By Daniel Darling
I recently heard of a church that asked one of their band members to stop playing with the worship team. Why did they ask him to leave?
It wasn’t because he was absent from practice times—he wasn’t.
It wasn’t because his base guitar skills were declining. They weren’t.
It wasn’t even because he was difficult to work with. He was a joy.
The reason: His hair had grayed and, to quote one of the senior leaders, “That’s not quite the look we’re going for.”
Conversely, I’ve heard of instances where a church leader was disrespected or disregarded because he or she was half the age of the average person in the congregation. Stifling the giftedness of a young leader is just as harmful to the body of Christ as tossing aside the wisdom of a seasoned saint.
Both scenarios should give us pause. Churches that claim to represent the kingdom of God should preach that every human being is made in His image, and demonstrate that our value in the kingdom of God is not tied to our age or skill set.
Most congregations I know engage leaders of all ages. Still, it’s good for us to consider why multiple generations interacting together in church is good for the life of our congregations.
1. Multigenerational leadership teams reflect the values of the kingdom of God.
There is a tendency in our churches, reflecting some of the ethos of Wall Street and Madison Avenue, to only market ourselves toward the young and the vibrant.
It’s good for churches to think deeply and care about the next generation. We need to think strategically about who will carry the message of the gospel in the future. And yet, we often do this in a way that sends a subtle message that our churches are only interested in the cool, the young, and the well-dressed.
But while the rest of society might measure people by their perceived value or worth, the church should embody the otherworldly idea that the kingdom of God is made up of people from all ages and stages of life and that our value to the body is not based on how much people can contribute in the offering or whether they have competent skills we can put to use in church life.
People are valued because they are image-bearers. So the elderly saint with a walker and the new-to-ministry young leader offer contributions of equal value to the kingdom.
2. Multigenerational leadership teams provide opportunities for younger generations to be mentored and flourish.
When we segment and categorize and market in ways that divide generations, we miss out on real opportunities for cross-generational friendships in our churches.
This is what Paul is urging of the young pastor Timothy as he shepherds the people of Ephesus. As the leader of this church, Timothy should cultivate a culture where older women and younger women and older men and younger men pray, study, and worship side-by-side in biblical community.
There is something so rich about this, especially for younger generations seeking mentors. When I was a young pastor, I found the wisdom of mentors invaluable to me—people willing to put their arm around me and coach me up on leadership. These are also the people who gave me opportunities in leadership beyond my experience—the opportunities that helped shape me.
And today, a world made up of young people desperately looking for spiritual fathers and mothers, we need churches willing to cultivate intergenerational cultures. This is why it’s important for us to not only embrace all generations, but to create environments where these kinds of nurturing relationships can flourish.
3. Multi-generational leadership teams provide opportunities for older generations to apply their wisdom and life experiences.
In my years of ministry, I’ve often heard from older Christians who feel a bit ignored, at times, in churches that skew younger. They want to pitch in with their time and their resources and their wisdom but feel pushed out. This is unfortunate because senior saints often have what no other generation has: time and spiritual wisdom.
If it’s the job of pastors to “equip saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16),” we should intentionally help older generations find ways to contribute to the body. One of the best ways we can do this is to pair up people who might span generations but share common interests.
Imagine older women helping young mothers navigate the overwhelming responsibilities of work and family and children.
Imagine older men helping younger men understand what it looks like to live as a man of God in the way he loves his wife and leads his family and pursues his career.
Imagine older couples nurturing the marriages of younger couples.
This is one mark of healthy church life: people from all walks and stages of life learning, growing, and walking together toward Christlikeness. And who better to cultivate this kind of environment than leaders from multiple generations?
DANIEL DARLING (@dandarling) is vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and teaching and discipleship pastor at Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity Revolution.