Undoubtedly though there is a stigma against some of these songs and even the preachers of yesteryear. It's become a war of cultures and styles. Instead of harmoniously worshiping and striving together, many churches and people require an either / or approach. Many times this is done in the name of reaching a new generation. That generation is my generation and the one below me. No doubt, my generation and the one after me needs to be reached. If statistics are even remotely correct, they are scary. Only 4% to 7% of my generation are actively involved in a church. Less than that are involved from the generation behind me. This is the future of the church we're talking about. Without these generations, there will be no church. So reaching them and doing whatever it takes short of sin and compromise has to be a must. Having said that, we can't sacrifice the older generation, our heritage, and foundations for the sake of reaching a new generation. In fact, reaching a new generation without the foundation of an older generation spells disaster. In Exodus, we see what happened to Israel when there arose a Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph. In Judges 1, we see the results of a generation rising up in Israel that knew nothing of the wonders God performed in the wilderness among their forefathers. And in America today, we see the results of a generation leading the way who knows little to nothing about our Christian heritage as a nation and what the Word of God says and doesn't say. In fact, it's Paul that encouraged Timothy to blend the old and the young for the purpose of discipleship and growth.
As I attended the services this week, a troubling thought penetrated my mindset and it won't leave me alone. As I looked out each night, we hardly had anyone come under the age of 45 to these services. For my church people who were able to come and didn't, I'm extremely disappointed in you. I was embarrassed to have these great men of God which totaled approximately 200 years of faithful Christian service come and preach to a half empty sanctuary. Forget styles and schedules for a moment. They deserve our respect. Before we find our excuses of why we couldn't come, I have to say that people find time to do whatever they want to do. Being too tired from work usually doesn't result in telling your children that they aren't going to their ball game during the week, but it happens when talking about church. Don't get me wrong, there are real legitimate reasons why some people didn't attend the Legacy Campmeeting, but many chose not to come at all including on Sunday night when there were no ball games, etc. for reasons that will never make sense to me.
We have a heart problem. We can't hope to build a great church in our community, region, state, or nation if we choose not to respect and honor our heritage and those who paved the way for us today. We can't hope to make an impact if we've made ourselves to be so busy that we can't give God a couple of hours of our time to be in His house to honor His men and to be blessed by their wisdom and anointing. You see I looked out among the congregation and saw the same individuals who come to Kids Krusades, prayer meetings, sings, dinners (and usually work the kitchen at these events), VBS's, and community events. Ironically with all the push for my generation and the one after me being the future of the church, it's the older generation that is still holding high the standards, visions, and plans of the church. While many churches can't get families to bring their children to a kids' event, an older generation comes and volunteers having no children or sometimes even grandchildren in the age group the activity represents. And for the most part they do it without complaining. Oh sure, there are those individuals who are so stuck on yesteryear that they attack every new song, new style, new activity, and new way that doesn't line up perfectly with their line of thinking. And for every older individual you can find that behaves that way, I can find you one, if not more than one, in my generation or below that has the same mentality about other things. You see, it is this heart problem that causes the divide. It's those who claim the infallibility of the scriptures the loudest that completely disregard Paul's call to the Galatians that we are to strive for unity instead of criticism, judgment, and partiality. It's those who scream the loudest about taking God out of America that do their part in furthering the secular agenda by refusing to get involved in their local church and become active supporters of Christian ministry outside their own household.
See I've really grown tired, especially after this week, of hearing how the older generation had their day and it's time for a new generation. You see I can't speak for every church, but as for our church, if our older generation decided to quit attending, quit giving, and quit supporting the church activities, we'd have to close the doors. In my church of 150 regular and semi-regular attendees, our older generation (55+) accounts for a little more than 2/3 of the giving and half if not more of the volunteering. Meanwhile able bodied younger families are hit and miss based on the weather, the recreation department, the holiday (Cupcake Day? Come on!), job, school, or whatever. In church demographics across the board, the "church hoppers" tend to be my generation whereas the older generation typically puts down roots come hell or high water. It's my generation that leaves churches when they don't get their way and they'll "shop" for a new one. Meanwhile an older generation buckles in and rides out the storm and seeks the mature pathway. Forgive my blanket characterization because I realize this is not true across the board. There are exceptions and I've met many of them and have had, and do have many in my church. But any student of church history and present day culture and generations will agree, times have created a different mentality about church, God, and country.
