By Justin McLendon, PhD
College of Theology
April 05, 2018
Pastors and ministry leaders often struggle over diversity issues in their churches. Books, seminars, conferences and popular podcasts compel us to think through the deep implications of diversity for the health and vibrancy of the local church. From my perspective, while these conversations are necessary and helpful, they are often too one-sided when addressing the diversity we all desire in our churches.
A few years ago, I sat in a discussion group of local pastors in St. Louis, Missouri. The group consisted of ministers who served around the region from various denominations, races and ages. Our topic was simple: How can we strategize and intentionally create more opportunities for greater diversity in our churches? It was a fruitful discussion and one offering solid, gospel-saturated solutions. We encouraged one another and spent most of our time in prayer for our families and churches.
Since that discussion, I’ve had several other talks with local pastors asking the same questions. Throughout all of these talks I’ve noticed that most of the time when pastors discuss diversity, it’s mainly in reference to race or ethnicity. For instance, pastors of predominantly white churches seek solutions and/or strategies to attract people from various racial and/or ethnic groups, especially when the neighborhood surrounding the church shares the diversity the pastor desires.
These are great conversations and I pray for the successes of the work so many pastors are doing in these areas. But are we too short-sighted in our desires for ecclesial diversity? Yes, we are. I’m not suggesting that racial and ethnic diversity should be ignored; in fact, I think it’s a crucial subject for contemporary ministry, but I am concerned that too often we have failed to pursue a more robust goal that includes other biblical models of ecclesial diversity.
Recently, a friend texted me a picture he took of a church flier he received in the mail. The church was new and sought to publicize helpful information about the church’s services and beliefs. What struck me about the flier was the stated focus of the church. In big, bold letters the church advertised itself as a church for “young, professional adults in their twenties.” Nothing was mentioned of any other age group, so I am unsure if anyone outside of their targeted audience attends or is involved in their fellowship. While I hesitate to be too critical of this church without knowing more, I do believe this approach is not helpful theologically or practically and it seems to be just the opposite of what Paul urges for Titus.
Paul’s instruction to Titus clearly reveals his desire for the church to flourish through the presence and ministry service of a multigenerational church. Paul desired for Titus to embrace the diversity of ages in his church because each age group is dependent upon the testimony and service of other groups.
Older men, for example, are to demonstrate lives of obvious sanctification. Godly men are to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). Interestingly, this statement follows Paul’s admonition for Titus to preach sound doctrine. Why would Paul discuss doctrine and then immediately discuss behavior and interpersonal relationships? It seems clear that Paul is concerned with the proclamation of truthful doctrine over and against error and he’s decidedly for the teaching and sharing of these truths across the spectrum of ages within the gathered body. Regardless of one’s age, all believers share in the responsibility of preserving the faith and passing it on to the following generation.
Thus, a healthy church will consist of a variety of ages, all committed to fulfilling their responsibilities of congregational discipleship. In reality, what the youth group in your church needs most may not be more youth, but more godly older saints who know the Scriptures, are committed to the vibrancy and health of the church and are concerned with the spiritual nourishment of the youth group. Likewise, older saints should never think his or her ministry opportunities are complete due to older age. Rather, senior saints should find strategic ways to shepherd the younger generations with the life-long lessons of faith embedded in those years of following Christ.
There’s a reason I tell my college students to seek to find a church that has a variety of ages present and why I also tell my students to pray for more age diversity if it doesn’t exist in their church family. We need believers of every age for congregational discipleship and growth. While we pursue strategies of increasing diversity in our churches, let’s be careful to include within this conversation the biblical rationale for age diversity. The health and vitality of our churches depends on it!