31 January 2013

The Gospel, the church, and the old

by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday the sermon was on Titus 2:2-3, which I translate thus:

2:2  Tell older[1] men to be sober, dignified,[2] level-headed, being healthy in faith, in love, in endurance;
2:3  tell older[3] women, likewise, in demeanor to be as befits sacred women: not slanderers,[4] not enslaved to a lot of wine, teachers of what is good,...

[1] Literally “old.”
[2] Or “serious.”
[3] Literally “old.”
[4] Or “‘devils’” (Greek diabolos).

It was a sermon I very deeply felt. In the course of it, we talked about old age — old age in our culture, old age in its challenges, old age in the Bible. We also talked about the entire concept of focused ministries, and obliquely engaged the "family integrated church" movement. And we talked about the Word of God, and how God's word and Gospel should effect our view of age and the aged.

In these pages, we've talked around these themes. Phil's brilliant Po-Motivators engaged the silly pretensions of one of the many youth movements that have backed up from this generation's sewers. But underneath that lay the whole notion that old is bad, new is good... and so old people are to be sidelined, while the youth are to be given pride of place.

Paul does something totally different in writing Titus, beginning his directions for specific pastoral exhortation by targeting old men and old women. His attitude, and his counsel, were not reflective of a church-growth mentality.

That's a small, inadequate taste of what the sermon attempts to engage. My point is that I think it touched on some absolutely vital issues with which we need to grapple Biblically... and it has been about the least popular sermon of the series so far. That is, most of the sermons had a number of downloads within a day or two. This one has been much slower in getting started.

Is it the title: "Gospel Light for Sunset Years," I wonder? Do we look at that and say "Oh yes, it's about old people. Pass"? If so, does that reflect our denial of our own date (Lord willing) with old age, or preference to look the other way when the subject comes up? Or perhaps does it reflect that, while formally we scoff at neolaters, we have a touch of paleophobia, ourselves? It really isn't sexy, is it?

At any rate, whether by me or by others, all of us had better get a Biblical grip of what God says about and to the aged. And in terms of the ministry of our churches, we'd better have a robust grasp of God's truth and God's priorities. That sermon's only a start, but it is a start.

After all, to paraphrase The Amazing Criswell, older age is where we and those we love will spend the rest of our lives here.

Dan Phillips's signature


Robert said...

I think that the rugged individualism of the western culture seems to undermine the idea of the unity that the Church is supposed to have in Christ. And I would say that feeds into both the young and the old and winds up putting a barrier between them that should never have existed. Kudos to you for calling people to follow the Biblical commands to people of all ages and sexes...hopefully people will hold each other accountable to put that into practice (I'm encouraging myself here, too).

Scripture is good about showing us how silly it is to become clique-ish in the Church. If only we were better at following the Word of God...

DJP said...

Amen all-round.

Bets on whether One-Star Hater also hates the old?

DJP said...

...and there's our answer.

David Carlson said...

You sir, are correct.

An observation - where are your parents? (and I mean that question in the general sense, not applied to djp, per se) Are they living with your family, providing the evidence of the gospel in their lives to you and your children? Or are they off in an old age home, sequestered away where they cannot do what the bible calls them to do?

Nash Equilibrium said...

I have no great insights to add to this excellent post, but can attest that we attended a church that went through two purges of old people, about 15 years apart (both occurred under the same CEO/pastor who said he did not want a dying church to be his "legacy"). (We were not there for the first one, we were only there for the second one). Despite the fact that we weren't old when the second one occurred, we left also. The very idea of purging the aged is a disgusting, misguided thing. Thanks for addressing this issue that causes so much needless heartbreak for people who are already at an age when heartbreak runs rampant. anyway.

DJP said...

Very well put, Nash. Thanks.

Tim said...

Thanks for this, Dan. My church here in MN seems to honor all ages. I am 61 and teach an adult Bible class open for all, but most of those who come are "seniors". This past fall we marched through Galatians and now we are going through Daniel, a chapter a week.

