7 Reasons We Old People in Church Need to be Willing to Change

Let me start this post with two caveats. First, I’m an older adult (55), but I’m still years away from retirement. Ten years from now, I might think differently than I do now, though I doubt it. Second, I’m not arguing that we need to change everything. I’m not talking about compromising the gospel here. There is much good we can learn from older generations, and each generation needs the others. Nevertheless, here are some reasons we older folks in church need to be willing to change.

  1. What we do as believers is not about us in the first place. Nor is it about young people, either, by the way. It’s about honoring God in such a way that others might want to follow Him. Our preferences we tend to defend don’t matter as much when we get that point right. 
  2. Change may be uncomfortable, but we know it’s not always bad. We didn’t always have a clock . . . or a car . . . or a computer . . . or robotic instruments used in surgery. If we’re honest, we know that some change actually promotes good, including in the church. I’m glad, for example, that we can use technology to reach people we wouldn’t have opportunity to reach twenty years ago.
  3. Few changes are actually as painful as we think they’re going to be. Quite often, what we project will happen when the change occurs is not what actually happens. Once we get through the seeming “trauma” of change, the new routine is often okay.
  4. Our legacy depends on it. Let me be frank: if many churches don’t change, they are going to die. The problem is that nobody thinks it’s going to happen on his or her watch – but my generation will likely see tens of thousands of churches close. To allow a congregation to die just because we like things the way they are is nothing less than unchristian selfishness.
  5. Our children and grandchildren need our example. They don’t know it yet, but the young people calling for change now will be old themselves some day. We need to model for them today how to navigate change well for the sake of the gospel.
  6. An unwillingness to change reveals our idolatries. That’s a tough word, I know. But, anything not mandated by Scripture that we are unwilling to change for God’s glory is an idol. That’s a problem.  
  7. The nations need us to sacrifice. If we don’t reach young people, we’ll someday have no pool out of which to send the next generation of pastors and missionaries. To reach those next generations, we must be willing to change without compromising the gospel.

If you’re an older reader, I really do get it. The older I get, the less I like change. On the other hand, I also more intensely recognize the urgency to reach people as I get older.  We get only one shot at this work, and I don’t want my preferences (and, sometimes, my stubbornness) to hinder the work of the gospel.

I can tolerate change if people are reached and lives are transformed. Accept and rejoice with the change, even. It’s really that simple.

26 Comments

  • Carroll says:

    My problem is that so much of the change in some churches eliminates the true worship experience and substitutes activities which are nothing but entertainment. That I can’t stomach.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Of course, I’m talking about legitimate change. My experience is that a lot of young folks actually want to strengthen what we’re doing. Thanks, Carroll. 

  • A few examples of the types of change you are talking about would help.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      It’s tough to talk about a specific change without using a specific illustration, but here are a few areas where I think we have to be open to conversations: worship style, small group structure, technology use, worship times, weeknight services. I’m not advocating for anything that compromises or weakens the gospel. 

  • Jack Ruff says:

    For example contemporary music. Some of the songs are fine BUT we are losing an awful lot of good messages contained in the old hymns. Most churches rarely sing “Tho Old Rugged Cross ” now. ?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I’m not at all arguing against using hymns. I would argue against an unwillingness to use contemporary music at all, though. Some contemporary music is fine, as you note — in fact, it’s often theologically richer than some hymns. All generations need the others.  

  • Ginger says:

    I don’t disagree with this. We are all, young and old, to esteem others better than ourselves and to prize unity over preference, but I never see articles encouraging young people to sometimes yield to the traditions and wisdom of older people. Maybe they exist, but I’ve never seen one. It’s always the old sacrificing their preferences for the young.

    Perhaps a better scold for the old is for them to worry less about change and follow the command to disciple the young. If this were happening, older people would probably be surprised how much young people understood why those traditions happen the way they do, and would see the richness in them. There would probably be less painful change for them to endure, and more wisdom imparted to the next generation.

    I look at articles like this as potential danger of the world system seeping into the church. The world prizes youth and the new and the exciting over experience. It saddens me that the church often does too.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Ginger. I’ve previously written to young people as well at http://chucklawless.com/2014/06/10-things-young-church-leaders-need-hear-us/, http://chucklawless.com/2014/08/words-advice-young-church-leaders/. I do agree that we have responsibility to disciple those younger than we.  

    • Martha Mazzaferro says:

      Thank you Ginger–I agree with you. I have mentored and taught young and older women for many years with truth and love. To God’s glory, I find that they learn to desire to know, love and follow Christ. Change does not become so important but then their desire is to have others follow the example that is set before us in Scripture. That is what does become important. There is a question posed in Song of Solomon by some women, “What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? what is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?” Then she tells them about him, to which they reply; “Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.” When the younger ask, my prayer, to show them the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16) where they will find our Beloved Lord walking Who changes not.