I experienced something I would say was completely unforeseen and tragic in its own right earlier this year. In February, I lost my Papa as he passed away and went home to see Jesus. I remember going home and seeing him just last Christmas just about 6 weeks before he would pass away, and he asked me the question he would always ask, "Skeet, how's the church doing?" I'd give him the reports and talk about the way God had blessed us and he'd smile really big and tell me how proud he was of me. My parents would tell me how he would ask about me and the church on a regular basis. He mentioned to me several times that if his health wasn't what it was and my church was somehow closer, he'd love to come and visit and here me preach. See he liked my church without ever having attended it, partly, if not majorly, because the church was pastored by his grandson. The other part was that he seemed to really enjoy hearing about all that God was doing as it reminded him of some times gone by. Maybe it's driving around like I do in his old truck, the same truck I sat in as a kid when we'd go to the grocery store when spending the night with him. Maybe it's sentiment as I look at my pictures of me and him in my office. Whatever it is, I've thought especially this week on whether my Papa would merely like my church if he attended on a regular basis, or if he would enjoy it. See there's a difference. There are things I like and then there are things I enjoy. I like watching sports, but I enjoy watching the Braves. I like chicken strips, but I really enjoy Zaxby's. So the question, is my church set up in such a way that my Papa would enjoy it and feel he had a place in it? That's a tough question. The answer to that question obviously doesn't apply to my Papa today because he's in the presence of Jesus, but it does apply to those who are around his age.
I watched this week as an older generation lit up with excitement and enthusiasm as we sang those old songs that reminded them of when they were saved or when God performed a miracle in their lives. I watched those retired pastors preach with everything in them to a half empty church but they preached like it would be their last sermon. They were on fire and excited. Bro. Carlton Ring put off heart surgery at his own doctor's warnings just so he could come preach and somebody somewhere had better things to do . . . We're believing for his complete healing by the way! Bro. Lowell Smith had a medical test scheduled the morning after he preached on Monday and he came ready and excited to be preaching for the first time in months if not longer. I saw tears in his eyes several times over the week as he thanked me for letting him come and preach and enjoy the music. Bro. Jesse Ogden almost died earlier this year with his own heart problem and yet he came at a moment's notice and preached a Word that everyone, young and old, needed to hear. I received a word I desperately needed. He drove an hour and a half one way on 4 days' notice for the opportunity to preach. Bro. Sam Creamer stopped his message twice to thank me for letting him preach one more time amidst tears. Thousands will line up to be at Turner Field at the end of this season to send off Chipper Jones, one of the greatest third basement and switch hitters to ever play the game, and I hope to be one of them. But only a small few came to send off a mighty man of God as he quiet possibly officially closed his preaching ministry. Somewhere our priorities are out of place.
I'm left filled to the overflowing with joy unspeakable from this past week. God showed me so much and obviously gave me a word that I'll never forget. I'll never forget the excitement and the heartfelt gratitude I experienced from these men of God who were given an opportunity to proclaim the Word of God from the pulpit. The Bible says to give honor to whom honor is due. These men deserve double honor as do the older generations in our churches. If not for them, there would be no churches for a younger generation to complain about, make empty promises to, and stay home from. In fact without this older generation, many of us wouldn't even be saved for they were and still are in some cases, the Sunday School teachers, Children's workers, and prayer warriors who bombarded hell until our souls were saved.
I'll never forget this week and the things I've seen. One thing's for sure, our church will be making some changes. I've always thought of my ministry as being one that could reach across generational lines. I've always done my best respect my heritage and those who have gone before me. I believe our church has sought to do that as well on a small scale. However, we're going to be ramping that up to a large scale focus from this point forward. We won't stop our pursuit of the younger generations. We can't. Our future depends on it. But we will work extremely hard to make sure our pursuit of the younger generations doesn't take place at the expense of the older generations who basically support, attend, fund, and prayerfully and faithfully commit to the future of the local church.