The Church and the Cult of Youth

Do churches need to repent of worshipping youth while ignoring the elderly?

There is nothing wrong with young people in our churches, and even young church leaders and so on. However, Western culture has become a cult of youth, with older folks sidelined, ignored and even denigrated. That the secular world does this is not surprising. But that too often the church can do the same is. And it is not just surprising, it is wrong.

Sure, we often read about godly youth in Scripture. Some of the great champs in the faith started out quite young, whether Samuel or David or Mary or Timothy. And Paul could say of that last person, “let no one despise your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12)

But Paul could also say that we should “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Timothy 5:22 KJV). The understanding here is that young converts should not necessarily be pushed into positions of church leadership too quickly. In other words, there is a real place for experience, wisdom and maturity.

Indeed, Paul here and elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles speaks much of elders. The word means what it says. We get more of this in places like 1 Timothy 3:6 where Paul says an overseer “must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”

Again, balance is needed here. For example, we read encouraging passages such as Acts 2:17-18 which says:

And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

This is a quote from Joel 2:28-29

And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

And we also have church history on our side here, as we read about how young children have often played key roles in past revivals. So we are not for a moment saying there is no place for the young in the work of the ministry and the building of the Kingdom.

As Leonard Ravenhill once put it, “Maturity comes from obedience, not necessarily from age.” That being said, there is still a vital place for experience and wisdom which usually develops over time. And again, the word ‘elder’ does mean what it implies – those who are older.

I say all this because of a recent article penned by Australian Christian leader Col Stringer. Someone had sent it to me and I thought I might share it here. In part it reflects what I have heard from other older Christian leaders: they complain that so much emphasis is put on the young, that they are being pushed to the sidelines, with all their decades of experience, wisdom and learning basically being lost. I too have gone through this.

So this is what he said in a May 8 newsletter to his supporters (with a few typos fixed up). He titled it, “The Peter Pan Syndrome That Dishonours Our Fathers and Mothers Of The Faith”. He writes:

Many of our youth are out of control – period! They virtually not only rule this country – but seemingly the church too! And while I love the next generation (they are our future), the church can’t live by their motto – if you ain’t young and beautiful you’re obsolete! I just gotta have my say about this dishonourable, unscriptural phenomenon in the church.


The ‘Peter Pan’ Syndrome In Australian Churches


A few of my friends in ministry have been gutted, of late. They have been told, in some cases by the heads of their groups (or denominations) that they were passed their ‘use by’ dates. My friend was totally devastated when told he was ‘too old’ and needed to resign and hand his church over to a younger man. It makes little difference that some of these younger men were untried novices and the Bible clearly states that we are not to promote a novice. “An elder (or pastor) must not be a new Christian, because he might be proud of being chosen so soon, and the Devil will use that pride to make him fall.” (1 Tim.3:6 NLT).


The way my friend was so shabbily treated really has ticked me off. I would love to cite some of the individual cases and the shocking way that these senior pastors have been treated. But I can’t, not without identifying them and I don’t have their permission to do that. Some of the things said to them included; “move over old man and make way for us younger generation”, “only this generation can reach this generation” and other equally stupid statements. Who needs the devil when we have ministers doing his work for him!


Yes, sadly the ‘Peter Pan’ (the name given by Lester Sumrall’s son) syndrome is alive and well amongst the Australian churches. I know pastors who refuse to have anyone in their pulpits that is older than 40 years of age. Some churches don’t even want members in their church over that age! Imagine if such were the case in the world, would they fire Rupert Murdoch? And in ministry there would simply be no place for such spiritual giants as Smith Wigglesworth!


Smith Wigglesworth – A Contrast To Some Modern Preachers


Actually Wigglesworth’s life and ministry stands in stark contrast to some modern preachers; with his faith in the infallibility of the Bible and particularly in the light of the current ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’. ‘The Apostle of Faith’ was not greatly used by the Lord until he was well into his 50s. And he was still ministering powerfully, well into his 80s!


