Peter Bjorn and John. Many are familiar with this popular indie pop trio from Sweden and for those who haven’t I recommend listening to the song Young Folks before reading this post. Chances are nearly everyone has heard Young Folks whether on the radio or in a tv show or commercial. This post is not about indie music and a catchy song that features some addictive whistling. This post is about a concept that arises in the song Young Folks that is an issue not only in our churches today, but in our Western culture.
The refrain in the song begins with a couple lines: “And we don’t care about the young folks… talking bout the young style, And we don’t care about the old folks… talking but the old style too… (catchy whistling).”
Though, not a perfect parallel perhaps to the topic, it does reveal the issue in both our culture and many of our churches today. In generations past it has been the tradition of older folks passing down knowledge, wisdom, and skills to younger folks. This has gone on for a long time and likely exists in many cultures, not simply Western culture which is being discussed here. It could be something as simple as teaching a guy how to change oil on a car or teaching a girl how to cook or vice versa. Much history, experience, and training was received in the past outside of school. This is not to discredit schooling, for it is clear that the classical education was far superior to the current system in the United States. There has been a tradition of old folks passing on varieties of knowledge to young folks, however, much of that it would seem doesn’t occur as much today.
Young people are treated not as young men and women who are learning about life, but as children who are too far removed from the age of older generations. As a result of this older generations aren’t communicating as much as they used to to younger generations, especially those under 30 somethings. On the other hand, younger generations are increasingly arrogant and rebellious. Younger folks perceive older generations as knowledgable, but that their knowledge is dated and irrelevant to the modern world. Older folks don’t typically respect any knowledge younger people have simply on the basis that they are a different age and haven’t had the same experiences in life that they have had.
There is a disconnect, it seems between knowledge from experience and knowledge that is learned through education. The issue is that one receives more respect for a job interview while the other receives more respect from people. However, we aren’t specifically talking about education here, but simply life. The fact that many people are younger in and of itself seems to push older folks away and vice versa. This exists in our culture and is evident in the fact that when people get older they are increasingly pushed into retirement homes where people who don’t know them care for them until they die with an occasional visit from family. In some cultures in history, it used to be that the parents raise the children and when the parents get too old the children care for the parents. Our culture today is quite different.
This is the case within churches as well. Most churches have little ‘age clicks’ in the sanctuary where you can separate everyone by age based on where they are sitting. The youth are all sitting together typically, the middle-aged are spread out, and the old folks are typically sitting in the same area or an area away from the youth. Youth groups have their own activities within the church separate from the happenings of the larger church. The idea is that youth will simply filter into the larger church setting after youth group, however, the problem is that many youth are leaving church after youth group and/or high school. This isn’t simply a matter of going to college, but a matter of not going to church whether at their home church or where they attend college. Another problem of equal proportion is that the older folks in the congregation are doing nothing about this rising problem with youth leaving church after youth group years.
Some youth are so disconnected and frustrated with the disconnect with older generations of the church who do not listen to them or desire to fashion services around both older and younger people that many young people today are leaving traditional churches. Typically, these post-youth are attracted to Emergent churches or something that is similar because they desire something relevant, real, authentic, personal, and a place where they are accepted for who they are. Part of this could be a whole different issue of attractional modern forms of corporate worship, but another part of this is that many in the church have to start a new church or find a different church because many more mature Christians are expecting those young in the faith or perhaps not necessarily young in the faith but simply young, to look, act, and behave just like them.
There are a lot of frustrated, angry, and confused young folks in churches today who need the guidance and discipling of the older folks. The young folks say things and do things that say they do not want any help or involvement in their personal lives. However, many younger folks long for this mentor/disciple relationship and if they don’t chances are they are too stubborn, rebellious, or ignorant to realize their own need. Older folks to occasionally talk to youth on Sunday morning, but what about after they’ve had a hard test on Tuesday? What about when they lost the biggest game of their life? What about if they are dating someone and are considering premarital sex? What about simply calling up a younger person in the church to have them over for dinner or meeting at a public place to talk? Some people give the excuse that young people want to hangout with young people, so they can do their thing and we’ll do ours. That is a big problem because we are not simply living normal lives in a normal world now, are we?
We are sons and daughters of the living God and as the people of God we are called to live lives that are not fashioned out of this kingdom, but that Kingdom which is both present and future – The Kingdom of God. We are called to be a community and live in community, or in fellowship with one another as we are called to a life of fellowship with God. Our lives are to be marked with participation with other Christians both young and old for our own edification, the edification of others, and to live in an actively loving community of believers where discipleship is taking place. We are called to participate in the lives of one another as we are called to participate in God. As the Church we are called to live in community and despite the separate and segregated lives that the independent Western world boasts, we are called to a higher task of living as the people of God within this present darkness of the kingdom of man awaiting the fullness with eager longing of the Kingdom of God which has already broken into this world.
The song says to not care about the young or to not care about the old. Both have been neglected in one way or another in this world, but as Christians we are called to live by faith in Jesus Christ and to live as imitators of him which means we do care deeply about the young folks and the old. We are a community of faith and we do indeed believe in the great points of our historic, true faith. However, we are to be known not for separating from others, disunity, bitterness towards those who are different, intolerant, apathetic, and segregationists. We are to be known for loving this world as we have been shown to love by our Lord. We are to be known for showing grace and mercy to this world which does not know it because we have been shown grace by God. We are to be known for so much more than disunity and bitterness which exists in many churches today as a result of young and old folks not getting along.
We are to be known for speaking truth in love while giving a testimony to the grace given us in Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and not merely in word alone, but we are called to live Gospel-centered lives in which all we say and do is infected with the aroma of Christ. May God be with us all and give us all the strength by his Spirit and the boldness to live Gospel-centered lives in the midst of this broken and fallen world. Amen.