Preaching through Titus was eye-opening and encouraging for me in a number of ways. One of those ways was in reflecting on the brute force of the text in 2:1-8 (opened up here, here, here and here). In that passage, Paul casts a net that takes in the whole age-range of the congregation. Pride of place goes to seniors, to older men and older women, who then have a ministry embracing younger women and men.
If we let it, this has real impact on how we will view our local assembly. Think it through with me.
Many folks in their 20s and 30s would walk into a church featuring a lot of people in their 40s and upward, and would be concerned. I understand that, and I don't entirely blame anyone for the reaction. That is, if they see a church predominantly tilted to the senior years, they will wonder if it has lost vision. They'll wonder if it's dying.
They will be concerned that this may be a church "married" to a single point on the calendar, rather than to the word of God — as if the 1950s (or, for that matter, the 1850s, 1750s or 1650s) constituted an especially sacrosanct dot on a timeline, and everything coming after that dot is suspect, or probably even evil. Not sharing that timebound devotion, they'll wonder whether they'd find a home in this family, or whether instead they'd find themselves also suspect and marginalized.
Those are legitimate concerns, in themselves. I'm not writing to challenge anyone for merely having those thoughts. In fact, I would agree that there's no excuse for a congregation to wed itself indissolubly to some imagined Post-Biblical Golden Age in any given culture. Paul reflected no such concern or fancy, nor did he encourage it; nor should we.
What's worse, I know what it is when a congregation has the smell of death about it. It's just very, very sad. It is as if you've stepped into a time machine, in a way. In another, it's as if you've stepped into a funeral parlor. There's a feel of sad resignation and frustration; all is ingrown and cliquish; arms are already closed, not open. What you're seeing is a slow death. They're huddled together waiting for the end... and it's on its way.
So I'm not writing to say that anyone should feel wicked and guilty if he feels a concern at the initial sight of a senior-weighted congregation. But I am writing to urge you not to stop with those first impressions. I am writing to suggest other thoughts you should also have, other questions you should also ask yourself, in forming a decision.
First, I'd suggest the alternative: you should really feel concerned if you don't see many people 40 and up! After all, the leaders are called elders for a reason (cf. Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17-19). While that term isn't necessarily bound to a certain number of candles on a birthday cake, the least you have to say is that it isn't negative towards the higher numbers! In fact, Scripture (as opposed to our culture) is pretty much univocally positive towards advanced age (see the second sermon linked above). To have walked with the Lord for a great many years is a good thing, it's a blessed thing, it's a valuable thing. In a healthy congregation, younger people will seek out and value their seniors in the Lord.
And if there are few or none to seek out, that isn't a good sign, other things being equal. It really, really isn't. It could mean that this is a ministry that doesn't wear well. It could mean that this is a ministry for the moment, not for the ages. It could mean that the leadership is every bit as tunnel-visioned as the Golden Agers mentioned above. It could mean that seasoned saints who've been a few blocks with the Lord have weighed it, and found it wanting.
The fact that mature folks are not drawn to a ministry is not a selling point to a Biblically-minded man or woman. If you walked into a church in a multi-ethnic neighborhood and found a large group of one skin-hue, you'd wonder. You should also wonder if a congregation has few or no seniors.
Ironic aside: I've no doubt that many yoots who would be (rightly) utterly repelled by any congregation they suspected of racism have no problem at all with one characterized by ageism.What's more, a church lacking the very folks Paul focuses on first in Titus 2 lacks vital resources. Young men won't have accomplished, seasoned models to look up to, won't have those resources to draw on or be cautioned or matured by (to dangle a preposition). Young women won't have those mature ladies to help them navigate the rocks and corals of their own passions or cultural blinders. Better to set out across the desert without water, than to try to navigate the world without mature, older believers in an assembly.
Look at it Biblically and matured saints aren't a red light, a warning sign, or an obstacle. They're a gold mine.
Second, before you draw a conclusion, inquire. If you're not seeing many under-40s, is it indeed the church's short- or narrow-sightedness? Have they reached out to the younger folks within their number? Have they offered classes, seminars, fellowship opportunities that are sensitive to their needs and concerns? Are they planning any? Are they willing? Or have they just given up?
I'm saying don't assume. What if you were to learn that the pastor had launched a number of initiatives that simply weren't supported at the time — because the younger folks who were present at the time had other things to do, didn't want to commit, didn't like having to show up at a particular time, a dozen other things? Or because there weren't that many of them... yet the church was trying to serve them equally with everyone else? Or what if you learned that other outreaches/inreaches were either in the works, in the planning stages, or held in readiness for when there was actually someone to benefit from them? Would that change your impression? If so, how will you know unless you slow down, take some time, and ask?
Third, again before you draw a conclusion, remember the besetting sins of your own culture. It is a consumer-driven culture. To their great shame, Christians look at the church as they look at retail businesses. They expect to be catered to. They expect to bring nothing but demands and requirements, and they expect those demands to be met and seen-to, now, on their time-table. Of them it could well be said, "I came not to serve, but to be served." They don't expect to commit, give, build, sacrifice, stay. You walk in, a store doesn't have what you want the way you want it, you walk out. As with Wal-Mart, so with church. Same-same.
You know, exactly like the Bible says.
The opposite of.
And so fourth, having remembered that, ask yourself the question: What do you expect? What do you demand? Is it your attitude that you won't stay if you don't already see a bunch of people like you already carrying the burden and doing the work? How would that even happen, if everyone else had your attitude? Really, think it through: what if everyone else who visited that church was unwilling to stay until someone else did the work they're unwilling to do, to provide the ministry they're demanding to receive? Like you're doing?
And how would that even happen? How does that happen? How do you think churches grow, ever? Have you asked yourself that question?
Do you think they drop down out of Heaven, fully-staffed with volunteers committed to doing what you're unwilling to do? Do you think pastors simply pick up the phone, dial 1-800-FLOATER, and order a set of 45 trained, equipped, qualified, committed 25-year-olds to be delivered next Sunday to create the ministry of which you wish to be a passive beneficiary?
I recall a man telling a story some years ago that led me to respect (and like) him even more than I already did. He was a black brother, who'd begun attending this predominantly white church. After a time, he felt a bit lonesome and discouraged. It was still pretty much just him and his wife amid a sea of lighter shade of pale, and they sometimes felt like they stuck out. After a while of no change in the collective epidermal hue, he was tempted to leave, to give up.
But then Bill asked himself, "So, if I leave, what does the next black brother find, when he comes? Same thing I found. Someone has to be first, someone has to stay, someone has to build. Why shouldn't it be me?" And he stayed; and in time he was not remain alone. In fact, when the pastor left, the church called a black brother to pastor the church. In part, because Bill asked himself, "Why shouldn't I stay and build?"
Good question, eh?
Bibley, in truth, wouldn't you say?