Here is what George Stormont (one of Wigglesworth’s close friends and preaching colleagues) had to say on the subject. “One of the most subtle and effective devices of the Devil has been to tell us older people that we have passed our prime and cannot be of any use to God or man. This is a lie from the pit of hell. Smith Wigglesworth was able to minister in the power of God well into his eighties because he knew God and loved Jesus and I believe with all my heart that God is calling the mature saints, with the young people, to come together to a place where Jesus will be supreme……Old age is man’s invention, God’s idea is maturity.” (The Stormont Lectures on Smith Wigglesworth).


May I ask whatever happened to honour? The Bible says in Ephesians 6:2: “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” NKJV.


I think because we have such a lack of honour for the family in this country, the same spirit carries over into the church. Derogatory terms like ‘the old man’ for the father, and the ‘old woman’ for the mother are common. Yet the Bible is plain on the subject, if you want to be around for any length of time, you had better honour Mum and Dad. Now that would have to carry over into the spiritual realm as well. (First the natural and then the spiritual). “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterwards the spiritual.” (1 Cor 15:46 NKJV).


It would be nice to think that ‘common’ sense will prevail in the end, but unfortunately common sense is not all that common! Here are a few facts to contemplate:


* Jesus never commenced his ministry until he was 30 years of age, the Jews considered that to be the age when men gained maturity. And what of Moses, Abraham, Joshua and Paul, they would be ‘over the hill’ according to the ‘Peter Pan’ pundits!

* The church reflects the community – when did youth become the sole representatives of the community or the family?

* The simple fact that it is totally illegal to discriminate on the basis of age or sex seems to make little difference to some of the church hierarchy.


My advice to my ‘old friends’? (one of whom was still in his forties). Tell the people that want you to roll over and play dead what they can do! If it was God who called you pastor where you are, then it should be God ONLY, who calls you out of that place!


There, I have my say! Blessings to you

Now I am aware that for me at least, this could be just a case of being a grumpy old man. I know I need to watch out for any bitterness and the like that I might have about this sort of situation. But I believe what Col says is basically right. There is no question that our surrounding culture is utterly fixated on youth. And sadly far too many of our churches are as well. This ought not to be.

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11 Replies to “The Church and the Cult of Youth”

  1. I agree that the wisdom of age needs to be recognised, but I’m not sure that society is fixated on youth. There aren’t many political or business leaders under 40, or even under 50. Many of today’s youth seem to think that the reverse is true, that older generations have it all and it’s the young who are at a disadvantage, e.g, “Hey, Boomer”.

    My church has a different age problem. Our pastor is 70 and would like to retire but we are struggling to find a replacement. Most of the congregation look over 60, young people are rarely seen, and finances are precarious. My own children and grandchildren have abandoned the faith and they think belief in an afterlife is a delusion of the old. I have Anglican and Catholic friends who tell me similar stories about ageing flocks. I have a feeling that Christianity is dying, at least in the West.

  2. Thanks Robert. One simply has to look at any aspect of American and Western culture – be it film or music or television or the media or entertainment or advertising, as well as in so many Christian circles – to see the cult of youth on full display. But yes, in the West much of the church is not in very good condition. But thankfully it is growing by leaps and bounds in the developing world.

  3. This has been going on in American churches for over 30 years. Churches began using the Peter Drucker business model to build mega churches and pastors lapped it up. Rick Warren counts the man as his mentor. It has been disastrous to the Church. I have heard the same stories. In my last full-time position, a faction rose up to bring in the praise bands and I was told “God is doing a new thing.” The traditional worship services were considered “old” and needed to be moved out of the way. I’ve also seen the blank look on pastor’s faces who become solely concerned with “nickels and noses.” The millenials were the first generation to have spawned from that movement and it continues. I said then that is was going to be a disaster and it sadly has been. Young people are Biblically illiterate and are now trying to fill the hole in their souls with every demonic thing they can grab included the alphabet letters.

  4. I doubt if most of the younger generation has even heard of Moses, Abraham, Joshua or many of the older prophets. The OT is so seldom mentioned in many churches today.

