We attended the funeral of a dear friend today and later spoke to her husband of over 50 years, a precious brother in the Lord. Concerned for his well-being, we asked him about his church, about the support he could expect to receive from the brethren in the coming days, months, and years. He was generous in his praise for the way the Body had rallied around him, confident they'd continue to do so. Our hearts were encouraged at such a report, for we care deeply about this dear man, and it was comforting to know he wouldn't be left on his own, that folk would be looking out for him, ministering to him as he deals with his great loss and learns to assume the new role the Lord has given him, that of widower.
During the course of our conversation, our brother told us that he and his beloved had attended that particular church since 2005, for the past seven years. He then informed us that he still didn't know everyone in the church, which would be understandable if it was one of those so-called "megachurches", you know, the ones with thousands of people, but it wasn't, it was just one of your average churches, maybe a couple of hundred people, if that.
So why is this important, why am I blogging about this? Well, it's because of what he said next.
Our sweet friend told us that he knows all the older folk, meaning those who travel in his circles, those his age, but doesn't know the younger folk, of which there are, apparently, a considerable number. That statement was jarring to us.
Seven years. Our friend has attended that church for all that time and is only acquainted with those his own age or close to it, he doesn't know the younger folk in his church and they don't know him.
The reason he doesn't know the younger folk, and the younger folk don't know him, is because of age-segregated worship and fellowship. The younger folk do their thing, the older folk do theirs, and never the twain shall meet - or so it would appear. What a tremendous loss for both, and what a sad distortion of how the Body of Christ should operate.
Our precious brother has so very much to offer the younger people in his congregation, and those younger folk have so very much to offer him, but they're being denied the mutual blessing of serving one another. Today, for example, with the exception of our six children, three of our friend's nephews and nieces (he and his wife were never able to have children of their own), and two other young girls, most everyone else at the reception was over 50 years of age, but closer to 60 or more. The younger members of his church weren't there to comfort their brother in Christ, to offer him the strength of their youth, nor to benefit from the godly example our friend displayed as he grieved in faith and with grace. What a missed opportunity, one among many, for both!
During our drive home we began to consider our friend's future and realized that because of his age, and because his fellowship is primarily limited to those of like years, he faces a lonely eventuality should the Lord grant him many more years. Due to the reality of aging, it's likely his circle of friends, his network of support, will begin to diminish because infirmity will eventually remove the ability of most or all of his friends to get out and about, and they'll eventually die, leaving our friend alone.
Not so in a "family-integrated" or properly functioning church, a church which exhorts the Body to worship together and minister to one another as a whole. Not so in a church which frowns upon the very notion of dividing into age or special interest groups, but encourages the Body to employ the gifts of the young and old to their mutual benefit.
Psalm 68:6 speaks of God setting the lonely in families. The church can partly be described as being a family of families, where all have an integral role to fulfill, where each may minister to others and be ministered to. Our heartfelt prayer is that the Lord will grant a fresh vision of multi-generational faithfulness to our brothers and sisters, that church elders will recognize the futility of the current age and special interest mindset, and that the Body will learn to function as one, as the Word teaches.
"From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Ephesians 4:16