Gordon McDonald has written an outstanding book entitled, Who Stole My mystical teachings of jesus. In it he attempts to help the older generation understand the changes that come to the church as it has entered the 21st century. He sets up a fictitious church in the Northeast with a group of older saints who cannot figure out what is happening to their church. It’s just not like it used to be. In an early moment of exasperation one of the characters sets the stage for the book by stating, “All I want to know is who stole my church?”
Do you feel like you have some folks like that hanging around the church you serve? Most of these good people have been around a long time. They give well and have invested a lot of sweat equity into the building you worship in currently. In some cases, they have taught Sunday School and worked with the church’s missions committee longer than you have been alive.
However, on more than one occasion, you have found yourself at odds with their positions on growing the church. They remember how the church grew in the 60s, 70s and 80s and cannot seem to understand why you are choosing to do things that were not done back then. Frankly, the things you are doing and the way you are doing them are disturbing to them.
Volumes could be written on why these folks think this way. In turn, an equal amount could be written about the frustrations felt by younger and middle aged pastors who see growth potential but find roadblocks from some older change-resistant saints.
It is always wise for pastors to lead from positions of knowledge. Understanding how these people think helps pastors move the church forward in reaching more people with the Gospel.
I have listed 9 reasons why some of your older saints feel like they have lost their church, the one you are now pastoring. You may view some of these as petty. However, the smart and discerning pastor will take these very seriously while moving forward with the mission of the church, to reach more people with the Gospel.
1. I’ve lost my church because I don’t know as many people any more. There are more of them and less of people my age. I’m sad that some of my friends have passed away and the new ones coming in are the age of my grandchildren. They are nice people but are not my generation.
2. I’ve lost my church because the music is so loud and I don’t understand it. It literally hurts my ears when I come to church. The music is blaring and I can’t understand the words. Even when I can understand them, they don’t make any sense to me. Half the time it seems like a rock concert to me.
3. I’ve lost my church because we don’t sing the hymns that mean so much to me anymore. Why, for the life of me, we can’t sing at least one hymn on Sunday morning, I’ll never understand. The Bible is clear on the singing of hymns. We should still sing them regularly.
4. I’ve lost my church because the new people aren’t committed. I remember that when I was younger if I said I would do something, my word was my bond. Today, younger people come in and out of the church at leisure. They are here for a month and then gone for two months. They come back just like everything is normal all the while we have had to go on with keeping the church going. The young people don’t seem to value commitment like my generation did.
5. I’ve lost my church because no one seems to appreciate me anymore. I don’t want to seem self-centered but 20 years ago I was important here at the church and the pastor appreciated me. Now it’s like the church doesn’t care, doesn’t even know my name.
6. I’ve lost my church because the younger people dress so sloppy. I was raised that you should always wear your best for God. That meant wearing a suit or nice dress. Now all I see are jeans with holes in them, shorts, flip flops and wrinkled shirts. Why can’t they dress up to come into the presence of the Lord?
7. I’ve lost my church because my pastor does not wear a suit. Of all people to dress for the Lord it should be the pastor. I’ve had friends tell the pastor that if he didn’t wear a tie, they would leave the church and so would their tithes. I’m not sure I would say that, but I feel like that. What does it hurt to dress up on Sunday?
8. I’ve lost my church because they changed the name of it. This really bothers me that the young people don’t seem to want the name of our denomination in the name of the church. That says to me they are not proud of who we are. The name they have picked for our church doesn’t even sound like a church.
9. I’ve lost my church because everything seems to be about young people. I love young people but why does it seem everything is about them. What about us. We’ve given time and money to make this church what it is. The young people haven’t. Can’t something be focused on us a little bit? Can’t there be a little balance?
Again, many of these reasons can seem small and even strange to some pastors. Certainly they carry the sound of self-centeredness. However, before you go there, just be sure to remember that self-centeredness can exist in all of us. This is not unique to old people or young.
Believe me, to many of your older saints, these reasons are more real than you can imagine. On one hand you cannot cater to the whims of people who are stuck in the past and want things to be done as they were in the good old days. You must lead with confidence that the future is ahead not behind.
At the same time, move forward with the mission of the church using wisdom and understanding. Value your older saints and continue to teach and train them that the business of winning the lost is not about them. Rather, it is about reaching those people who are most likely to receive Jesus as their savior. This sounds easy but is often very much a challenge.
Help older people understand they have not really lost their church. Help them understand the church may look, feel and sound different but it is still their church and it is here to continue to reach people with the same Gospel.