Are You Ever Too Old (Or Young) to Serve?

By Dr. Ronnie Reid
Pastor of Worship, Fayetteville First Baptist

There is an ongoing discussion regarding churches that are releasing their staff members because of their age.

This determination is not being made on the quality of the ministry of the staff member, but simply on their age. Apparently, there is an issue of perceived relevance that makes these older staff members unqualified to serve. Along with this ideology, there are churches that only want young people to lead and some that want nothing to do with the “under 30 crowd.”

Sadly, I used to have this same perception.

However, in 2006 something happened that caused my life to change drastically. This “something” was an interim pastor named Don. After a previous senior pastor resigned, a committee was formed (it’s the Baptist way, right?) to acquire an interim senior pastor for our church. The committee chair reported to the staff that they had chosen a 70-year-old interim.

“What?” I thought. “This is the guy that is going to help heal our church and move us forward? Impossible!”

At the time, I prided myself on having a good discernment about people and situations, but in this case I couldn’t have been more wrong! This 70 year old, retired pastor had more openness to new ideas and wisdom than I could have ever imagined! His people skills were incredible, and I am honored to have served under his leadership. In fact, when he found out he was dying of cancer, it was quite an impactful day in the life of our church.

As I was researching intergenerational worship for my doctoral degree, it became evident that there is a disconnect.

Many times I have found younger people who want nothing to do with the older and vice versa. I have heard, “We don’t need them bringing those young people into OUR service” and “Why would someone so old even attempt that?”

Sadly, these conversations can be heard throughout our churches across America. Because of modern medical practices and an ongoing focus on health, Americans live longer today than in previous generations. According to the United Nations projections, the estimated lifespan of a United States citizen is 79.05 years. Compare this to the average United States lifespan of 51.5 in 1912 and the issue of multiple generations in worship becomes clearer.

Never before in the history of Christendom has the church ministered to five generations in a single worship service.

Today one worship service may have Builders (born prior to 1946), Boomers (1946-64), Gen X (1965-84), Millennials (1985-2004), and Gen Z (2004-2014) worshipping together in a single service (this doesn’t include the current generation of children). The combining of these varied generations into a single worship service has led to stylistic issues both in music and structure. Each generation often seeks a particular style, many times without regard to the other generations. In an attempt to alleviate these issues, church growth experts have suggested moving to multiple worship services with each having a specific style.

Unfortunately, this solution has not been without complications. Today, rather than seeking a place to serve as a local body, many families now seek a church that fits a specific worship style. Now, congregants are segregated by worship preference often under the banner of a single church name. Since these preferences are often defined by generations, the younger and older generations typically become separated.

This goes against what Scripture reveals. Psalm 145:4 reads, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” How can we minister to each other when we are segregating ourselves based upon age? How can my children bless the senior adults when they are never around them? How can an older adult share wisdom and discernment with a 20 something he is never in contact with? How many times have we been ministered to by an aging saint? How often are we blessed when we see young people giving their all for Christ as they grow and serve?

You see, when we stop growing together, we grow apart.

A few years ago, I had the privilege to be a part of a funeral for a great man of God. He and his wife would go on mission trips and serve food for those working. In fact, they went to Florida several years to serve food to the spring break crowd all while they were in their senior years of life. When I stop to think about how many lives were touched for Christ because of these two people’s amazing service, it’s incredible! What would have happened to those who were ministered to if this couple or the church said, “Can’t go, too old?”

Let’s become encouragers and champions to each other. Let’s determine to bless our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of age and watch how He will move through us! 

Published April 28, 2022