Have you heard about the good old days? The time when the church was in its heyday? Sometimes they call it the glory days and reminisce about the days when Sunday School classrooms were full of people of all ages. Or the Sunday mornings when church pews were full of finely dressed folks from the neighborhood. The summers when camp meeting and tent revivals were the talks of the town and anyone who was anybody was in attendance. Do you remember those days?
Yeah… I don’t remember them either…
I guess the church of today is but a shadow of what it once was in a lot of peoples’ minds… This opinion is a carryover from Christendom. Now I already talked a bit about the end of Christendom in an earlier post, but today I wanted to share a conversation I had with someone recently. It kind of messed with me… but in a good way.
The Day Sunday School Died
I have had more than a couple conversations on the topic of changes within the church. Perhaps the biggest issue I have seen push-back on by established church attendees is allowing Sunday School to die. I say die because statistically speaking, churches that do still offer Sunday School have seen one of two things happen with it:
- The same people attending Sunday school have done so for a considerable number of years with little to no new members added.
- Fewer and fewer people participate in Sunday School, leading to many churches making the decision to discontinue offering it altogether.
I could link a bunch of websites that support this premise, but there are too many to choose from. Instead, if you need to see these stats for yourself, go google “decline in Sunday School attendance” or something similar and see for yourself.
Now hear me… There is nothing wrong with Sunday School and what it sought to accomplish. Its original intent was to have a time and space for biblical lessons to be taught. However, it has been inflexibly packaged and because of this packaging, it has been unable or unwilling to adapt to changes in the culture around it. For that reason, it is dying. For some, the day Sunday School died has already come and gone; for others, that day is fast approaching.
The Church Does “New” Poorly
There are a host of specific reasons why things like Sunday School go by the wayside. These specifics are all subjective and are not really worth addressing one at a time. Instead, I would like to attempt to get to the heart of the matter.
The church has a hard time trying new things. Despite the metaphorical writing on the wall, many still cling to those ‘good old days’ memories, hoping to revive them, to make their pasts a reality once again in the present. There is a sentimentality to these things, and it’s hard to let go of something you hold near and dear to your heart.
Still, we must live in the real world, in the here and now. We must accept the reality of the world around us. This world moves at an alarming pace. For instance, I recently read that my fridge has an estimated operational life of about 13 years. This may not mean much to some, but fridges made 50+ years ago still work. Now, planned obsolescence is the norm. like my TV which might last for maybe four years. Or my fancy smartphone which will be obsolete in two years. The worst? My car… it was obsolete the moment it drove off the lot.
We change presidents every 4-8 years. There are thousands of businesses that will be opened and closed within shorter periods of time than that. Musical careers, acting tenures, and 15 minutes of fame can start and finish in the blink of an eye. We lose patience with 30-second commercials because Netflix taught us that we no longer need to wait for next week’s episode, we can watch it now. The list goes on and on… and changes daily… because…
The world moves at an alarmingly fast pace…
So why the heaven does it take the church so long to come around to the reality of there situations? Now, there is great debate as to when the end of Christendom was, but regardless, why do so many of our churches try to continue packaging their ministries the same way they did in the 50s and 60s? Why does it sometimes take multiple generations being born and dying for the church to catch on to the rhythms of life that are all around us? Why did I have to sit through three consecutive months of board meetings where we still couldn’t decide on what color carpet the church was going to get!!!
It has been said that church culture is like the rudder of a giant ship. It can be moved, but it may take miles and miles for the effects of that rudder’s movement to get the ship to turn around and change course. Miles and miles= years and years it would seem.
Ok, Here is the Conversation
I still have to reassure people I am “The” pastor. I have conversations that involve questions like, “You’re not the youth pastor?” or, “How old are you?” on an almost monthly basis. Truthfully, I take it all in stride. I have fun with it. I laugh and joke about age. Still, there is something at the heart of these questions, something about our shared perspective on how old pastors should be. I would argue it is the same thing at the heart of the church’s inability to let something like Sunday School die.
We are afraid of change, or new, of what tomorrow may bring.
This all finally came to a head in my mind about a month ago:
Smart Person: (after hearing me explain my age and reassure someone I really was a lead pastor) Man, do you get tired of that?
Me: Not really, maybe one day I will, but by then I will actually be the age everyone seems to think I need to be to do this Job…
Smart Person: Who cares how old you are… I certainly don’t!
Me: Well thank you [smart person], I really appreciate it!
Smart Person: [compliments about God using me in His church followed by]… I mean, if you really think about it, no one would bat an eye if their nurse was in their late twenties or early thirties. If someone saw a cop that age they wouldn’t immediately ask, “Are you old enough to enforce the law?” It is perfectly acceptable for a second-grade teacher to be 30. No one would ever question a firefighter who saved them from a burning building if they were old enough to fight fire. The same goes for lawyers, for farmers, business owners, or any number of other occupation!. In the professional world, people in their late twenties and early thirties should be making their ascent to leadership roles within their places of work. So why does everyone make such a fuss about you being a young pastor?
Me: (My mind blown slightly) … You know what?…. That is a very good question…
Full disclosure, I may be misquoting the smart person, or even myself. I don’t sleep a lot because I have young children who keep me up at night and wake up early in the morning. Needless to say, I don’t have the greatest capacity for short-term memory at the moment. Still, I can assure you the essence of what was said is there. The point was made, and it dawned on me, the church likes to do things differently most of the time. Often, it is out of a desire to better follow Jesus, but this whole ageism thing doesn’t seem to be one of those things. Especially since Jesus was my age at the height of His ministry.
So, I would like to put it to this to the church, to ask the same question put to me by this smart person, and ask it openly to all who would care to answer…
Why do so many make such a fuss about a young person being a pastor?
Is it because there were a lot of young people who became pastors 30-40 years ago and they haven’t retired yet? In so doing, have they created the expectations for everyone else as to what age pastors are supposed to be? Or is it something more?
Is it that the church is scared of letting young people lead? Are they afraid of the change that might come as a result? Does the church think it’s more important to cling to Sunday school, to the glory days of old, to the things of yesteryear than to look to what God may have for His church tomorrow?
In response to these ponderings, I have developed a personal mantra I have been trying to live by as of late:
Honor the past while looking hopefully into the future
To change is not to erase the past, it is simply part of growing, or adapting, of remaining relevant.
Church… are you willing to sacrifice the future for the sake of clinging to the past?
2 Corinthians 5:16-19
16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.
Jesus was all about new… and we are His church… So are we willing to let go? Can we let something die so that something new can be born and take its place?
I hope so…
Until next time…