I wonder why there seems to be less interest among those in their 20's-40's, at least here, in actual Bible study. Do others of you see this? Is it in how its packaged or just in the package?

By the way, what is "One-Star Hater". I am kind of an outsider here, but enjoy the posts and comments. But I cannot figure out OSH.

DJP said...

Do you see the star-ratings under the post title? Some browsers seem to hide them. Years ago, Frank got the bright idea of adding a star-ratings system to the posts. There is at least one person who, seemingly without fail, gives every post a one-star rating. His legend has grown.

Robert said...

Reading Nash's comments made me think of the parallels between purging of the church and the seemingly inevitable attempt to purge those in the general population who might be "too burdensome". And now that I think about it, the motivation seems to be just about the same...survival of the fittest and all.

Robert Warren said...


At the risk of sounding macabre, how did the CEO/Pastor do the purging? Blue-hair and denture detectors at the door? I can't imagine any method that wouldn't reveal him to be a monster. Maybe I'm overreacting.

Doug Hibbard said...


I'm not Nash, but pastoring a graying congregation I can tell you how to do it, based on some things I've been firmly advised *not* to do:

1. Pounce on anything that has been done for a while. These may be activities or habits, but ones that are neither Biblically commanded nor Biblically-uncommanded. (After all, purging unBiblical behavior in church would be a good idea.)

For example, insist that, because we need to reach more people, no longer can we have the weekly senior adult lunch in the fellowship hall. There's just no time to reset for the hipster coffee house Thursday nights.

2. Act like the older crowd should be self-sufficient: never check in on their Sunday School classes, never bother learning their names.

3. Build the church calendar around all of your younger-oriented events and then act like it's a major ordeal to "squeeze-in" something for the older crowd.

4. Treat them like they are there to fund everything but not have any input in it or wisdom about it.

Those are just a few that will cut out your maturing senior citizens and leave you with just stubborn ones who intend to out-live the pastor.

Oh, and equating "filled with old folks" with "dying church" is a shortcut to that.

We are, instead, a mature congregation that wants to honor the heritage of faith that got us where we are while looking at the world around us and considering how to best declare the Gospel to them. If that means no more Sunday Night Services or moving beyond Quartet music/shaped notes, then we should consider the possibility.

But we will not call the organ a "funeral instrument." For two reasons: 1. it can be used, if played well, for God's Glory just like a guitar; 2. If someone would play it, it would drown out the pastor's off-key singing.

trogdor said...

First, let me commend y'all for putting this into practice by including the Curmudgeon on your feed. And a big shout out to the fella who taught him how to use The Twitters.

A lot of the buzzwords about church growth - exciting, vibrant, God is moving, etc - can be roughly translated as "some 20-somethings are coming to this church now". Church growth talk is very similar to many sports teams in the offseason, obsessed about how to get 'younger'. Even then, the sports teams seem to be more eager to keep some veterans around to teach the yoots the ins and outs of that life, while exciting churches would be OK if all the old ladies with big hats went away.

I've visited churches where I've likely been the oldest person there - it's supposed to be exciting, but to me it was terrifying. How can you have elders who aren't even eld?

About age-integration: it's all too natural to gravitate towards people in roughly the same life situation, and sometimes churches unwittingly reinforce this. If you're, say, in your late 20s to mid-30s with young kids, when you join a new church they'll likely steer you towards similar couples. You'll be told about the Sunday School classes or Bible studies that other young people/couples tend to go to. It's not intentional, but to me it seems kind of backwards. I already know what it's like to be in my shoes - why not steer me towards men who have been there and gotten through it, so I can learn what they know, rather than putting me with people in the same position so we can all fumble through it and reinvent the wheel together?

We often hear the lament that by the time you gain the wisdom of age you lack the energy of youth. Why not be devoted to putting the two together? Yeah, it's natural for us to flock to those who are most similar. But you don't need me to tell you that the Christian life consists largely of overcoming what is natural with what is right.

dj2up10 said...

