Bridging the Divide

I’m sure you’ve all seen and experienced it.  That separation of churches (and within churches) of the generations.  On the one hand are the older folk, who’ve been in church forever.  Since they’ve been children, church has meant hymns and potlucks, choirs and Wednesday night services.  It’s the way it’s always been, and for the most part it works.

Then there’s the other group: the young people.  They prefer their music loud and their churches more edgy.  They question the basic “traditions” of the church, and the way things have “always been done”.  Instead of dresses and suits, they don their usual jeans and t-shirts to attend services on Sunday mornings.  In every way, they are so very different from the “older” crowd.  Because of this, we see many churches almost completely filled with one group or the other, but not both.  Those that mix the two seem to struggle with an almost constant tension over power and how things should be done. 

There’s nothing wrong with having a preference, or reaching out to one group of people or the other.  Yet sometimes I wonder if this segregation is really right.  Is this the way church is really supposed to be?

My husband and I are blessed to be a part of a multi-generational church.  The nursery is full, yet so is the senior choir on Tuesday mornings.  We sing both hymns and contemporary songs.  You’ll see some dressed in nice “church” dresses and some in holey jeans and messy buns.  Our pastor encourages this, and on more than one occasion has rebuked those that put their personal preferences above what God wants…a unified body of Christ.  I appreciate that and respect that more than you can know.

And yet, I still see the tension.  I see it on the strained faces of the seniors when the youth group leads worship with :gasp: a drum set.  I see it in the bored faces of the youth when we sing another hymn on Sunday morning. 

In some ways, it’s natural.  We all have preferences, and it’s easy to feel that our preferences are the right way when they are steeped in tradition.  More-and-more, though, I find myself questioning my own “preferences” and how they affect my view of the church.  I find that a lot of my own opinions are, at best, superficial and unfounded.  Many times, I wonder if I should not be learning about other’s preferences and embracing them just as I would my own. 

I’m not advocating subjectivism.  I firmly believe that truth is objective.  However, there are many things in the modern church that have nothing to do with truth, or what is right and wrong.  Take music worship, for example.  I know as well as anyone that this is an area of heated debate.  And yet, I cannot help but question that.  Some of people’s favorite hymns started out as drinking songs in bars, whereas I’ve seen contemporary worship songs literally bring people to their knees.  On the flip side, there are many contemporary songs that are unfounded in biblical truths, or flippant and best, whereas there are many hymns that speak the truth solidly.  What makes one style better than the other?  Does it not depend on the truth (or untruth) that they contain?  So why do we make it an area of contention, instead of joyfully embracing the good and true songs from every style? 

We waste a lot of energy and time on petty disputes which have no eternal significance.  Surely this must make God sad, to see His church divided so!  I know it makes me sad.

So what are we to do?  My dream is to one day see the body of Christ united across cultures, across generations, and across traditions.  I may not be able to do this all myself, or change how other people feel, think, or act.  However, I can do my own small part.  How many times do I, as a young wife, reach out to those older or younger than me?  How many times do I reach out to those from different cultures or backgrounds?  What about those in different economic classes?  The truth is, not often.  In my lack of doing anything, in my own lack of getting myself out of the “rut” of my preferences, I am only perpetuating the division that is so rampant and that so burdens my heart.

There are men and women working to change this.  I’ve seen them, and experienced their love across barriers…across preferences.  I see it every time our pastor preaches against holding fast to man-made traditions.  I see it every time the older women in the church spend countless hours and dollars to throw a wedding or baby shower for one of the younger women.  I see it every time Andy and I go to pay for our meal at a restaurant, only to find that one of the older couples (I say older, I mean middle-aged…just older than us) has already paid for us.  I see it every time a certain older woman in our church takes the time to rock babies in the nursery, even though her own have long been grown. 

I see it every time the youth joyfully serve lunch the the church.  I see it in how they faithfully thank those that have given time, money, and energy to help them go on a mission trip or to church camp.  I see it when our college students aren’t afraid to spend the day with older men and women.  I see it when the teenagers are quick to help at VBS.  I see it when my Andy serves on the finance committee, when every other member is almost twice his age (or more). 

You see, there is hope.  And yet, we have a long way to go. May it begin with me.  

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