  • Wes Faulk says:

    Yes… Older members need to sacrifice. Yes… Younger members need to be willing to listen and embrace elements of the church that hold significant value to the seniors. A healthy church will see that mutual submission. Every church struggles with a lack of desire to change as well as the lack of gratitude or respect to those in the older generations.

    Thank you as always for teaching and giving wisdom. Dr. Lawless you are appreciated.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Wes, for writing.

  • Nancy says:

    I am not old, and I am not young – I am in the middle. I enjoy both contemporary and traditional music and worship styles, and listen to contemporary Christian music in my car. I think that what we are seeing in our churches is a reflection of the society around us. Our society is mobile, and young families often do not have the support of a family around them. Millenials are looking for authentic worship that has meaning to them, not just a memorized order of worship or a rock show experience. I think that our churches should be looking at ways to support our younger families and help them meet some of their needs, even serving as mentors.. Our churches also NEED the older members because, if the truth be told, that is where a lot of the money to operate the church comes from! I feel blessed that I am in a church that embraces various styles of worship and is striving to find the path that God wants us to take to be His hands as we serve others.

  • Howard Marshall says:

    The type of change that I am so concerned about and yet there is nothing that any of us can do about it is going from a Philadelphia type church to the La-od-i-ce’-an type church . This last day type of a church is very definitely upon us. Jesus disliked this change so much that he promised to “spue thee out of my mouth” “Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
    The apostle Paul warned us about this need for a “lukewarm” type of church change. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, etc. 2 Timnothy 4:2-4 You may definitely be right. Churches that have Pastors who tickle their ears will most likely not close and may even increase in membership. John Hagee warned his church audience that if the Lord were to come for the “ek-klay-see’-ah, half of his audience would remain. This should be a real concern for all pastors.

    I happen to be one of the old codgers (88 years old) who remembers the day that when the REVIVAL EVANGELIST gave an altar call, folks would literally run to the altar to REPENT – not to fill out a church membership card. Churches of today do not consider having REVIVALS OF ANY LENGTH OF TIME. Sorry if this may offend, but we now feel the need to entertain the goats rather than feed the sheep. But when the entertainment stops, goats will be gone to be refreshed with more entertainment.

    No need to get involved into the music situation because I KNOW THAT I WOULD LOOSE. I will only say that there is a great deal of difference between “Spirit inspired, subjective as opposed to objective, (as they say, 7/11 songs) and money inspired.” NOW YOU KNOW WHY I WOULD LOOSE. .

  • Micah Griffin says:

    I do realize myself that we need to except change but their needs to be compromise. I love a lot of the new contemporary music that can help get you in a worshipful mood or moment but not a head banging song. I’m an old classic rock from the 70’s but don’t put it in church. When I’m older I hope I can attend a church that still respects a few old hymns

  • Chuck, I have very much enjoyed your article. I wish I had that ideas 30 years ago. When I was first in the ministry. Lots of wisdom

  • Veronica Cannon says:

    I find it interesting that people talk about change and bending to the desires of the young people. People say they like hymns, the old hymns. But hymns in the church is a change from what was previously in churches. There was no music, no instruments, whatsoever. If you really do not want to espouse change, then go back to no hymns or instruments and standing during worship services…or embrace change as new generations usher in something refreshing from time to time and it does not mean watered down Gospel. What is really important is building relationships with Christ and spreading the Good News that Jesus died to save sinners and lives because He conquered death. It is not about music or entertainment or any such thing…it is about sharing the Gospel.

  • Rita says:

    Older people feel out of place in today’s contemporary evangelical churches, which is why they just stop going. I’m 55 years old, and my husband is 62. We feel ridiculous when rock concerts are taking place on the stage and we are not surrounded by anyone else our age. Middle-aged people and senior citizens are invisible in today’s contemporary church, which only targets a specific age group. We went back to the Catholic Church and took our children with us. The Catholic Church does not target any specific age group, and all are made to feel welcome. I’m just trying to figure out why it’s the older people who have to conform to the younger peoples’ preferences, and why they are not willing to meet the older people halfway. I could never return to a Protestant evangelical church because of the music, the worship style, and the it’s-all-about-the-younger-crowd mentality that permeates the church. We returned to the Catholic Church, and no longer feel uncomfortable. The Catholic Church may have its problems, but at least they don’t focus all of their attention on one group of members at the exclusion of other groups.

  • James Efird says:

    At 55 you’re an “older adult”? OoooooKay.

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