I have been following the sermon series and you are correct-I admittedly have been slower to download this one.

I've been loving the series because of our church situation and questioning our future there: they're moving towards electing "elder couples" and other things related to Titus that my wife and I have been studying non stop.

A great thing about that church, however, is the diversity of young married couples with kids.

Why is that worth noting? Well, in our city many of the churches are known for being one demographic- hip educated singles or predominantly one ethnicity and so on. So to have young married couples with a diversity in socioeconomic back grounds or varied ethnicities was a great thing.

However, we NEED middle aged believers and grey hairs but there just aren't many around.

So I hesitated to download despite that issue being as important to have a firm grasp on. I'll get on it!!

DJP said...

Excellent comments, all. Thank you. Keep it up.

Marla said...

This is something that is so important -- a church that has a good quantity of 'senior saints'. The church I am a member of now has many 'older' Christians, and they are such an encouragement to the younger members, as well as a good example to keep going.

I have been in several 'church-growth' minded churches -- the last one pretty much drove out all the older members ala Doug Hibbard's post. What a waste! So many of our senior members can pass on wisdom and counsel learned from their many years of walking with the Lord. They are truly a blessing -- and I'm thankful there are so many at my church!

Newer isn't (necessarily) better. This reminds me of Frank's earlier post this week -- look in the mirror, people. Wrinkles and age are not that far behind you.

Tim said...

This brought a :-) to me.

"How can you have elders who aren't even eld?"

Solameanie said...

I wrote a really good, heartfelt comment on this excellent post, and when I hit "post, stupid Blogger made me type in my password when I hadn't signed out, wouldn't accept my password, so I had to reset the whole shaboo with a new password, and then I find it wiped my comment out.

Now I'm too mad to rewrite it. I'll cool down and be back later. In the meantime, Dan, wonderful post. Seriously.

DJP said...

Oh dear, sorry. We'll all look forward to what you have to say, you know, after.

rfb said...

In the past (The past is another country; they do things differently there.) many churches had church yards. When one came to church on Sunday it was always evident that the pew you were in was on-loan; there is wisdom in the house of mourning. The church both militant and triumphant was on display for those with eyes to see, and the church yard evinced some of the great cloud of witnesses.

Like I said, that was another country. We now seem to be consumed with programs, and the common wisdom is that "my people are destroyed by lack of potlucks".

Aaron Snell said...

In addition to Doug's list, I'd like to add what I think has probably been the most-often used method of presbuter-purging is a hard shift to exclusively contemporary rock band style praise music. This happened at my former church (though before I got there) - the pastor, enamored with church growth philosophy, decided to switch to exclusively modern rock praise music, totally foregoing the use of hymns, and if the older people - founding members of the church - didn't like it, they could leave. Which they did.

Dan, this is a biblical drum we need to beat more often and more loudly. Thank you, and keep it up, brother.

Peter said...

Slightly different take on this one.

Am commenting from Australia where we seem to have this obsession with the older/retired folk spending their twilight years travelling around the country for months at a time with their camper-vans (the "grey nomads"). The weather is good and there is a lot of beautiful country to see, fish to catch, beaches to walk along etc etc. - you get the picture. This is seen as a well-deserved and legitimate way to enjoy the fruits of your labour and your freedom from family responsibilities.

I have heard very little preaching/teaching that exhorts older folk to use their years of retirement to invest in their local church. It seems to me that retirement offers the best opportunity for people to make a real difference for the Lord in their local church - they have time, talent, wisdom and experience.

DJP said...

