Forever 21 belongs in the mall, not the pew (and maybe not even the mall)

Last week I spent five days in the mountains with some wonderful middle school kids teaching them about Wesley, the church, and Jesus.  It was a great time and I’m beyond impressed by how engaged and thoughtful they were.  Honestly, I’ve done similar material with adult classes and these kids whipped their butts with the kinds of thoughtful questions and insightful comments they made.  It was spectacular!

This did get me thinking though.  I know, simply because where they are developmentally, its important to treat youth a little different from adults.  I didn’t dumb down my material, but I did have to take it from a different way.  With adults I tend to start with the abstract then move into the concrete, with youth it’s the other way around.

So I began to wonder, at what point do we stop treating people different because of their age?  What I mean is, we set age level ministry for High School and below, a little in college, but after that how much should we keep doing it?

Frankly the church seems to rival clothing stores with our fascination and fixation on youth.  Forever 21 could describe some churches I’ve encountered as well as a mall outlet.  We create special ministries to reach “young people.”  Stripped down worship experiences that take place in food courts, coffee shops, and McDonalds bathrooms, all in the name of reaching young people.

Honestly, I’m in favor of this.  Yes, lets experiment and be daring.  Lets work hard to reach people in new ways.  But when exactly did we start looking at a church full of mostly retirees and say “Oh no” while looking at a church full of mostly under 30s and say “Oh yeah”?  Is one really any better than the other?  Am I to believe that the young church is ideal because the body of Christ should be pictured as an Olympic Beach Volleyball player?

Seriously?  What’s going on?

I’m growing weary of buzz words like “Relevant” being code for young.  I’m tried of “you must be at least this cool to enter” standards around upstart ministries.  And frankly, if you don’t think that is happening I’d invite you to use the greatest bell weather we have for worship inclusiveness, music.  I don’t think “you must tolerate guitar this loud and music this repetitive” is any better than “you must tolerate organ played this slow and songs sung this passionless.”  Both are tools used to sort people out.

Can you stand how we sing? Great you can stay.

Don’t care for it?  Well we certainly aren’t going make changes just for you!

Everything isn’t for everybody.  I understand.  But along with all the effort and energy being used to produce books, websites, and conferences aimed at creating yet more siloed ministry based on age, why don’t we have equal or greater attention paid to creating multigenerational communities that are just as vital?   Why can’t we cherish the wisdom of the old while we idealize the vigor of the young.  Why can’t we sing O For a Thousand Tongues and How Great is our God?  We did.  Last week.

It was rumored that Toyota was going to ditch is funky, boxy, Scion xB after it was introduced about 10 years ago.  Not because it wasn’t selling, but because it was selling to the wrong people.  They wanted to make cars for young people.  Unfortunately, its hard to afford a new car making $5 an hour flipping burgers.  So the largest buyer for the xB in its first few years was older Asian Americans.  Not what they were going for.

Frankly, when we start measuring success like Toyota, are the right people attending our events, we’ve already stopped doing what God asks of us.  To make the young more worthy of our evangelism than others is just as inappropriate as basing it on gender or race.

I got my first appointment as a student pastor, I believe, on the hope that having a young pastor in an old dying church would somehow make young people want to attend.  Big shocker, didn’t work.

Now, I’m two years into being a young pastor of what was a mostly older congregation in  my first full time appointment.  You know what we did?  We bought new music, which we sing along with hymns.  We put in projection, but only with the promise they would also be able to hold what ever they sing in their hands.  I don’t wear ties or jackets, but I complement my ladies on their hats and gloves.  Then, we opened a Free Store.  The UMW works next to the youth group.

We celebrate every visitor, young or old.  We celebrate every new member, my youngest was in his twenties and oldest in her seventies.  We are not perfect and we have a long way to go.

What I really want is to work with others who care similarly about reaching the generations.  All generations.  I’ve considered setting up a rule in my email that will automatically delete any message with the words “Relevant” and “Young” in the message.  Relevant is what reaches people, any people.  Plenty of ministries I see are totally irrelevant to people over 40.  Are they any better than many congregations that are irrelevant to anyone who didn’t live through the depression?

I’m young now, I will get older.  I don’t want to be irrelevant just because I cross a certain age.  I don’t want that for my church either.

I believe building multi-generational communities is the hardest thing we can do.  Rivaled only by attempting to mix economic levels.  Creating groups of just young, just old, just rich, just poor is frankly (and I’m going to get in trouble for saying this) to easy.  We should strive for more.

I never see Jesus limiting who he reaches out to.  Saint, sinner, young, old.  He presents a message of God’s kingdom and lets it fall on all ears willing to listen.  Even when he does try to limit it he gets a tongue lashing form the Syrophoenician woman and then changes his tune! So instead of endless books, movies, concerts, at designer bible covers can we instead talk about God’s love, forgiveness, and grace?

Instead of designer ministries aimed at designer people, can we confess we are a diverse group of unkempt radicals that proclaim the preposterous message that the God of the whole universe knows your name and cares about you very much?

Young, old, rich, poor that is the relevant message!  Proclaim it on facebook, twitter, newsletter, and crochet pattern.  Proclaim it with guitar, organ, and bagpipe! Celebrate the diversity of God’s creation and stop carving out your preferred slice of it.

Ministry is dirty and unpredictable.  Exactly how it’s supposed to be.