  5. Thanks Bill.
    In your citations from Scripture you forgot to mention 1 Kings 12:1-19, where king Rehoboam, in an effort to consolidate his rule over the northern tribes, forsook the counsel of the old men, and instead listened to and followed the “get tough” advice of the young men. As a result he lost the great empire he had inherited from David and Solomon, lost the northern tribes, and was left with a rump: the tribe of Judah.
    And what did these young upstarts have to offer? Basically the paganism which had come in during the latter years of Solomon’s reign. Add to this that Rehoboam’s own mother was an Ammonitess (1 Kings 14:22), and her influence in the palace, and over the heir apparent, would have been considerable.
    The whole episode stands as a warning that we forsake the wisdom of years at our own peril, and that of the church more broadly. “Youthism” with all its ideas from the surrounding culture has not always been a blessing to the church; more often that not a curse.

  6. Dear Bill, Thank you for the article. Apparently the traditional Latin Mass movement of the Roman Catholic church is thriving with young families and young people making up a large part of the congregations.I can relate to its popularity as it was the mystery of the liturgy which drew me to it at the age of 18 years in the fifties before Vatican 2. I did eventually get used to the Novus Ordo Mass as long as it wasn’t too outlandish and still attend it mostly but never really lost my love of the Old Latin Mass. Yet Pope Francis has put restrictions on it when it is positively thriving and when the Novus Ordo Mass is clearly not keeping the young. This is very hard to understand but then one has to wonder about Pope Francis considering some of the things he says and does.

  7. I will say Robert that some denominations do seem older then others so it may just depend on the denomination even then some churches are older than others too so it could depend on the church. As a yank I don’t know a whole lot about Australia, aside from misinformation from a Simpson’s episode (cool flag in it), but in the States the youth movement secularly has been going on at least since the roaring 20’s if not as far back as the gay 90’s. It infected the church in the 60’s-70’s but really found it greatest legs from the middle 90’s on. Each year the youth power grows stronger. Yes the older adults are often still pulling the levers of power but who are they pulling them for?? The polling is always about the wants of the young people the target demographic is the young, who do politicians pander too?? The young. Yes a 50, 60 or 70 year old may lead a country but it’s the youth who tell him HOW to lead.

    Also young people use “ok boomer” as an insult to people giving sage advice especially older people simply because they believe THEY know better and THEIR ways are NEW and new is better than old. The problem in America has been public (free) education. Long ago infiltrated by Marxists it teaches children how great they are how bad parents are how God is a myth only stupid old people believe and you can only really trust the teachers. After 3 generations of this it is little wonder that we are where we are in America. God has sent smaller judgments on America for 120-150 years and NOT ONCE did the church PROPERLY react! Even after 9/11 too many churches acted as therapists holding hands saying they’re there, they’re there, and watching the collection plates OVERFLOW than tell her the truth. Don’t get me wrong SOME did tell the truth but far too many were enticed by the idea of large amounts of mammon coming in to their coffers to be worried about fidelity to the truth.

    Judas sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver. I don’t think the modern church’s price was near as high!

  8. Thanks Bill. A wonderful argument regarding God using older people and also showing God has no cut off date or ‘use by date’ for many of us.
    It reminded me that Moses began his ministry of leading the people out of Egypt well after he was 100. He remained a meek man and wise leader who always sought God first; plus Moses was an utterly faithful and righteous man. He remained an obedient messenger a of God serving the people he was chosen to lead (except for the one time he lost his temper when the people sinned severely.)
    Abraham was another ‘elderly’ saint chosen to lead his family to the promised land and to start a new Jewish faith generation which would bless many nations. He was another example of greatness, faithfulness and meekness who walked by faith (with 1-2 exceptions)

  9. Sorry Bill, in my comment on God using the ‘elderly’ to lead at times, I meant to say Moses was called to lead his people out of Egypt when he was 40 years old and as it took 40 yrs to complete the mission, Moses finished his call at age 80 years.

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