“So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).
Who needs the church? Do you need the church? Do other people need the church? These days there is a plethora of alternatives, it seems, purporting to help families. Churches are irrelevant at best and comprised of hurtful hypocrites at worst. Congregations are, however, as perfect as the members that comprise them. Think for a moment about alternative social groups; these might include snooty country clubs, gang bangers, worldly-minded therapists, Facebook, and beer joints. In this light, the church seems a pretty good alternative.
The church is part of God’s plan, designed to bless his people emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Like all of God’s plans, this one is a very good one indeed. When organized and conducted biblically, the church provides great benefits. We should take this fact seriously. The church simply offers things that cannot be obtained anywhere else.
I am not suggesting that there is one “cracker jack” program out there that will “save” the church. Programs change. Times change. But God’s method of making us whole transcends time and nationality. E.M. Bounds once declared, “People are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better people” (Power Through Prayer, 13).
So can the church help people throughout the various stages of life? Consider the following:
It was Jesus himself who invited children into his presence. “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). Too often we wax sentimental at this point; children are so “cute” and “lovable,” and even Jesus responded to it. Yet Jesus’ words are a plea to allow him access to all children. A child’s readiness to accept the presence of God indicates an openness to faith. This is in stark contrast to the cynicism of their elders. If the church neglects its children, be sure that one day its children will neglect the church. Now is the time to teach children. If you take the view that we should not predispose our children to know God’s ways, remember this; the world won’t hesitate to fill the vacuum. Television, the internet, and their friends will fill their minds with greed, self-centeredness and sensuousness.
Singles and Single Again
Somehow we have forgotten the central role of single people in first century Christianity. “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:32,33). If I were to evaluate the modern church’s attitude toward single saints I would have to say that ours is the diametric opposite of what Paul is saying. We treat single Christians as if they are somehow emotionally or spiritually deficient, yet we can all name immature people who become married believing that their marital status would somehow magically solve their emotional problems. Becoming married, instead, exacerbated their problems. We also know that early singles served the church with distinction. Paul, Barnabas, and the Lord himself were single.
Those who are single again (through death or divorce) present ministry opportunities for the church. Here the church can provide the love and family support they have lost. Lessons on grieving, God’s comfort, and opportunities for those who are hurting to be with like-individuals, helps. If a Christian has lost a loved one to cancer, for instance, he might view his suffering as his gift to a fellow Christian who has recently lost his spouse.
All of us in churches know about the “Young Adult Class.” We smile indulgently when someone wonders out loud what the definition of “young” adult might be. I recall such a class in the 1990s when the young adults complained that there were too many “old” people in the class. Who, we asked, were these old people passing themselves off as young? One young person defined it aptly, if a little humiliatingly: “If you can remember where you were when JFK died,” he declared, “you shouldn’t be in the class.” Baby Boomers (of which I am one) looked a little sheepishly at each other. It turns out that we were the “old people.”
I should issue one disclaimer at this point, however. I am not suggesting that the church should be permanently sliced apart by age; I believe that teenagers can benefit from the wisdom of the aged and that those of us who are “more mature” can benefit from the energy and idealism of the young.
The church is a workshop, not a dormitory. We should be in the business of developing the young and vulnerable. “Older women … are to teach what is good, and so to train young women to love their husbands and children …” (Titus 2:3-5). Biblical teaching provides young couples the tools to stay married. When Hollywood depicts couples who are virtual strangers engaging in humanity’s most intimate physical act, the church needs to counter with a biblical view of marriage. It also needs to provide the biblical teaching necessary to build lasting and healthy Christian marriages.
The Bible also provides us with wholesome ways to raise children, principles that have proven over time to produce adults who are good citizens and productive members of their communities. While it is true that the primary responsibility for raising children should lie in the hands of parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), the church can aid and abet this process and, perhaps even more vitally, provide biblical tools to accomplish this.
Families With Teens
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Teenagers in our society face heavy challenges thanks to the baleful and ever-present influence of the internet and television. Our congregations are generally conscious of the need for a teen program. This consciousness can be seen in the fact that invariably the second minister on a congregational staff will be a youth minister, as opposed to other ministries such as outreach and education. There are some considerations that should be kept in mind regarding a youth ministry, however: First, a youth minister is still a minister of the word, not a glorified baby-sitter. Attention to a youth minister’s training and commitment to the Bible text is vital! “Until I come,” Paul instructed one young man, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching,” (1 Timothy 4:13).
As great as the potential for a youth ministry is, there is an equal and opposite potential for the church’s next generation to be led astray. While trips to the mountains to ski are not wrong, the youth program should be heavy on Bible study, service projects, and becoming involved in the work of a local congregation. I urge congregations to train young men and women early in such things as teaching Bible classes, leading singing, and delivering talks; this process needs to include both training in how to do these things, and in opportunities to stand before a congregation and gain valuable experience.
How long does it take to form a habit? Four years? If our teens develop a habit of not being involved in a local congregation during the period of their high school years, they may be well on their way to a Sunday morning only model of participation in church life. It is easy to lose interest in a church when you have never really made an investment in it.
Retired Members – an Untapped Resource
Here lies a great, untapped resource. There was a time when a person who retired in his mid sixties would die within just a few years. With the improvement of medicine and an understanding of healthy lifestyles there are many Christians who will expect to live twenty or more years following their retirement. Think of it! A large (and growing) number of retirees equipped with wisdom, experience and what is more, they have time on their hands! This can be used productively for the Lord. A word of caution, however; chronology does not automatically result in maturity. Aged Christians need to develop Christian maturity – qualities such as thoughtfulness, compassion and a desire to help (not throw wet towels over) those who are younger. While being conscious of that which is deeply biblical, older saints should be aware of the difference between biblical principle and personal pet peeves. It is one thing to encourage a young minister for instance to remain biblical; it is another thing to wear him down with trivia and sniping to the point that he is ready to give up the ministry. Ensure that your guidance regards things of consequence and biblical truths, not minor matters. Ensure that the next generation is developed, not discouraged.
I have noticed a number of churches hiring a minister for the “mature”! With the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, this seems a good policy. Helping shut-ins, taking people to doctor appointments, and simply providing a network for people who will often be lonely makes sense.
Who Needs the Church?
So who needs the church? Alternatives to the church range from the harmless, at least in themselves (golf, the Kiwanis club), to the spiritually detrimental. The church that Jesus built was designed to help us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. You need the church. The church needs you. The world needs both.