Been having a few discussions about healthy assemblies, so I thought it would be a good idea to capture some thoughts. Depending on your denomination, the group of Christians that form a local body might go by a few different names – the Church, the body of Christ, the local assembly, the brethren. My family and I have attended countless denominations over the years, so I’m not writing to split hairs over which is right. Yes, I’ve gone through several studies of the greek word – ekklésia. For the purpose of this post, I will use the names interchangeably.
Anyway, the point of this post is to discuss the health of your assembly. How do you know if your congregation is new, growing, stable, declining, or even dead? If you are visiting a church or looking for a new place to join in fellowship, one tell-tale sign is to observe the spread of generations represented. Now, I’m not talking about “age diversity” like it’s some goal to manufacture artificially.
What I’m referring to is whether you have large clusters of certain generations. Does your assembly look like an old folks’ home? Are your pews filled with mostly young couples or singles without any children? Do you appear to cater to families with mostly toddlers? I’ve even seen some mega-churches purposefully divide their congregations into these groups. The older, ‘traditional’ worship crowd may meet at 8:30 am while the ‘modern’, younger Christians meet at 11.
So why even bring up age or generations? What does that have to do with a healthy church? Everything. Look at Paul’s letter to Titus.
Qualities of a Sound Church
2 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
6 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
(The bold emphasis was obviously added by me.) Look at what Paul is describing. The church is all about the older generations teaching, admonishing, and living out “a pattern of good works” to become examples for younger generations to follow. The younger generations, in turn, should revere and learn from the older, wiser generations.
Think about how our society behaves today. How often do you hear the young praise the wisdom of elders? Are you more likely to see the young dismiss, disrespect, and mock their elders? How often do you see older generations complain about how spoiled and entitled millennials are? (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this.) By contrast, when was the last time you heard a parent or elderly person tell the younger “Follow me, as I follow Christ.“? How many of these older generations can claim they are living examples of “integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech” — in other words, that they live out lives worthy of reverence?
There’s a blatant lie that the secular world has come to embrace, and it has even permeated the Church. It’s the idolatry of ME and ME TIME. There’s a notion that we work hard for some 30-50 years of our lives and when we get to a certain age, it’s time to coast and enjoy the fruits of our labor. No more kids to worry about or responsibilities other than fulfilling our own desires. We save up for retirement and when we get there, it’s endless days of golfing, mimosas, and gossiping at the Club. That or popping E.D. pills to bathe outside in a tub on a hill (not sure why these always seem to be together).
If this is what I’m working toward, someone please kill me now and put me out of my misery.
At the fall of man, Genesis 3:17-19, God does not tell Adam that he only works until he grows old. The curse to labor is for “all the days of your life” and “till you return to the ground“. Now, as we age, we might not be able to do the same job or physical/mental labor that we had done in our youth. But clearly, Paul instructs the older men and women to actively participate, even LEAD, in the matters of the church. Think about how perfectly planned this is. When you are young, you almost never had enough time or energy. When you are older and wiser, you now have ample time to share your experience and wisdom.
There’s something beautiful about a local assembly of Christians where the older, experienced ladies are helping young ladies, new mothers, or even struggling single mothers “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, [and] obedient to their own husbands”. Likewise, when older men are preaching the Word, discipling the younger men to someday take up the roles of leadership in the home and the assembly, this is God’s design for how to build the Church.
To be sure, these principals of building the Church begin in the home. Husbands and Wives have their own responsibilities for raising up godly children, teaching them the Bible, and earning the respect of their young ones. The Church has a function to support and encourage Men and Women in their homes. It can never replace a Mothers’ and Fathers’ responsibilities.
For decades, one alarming by-product of ignoring God’s design for building healthy homes and churches I’ve watched is the fallout rate. Many churches have children that have grown up in the same assembly for most of their lives. And yet, when they reach adulthood, not only do these children never return to the assembly of their youth, but they stop attending a church altogether.
It’s amazing to me when local assemblies dedicate so much effort for preaching the gospel all over the world to complete strangers when we are failing to make disciples of Christ in our own homes. What better opportunity for fertile soil will you have in your lifetime than to plant the seeds of faith in your own children? Now I’m not saying missionary work isn’t important or Biblical. Even Christ said “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”
Still, the truth is that the health of our local assemblies hinges greatly on whether we are following God’s design rather than the latest marketing trend report. The work of the body of Christ never ends, as even the Lord said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” – John 9:4. Each part of the body has a critical role to play in order to build and maintain a healthy, thriving church. Let us focus on our calling, in our given season of life, to serve one another for His glory.