Good point, Peter. I go there some, plan to do some more this Sunday.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Since someone asked (sorry yesterday was jam-packed with meetings for me), the particular CEO in question decided to go Full PoMo, at least in style but to some extent in doctrine as well. He said that doctrine doesn't matter, made the interior of the church look like a gothic mosh pit, never allows hymns, installed a couple of Pomo youth leaders with stylish hair, etc. Please note, this church was a pretty youthful demographic to begin with, but not youthful enough apparently!
I can't imagine this is what God has in mind for a well-functioning church body. The emphasis on de-emphasizing doctrine was the thing that truly was troubling, especially since it was done very much on the sly until the people who would oppose it had trickled away sufficiently.

DJP said...

That whole issue is exactly what I attempt to tackle Biblically in the sermon.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I wonder where the breakdown of respect for the elderly began. Based on what some have shared here, it reflects my own experiences. Have they disengaged themselves because no one would listen to them, or have they neglected their responsibilities and made themselves a non-entity? I ask the questions more to find out if it can be reversed. In my more recent experiences in our church of the past 6 years, there has been a lack of hospitality on the part of the elders and the elderly in our church. Sure, they get together to do senior functions and have a robust time, but I can count on one hand the number of homes into which me and my family have been invited for a meal and opportunity to break down social barriers. Some of us young and restless kids really want to learn from those experienced saints, but they seem rather in-accessible and UN-interested.

DJP said...

Good thoughts, Merrilee, I appreciate that. I'll try to work it in this Sunday as I close the loop.

What I see in this section (among other things) is that older men are urged to be exemplary and show love (2:2), older women are urged to school younger women (2:3-4), young men are urged to be level-headed and follow Titus' (middle-aged?) example. Each is referred, in a way, to the other. Neither has the luxury of overlooking the other.

But I guess if this had been really important, the YRR sites would have joined in.

Kerry James Allen said...

I must be old. I thought DJP meant the late Baptist pastor W.A. Criswell at first glance when he mentioned the amazing Criswell. Sigh.

Kadje said...

Thank you for both of the last Titus sermons (today's and last week's). I listened to the first one yesterday after reading this post and was hoping you'd get the follow-up onto SermonAudio quickly! So much truth, you've shared. I am dealing with a difficult issue in my life and have a new perspective on it, thanks to these sermons. They are an answer to prayer.

DJP said...

I'm so grateful to hear that. Thanks, Kadje.

Robert said...


I'll encourage you the same way that I try to encourage myself and my wife. We have to keep putting ourselves out there and keep in mind that we are to put others before ourselves. And the hope is that when somebody sees us extending ourselves out of our "confort zone", they might be a bit more willing to meet you somewhere in between. Maybe in due time, that point will actually be halfway or even closer. Either way, our Lord sees and so long as our motive is to love others out of love for Him, we can find our reward in that.

Now, I'll say that I'm not as good at hearing or heeding this message as I should be, but I keep saying it in hopes that is has some effect.

Solameanie said...

Well, my attempt at reconstructing my previous comment isn't as good as the original that got wiped out, so I'll just generalize.

I think Dan, you've hit the nail on the head in more ways than one. We talk often about Christian unity, and yet find so many ways to divide up the body of Christ into marketing units.

Beyond that, the past several years spent being a caregiver for my late stepfather and now my mother (near 90) has given me a renewed appreciation for the "hoary head" as the KJV puts it. It's by no means easy, but despite the challenges, I wouldn't have it any other way. Mom is at home with me, and neighbors are kind to look after her when I have to be away at my office. My office is also kind to allow me to work at home when need be. I know that nursing homes are sometimes unavoidable for some due to severe medical issues where home care is impossible. But having done quite a lot of visiting at nursing homes grieves my heart for the way the elderly are often shunted aside into these places, and then forgotten. The best of the nursing homes have caring staff that try their best, and other homes ought to be shut down.

The elderly at my church (and I teach a Sunday school class where most are a good 15 to 20 years older than me) are loved and appreciated, although we do have split services - traditional and contemporary. If I had my druthers, we'd all be together. Small groups too.

I'm glad you aired this issue, Dan..very glad. I just wish I could have posted what I had written earlier as it was a bit more connected and passionate. ;)