ageism rock on  Caution: I have many friends I love dearly who practice that against which I preach in this post.  Most do so because they desire to reach outsiders with the Gospel.  Some because they are under authority of those who instruct the practice, and some who do so out of desperation for contextual “relevancy” as perceived by some, and an inability to see another way of its achievement.  The very sad fact is that I could fill a book with stories of servants who have fallen victim to ageism thinking and actions.  One such casualty was quoted as saying, “I refuse any longer to serve someone else’s burnout.”

The evangelical church in America seems to naturally struggle with the same “isms” that are prevalent in the rest of the culture, frequently falling woefully behind in overcoming some of those that are most divisive, and whose resolution seems the most challenging.  A prime example of this is my own SBC faith tradition that took 150 years to pronounce its resolve to eradicate racism in all its forms from SBC life and ministry.  That was in 1995, and now,  Hallelujah! we elected Dr. Fred Luter Jr., an African-American pastor to lead the denomination this year.  Not too surprisingly, though, the adage tends to remain that “Sunday morning at 11:00am (or whenever the church worships) is the most segregated hour in the week.” One hundred-fifty plus years of divided worship practice does not dissolve overnight.  Certainly there are exceptions to this practice, and a desire for racial integration in worship is surely more prevalent now than in days past.  The ongoing reality of divided worship, however, remains, and this is not just an issue of conservative and fundamentalist-leaning communions.  Cultural differences present high walls of separation that can be observed in most protestant churches, even those who have pronounced themselves open.

Other “isms” remain intact as well.  Sexism will likely continue to present overt challenges as pastoral leaders struggle to adequately articulate biblical teachings of complementarian vs. egalitarian views, and negotiate the resultant tensions associated with either.  At times the worship setting becomes the proving ground for the tensions, providing some unexpected resolve in some instances as worship bands feature female vocalists, and as churches struggle to staff leadership positions.

The human predicament continues on display as we have morphed now into an “ism” that would seem to be of our own making, ageism.  Granted, like other misguided exercises, ageism may have been adapted to suit perceived cultural context, but also like other truncations of Christian practice, its implementation has served to severely divide the church at its most needful point of unity, Christian worship.  Recognizing there are multiple justifications for slicing up a church body into separate worshiping venues, and not questioning that many motives of such dividing may be logical, and in fact almost always pragmatic in nature, I must, nevertheless, point to biblical teaching.  Here are but a few examples:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.  1 Timothy 5:1-3

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.  Psalm 145:4

Most convicting, perhaps, of all is the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17 in which He pleas for our unity:

That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.  John 17:21-26

Sending children off to their corner for “Kids Worship” and teens to their room for “Refuge,” or style-specific worship venues that target for similar age-divided effect seems simply contrary to biblical teaching of how we are to be church in passages like these:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  Romans 12:9-13

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.   Ephesians 4:1-4,11-16

Here are a few thoughts for your consideration and response.

Worshiping through all stages of life is best learned through shared observance of those who are living through those stages

Genuine relevance is rooted in the Gospel, not in personal preferences

Worship that engages all ages effectively takes intentional planning

Like racism, ageism is not overcome by segregated practice, but rather yielding our lives to follow the way taught in scripture (see above)







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  1. Janet Finke Says:

    Powerful sermon, Paul. Worship planning is such a key element.

  2. Eric Benoy Says:

    Reminds me of the term “Chronological snobbery … coined by … C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield, describing the erroneous argument … that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior to that of the present, simply by virtue of its temporal priority.” Simply because it is new does not make it better or the route to go and neither does it being old give the same permission — we have to be intentional in planning. Perhaps one area where small churches may have over larger ones is that everyone sits in the same worship service — prayerfully and hopefully they are doing what you bring forth here. Great thinking and insight as always!

    • Indeed Eric, one of the very notions that seems to drive us to divide is the desperation that sometimes comes when a top priority is to add or keep attendance numbers up. Many small family churches value relationships above numbers, resulting in a more unified worship that takes into account the needs of other members of the body as a priority concern.

  3. wayne Says:

    Thank you for the good word, Paul. I especially appreciated your observation that… “Worshiping through all stages of life is best learned through shared observance of those who are living through those stages”. I’m afraid that consumerism is one of the main culprits we’ve invited into our churches as we design worship services. Like it or not, many of us are playing the same marketing game that the local burger franchise lives and dies by – “have it your way!” GOD is our refuge and strength! HE is our Help in the past and our Hope for the future! God and God alone!!

  4. […] Paul Clark Jr writes about intentionally pursuing corporate worship which demonstrates the shattering of barriers which can only happen through the Gospel. In this case, it is the relentless pursuit of youth preferences and that which is new. When contemporary church life seeks (even inadvertently) to put barriers back it undermines Gospel life and witness. Like Clark, even among readers who may not embrace corporate worship at which all ages are present, those who lead and nurture local church life need to nurture some sort of intergenerational witness and interaction as an act of biblical obedience. […]

  5. Jewell P. Says:

    I agree! I would also challenge everyone to discover the distinct difference between “worship” and “praise” according to Scripture. We regularly meet to praise, but when you look up the word “worship” in the Bible, you find that we are not actually usually worshiping by a scriptural standard.

  6. AJ Sharenberger Says:

    One of our strongest teachers is in our men’s Sunday school, and one of the weakest is in our teen’s Sunday school. That is a mistake. It’s an even bigger mistake to isolate youth from older adults from whom they could learn even more and place them under the guidance of an enthusiastic, but immature youth leader of any age.

    In many smaller churches, the congregation isn’t divided simply because the budget isn’t there to hire a pastor for every age group.

    • Numerically small churches do, indeed seem to avoid the age group divisional practices. My prayer is that their spirit will be one of true unity in Christ as they worship corporately, and that they will not be distracted by preference peddlers.

  7. acai Says:


    WORSHIP THAT DIVIDES – AGEISM | Paul Clark Jr’s Blog

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  9. […] Worship that Divides – Ageism […]

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