian themes that are subtly interwoven with the sex and the violence. We listen to music that celebrates radically unchristian forms of sexuality or to Christian artists that often seek to ape such music. Perhaps we are justified in this; what really troubles me is that the concerns for godliness and a distinctly and transparently Christian way of living exemplified by many of an older generation really don’t seem to register with us to the same extent. For all of the naivete of their vision, they had a vision for such holiness and godliness, which is more than I can say for many of us. For all of our sophistication I sometimes wonder whether we could learn some basic lessons in being a godly and a holy people from an older generation.

We live in a youth-driven society. Whether in the media or on the web, older people are hardly visible. For instance, the very fact that most of our theological discussions occur online prevents most elderly people from having any active voice in the conversation. When older people appear in the media, they are often ridiculed. Their style, their tastes, their knowledge of the world, their ethics and their values are all out of date. The new and the young are to be celebrated and the old is to be sidelined and dismissed.

Many areas of the Church have bought into this way of thinking. They have glorified the ‘new’ and sit very loosely to the accumulated wisdom of older generations. The Emerging Church is one area where this can be observed. The concern to be hip and on the cutting edge often trumps the concern to be faithful and submissive to the wisdom of our fathers in the faith.

The Church should be one place where a radically different culture prevails. It should be a place where older generations are honoured and treated with respect, even when they are wrong. Biblical societies are generally ruled and led by elders, not by young turks. Many contemporary evangelicals have forgotten this and their churches are driven by the desires of their young people and the most influential leaders are under the age of 40 (ideally, it seems to me, churches should not be led by people under the age of 50).

One of the deepest sins of many of the youth-driven trends in the Church is their determined movement away from catholicity. Rejecting a catholic Church they opt for youth churches or stratify the Church into age groups in other ways. Rather than worshipping in a way that reflects the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition, their worship tends to be dominated by (generally sappy and biblically illiterate) songs written by young, popular and rich Western Christian evangelical artists who are within the contemporary Christian music industry. One of the great things about singing traditional Christian hymns is that we have the opportunity to sing words written by people from all over the world, from countless different backgrounds and generations, and with hugely varied vocations. We get to sing songs by laypeople and bishops, by monks and martyrs, by missionaries to pagan lands and travelling preachers, by Reformers and by Catholics. We sing songs written by people many centuries and countless miles removed from us. We sing songs written by people from cultures that are quite alien to our own, but with whom we share a citizenship in heaven. In the process the parochial nature of our own tastes is challenged and we learn to listen with appreciation and humility to people who differ radically from us. Of course, singing the psalms, we have something even better. We have the opportunity to sing words written by Moses and David.

Sadly, rather than express our respect for our older brothers and sisters in Christ by submitting to the wisdom of the Christian tradition of music and worship, we tend to start worship wars, causing tensions and splits in churches because of our (frankly) ‘worldly’ desire to sing songs that conform to our contemporary Western appetites. Generally the modern worship wars seem to be driven by our ever-changing tastes in music, rather than by real theological or biblical concerns. Where are the voices calling for increased use of the psalms? They are few and far between, largely because the psalms do not generally provide what we believe that the ‘worship experience’ should give us. Where are the deep theologies of worship? Much of the worship wars are about our love for ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’, rather than about any sort of coherent theology of Church music. Although I am someone who believes that ‘thrashing, bashing and crashing’ music should not be ruled out of the Church, I have no desire to align myself with those for whom the introduction of such music is purely an attempt to accommodate the worship of the Church to their their personal tastes in music, rather than an attempt to discern how God would have us worship Him and what is fitting for the praise of the saints.

Our concern tends to be that we have a good ‘worship experience’, rather than that we worship God joyfully and appropriately. If a particular song or style of music doesn’t conform to our personally tastes, so be it. We are worshipping God, not ourselves. Fittingness for the task of worshipping God should always take priority over everything else.

Finally, I have commented in the past on the infantilization of many quarters of the Church. It is not surprising that this tendency is accelerated in churches where the younger generation sets the agenda. The comments that the man makes in this video about the ‘young and stupid’ are not without a degree of correspondence to reality.

All of this, and the biblical command to honour and respect our elders, makes me quite reluctant to poke fun at this man’s expression of his opinion. For all of his misunderstanding and prejudice, he does have some valid points to make and we would do well to pay heed.

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14 Responses to Against the Youth-Driven Church

  1. Joshua W.D. Smith says:

    Good points. How often have we seen or heard the slogan “This is not your grandmother’s church”? Now, unless your grandmother was a member of a heretical church, like the Mormons, this sort of appeal is terribly sub-Christian at best, and perhaps even Biblically incoherent, since an important definition of the Church would include generations (e.g., Acts 2:39; Heb. 12:23).

  2. Wesley says:

    Consider Calvin’s thoughts on “church singing” within the context of his larger discussion of Prayer within his still larger discussion of “The Way We Receive the Grace of Christ.” “…if the singing be tempered to that gravity which is fitting in the sight of God and the angels, it both lends dignity and grace to sacred actions and has the greatest value in kindling our hearts to a true zeal and eagerness to pray. Yet we should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words. Augustine also admits in another place that he was so disturbed by this danger that he sometimes wished to see established the custom observed by Athanasius, who ordered the reader to use so little inflection of the voice that he would sound more like a speaker than a singer. But when he recalled how much benefit singing had brought him, he inclined to the other side. Therefore, when this moderation is maintained, it is without doubt a most holy and salutary practice. On the other hand, such songs as have been composed only for sweetness and delight of the ear are unbecoming to the majesty of the church and cannot but displease God in the highest degree.”

    In our desire and attempt to avoid the extremes of “naïve fundamentalism,” “worldliness” and the potentially harmful effects of Christian artists who “ape” music originally designed to promote “radically unchristian forms of sexuality” we may do well to hear Calvin suggesting an attainable moderation in Psalm-based singing, presupposing increasing wisdom and maturity in the church. This seems to be what you are suggesting Alastair. The presence of true wisdom, maturity and love seems to necessarily reduce (if not eliminate) the damaging arguments found within “worship wars.” “Love does not seek its own [preferred style of music?].” Instead, love causes the people of god to worship their god together in spirit and in truth. May the catholic church grow in catholicity.

  3. The Scylding says:

    I think you are quite right in this post, Alastair. The question is what fuels the desire for change – is it the quest for greater cathlocity within orthodoxy, or is it the desire for newness? If the latter is the prime drive for change, we have a problem! In essence, it becomes worship of the experience, not worship of God. While we should not be caught in crusty conservatism, we should be equally wary of newness for its own sake.

    As to your further comments on Godly living – they stung a bit! Having escaped from sectarian legalism, it is easy to fall into the opposite ditch.

  4. Good thoughts. In a recent issue of Touchstone, they quoted some study which showed that the Y-Generation (or the one right after, whichever that is) is very concerned to do things as a family. This concern leads many away from church, because churches are age-segregated. Thus, in a delicious irony, our concern to be seeker-friendly is driving away some who are family-friendly!

  5. Al says:

    Gregory,

    That’s interesting. I haven’t seen the article, but it certainly doesn’t surprise me.

  6. Paul Baxter says:

    Just wanted to say that there are two sides to Gregory’s point above. Most American protestant churches want to to provide age appropriate instruction for the youngsters. In my church we have “children’s church” which serves as an introduction to our church’s liturgy (such as it is) in a somewhat abbreviated form with some extra singing and puppet lessons thrown in. I would LIKE to see the (post-nursery) children in the worship service, but I can’t complain about the way the children are being handled currently.

    The “other” side is that a certain amount of that “wanting to be together” is part of the unholy cult of the family in our society. Parents for various reasons don’t want others taking care of their children, perhaps out of guilt about not seeing their kids much during the week. They are afraid of what their children might be taught when out of sight, and of course about safety as well.

    All that being said, I appreciate your point, Gregory. I just like being contrary sometimes.

  7. Al says:

    Paul,

    Thanks for remarking on the danger of the ‘cult of the family’ in this area. I think that this really is a problem. On the other hand, the gathered meeting of the Church really ought to be an intergenerational ‘family time’, not because the various families in our congregations need to enjoy the worship service together, but because the Church is a family and we need to begin to act and think of ourselves in such a way. Separating young children from the gathered meeting altogether is thus profoundly unhelpful, although there is probably justification for taking them out so that they do not disturb some parts of the service.

  8. Hi, Paul:

    I agree with you that some in our generation are turning to the cult of the family. We’re looking for “family time” to replace the Gospel. Obviously a problem.

    But, as far as “children’s church” goes, I think we don’t give our kids enough credit. Up in Moscow (yes, I’m part of the Wilson cult–he performed our wedding service), where Christ Church probably over a 1,000 members by now, ALL the kids sit with their families during church. Easily half of the church is kids. At the other CREC churches I’ve been a part of, that is also the case. Our kids are 3, 2, and 1. They sit through church … and they love church! Obviously, we need to take them out for various things (we give them a life-saver during the sermon) and I’ve had to preach over a wailing infant. But, these are our covenant children! Christ didn’t promise to meet them in a puppet show or in the nursery. He promises to meet us in Word and Sacrament. And, yes, my boys probably enjoy the Lord’s Supper most of all. But that’s what their earliest memories of church will be (unlike mine, which was being terrified of some strange kid in the nursery :-)

    On a different note, a friend was telling me that the Puritans didn’t actually bring their kids to church. Might explain why their project didn’t last more than a generation …

    Just

  9. Paul Baxter says:

    Al,

    your comment is the correct point to make :)

    Gregory,

    just to clarify a smidge, I mostly identify this “cult of the family” with non-christians. Of course like all idolatries it also invdes the church as well. It is difficult to give it a firm definition, but I think that quality is also like other idolatries. Stan Hauerwas has had some very good thoughts on this subject, much of which (iirc) can be found in A Community of Character, a book I cannot recommend highly enough to thoughtful believers.

    My memory of the baptist church I attended from 4th grade through high school is that we attended worship services together following age (and sex) based Sunday School. Occasionally there was a special children’s lesson as part of the service. I often found it boring, but often found little nuggets of scripture or preaching which interested me. By the time I got to high school as was able to concentrate through most of a sermon, which I think was helped by the training of sitting through services for many years.

  10. Paul,

    I agree. Thanks for clarifying. I need to read Hauerwas.

    By the way, I looked at your blog and discovered you’re a fellow North Carolinian! It’s a small world, as they say.

  11. Paul Baxter says:

    Gregory,

    I don’t see your email address anywhere. You can find mine easily on my blog. Drop me an email as I’d love to chat with you further and possibly meet up sometime.

  12. Hi, Paul:

    I admit to being a technological neanderthal, but I don’t see your e-mail address.

    Mine is gsoderberg@nc.rr.com

    Thanks!

  13. Paul Baxter says:

    Ah, I forgot that I reformatted my blog recently. Sorry bout that.

  14. Pingback: Ten Years of Blogging: 2006-2007 | Alastair's Adversaria

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