The Old, Gray Church, She Ain’t What She Used to Be


When your church grows elderly...A month or so ago, I remarked to our worship leader that I realized that, at nearly 49 years of age, I’m now the eldest worship team member. He replied that I was certainly reflective of the rest of the congregation.

As the drummer, I have a nice vantage point from center stage. That morning, it hit me that he was right. The amount of gray hair now visible among those heads out in the pews was never before so obvious.

The week afterward, I mentioned this to a friend in his early 40s. He concurred: The average age of folks in our church was creeping upward.

Our church is planning to add two elders, with neither candidate under 50. The existing elders asked for commentary. Alarmed by this sudden realization of advancing years in our congregation, I wrote that I thought perhaps we should investigate having younger elders, if for no other reason than the “elder” elders could shepherd a few younger men as part of a torch pass. Having a younger face on leadership would certainly prove us to be at least semi-open to the input of the nonarthritic.

Over the years, I’ve been a part of several churches, each coming from a different denominational slant. My current church of the past seven years traces its lineage back to the Azusa Street revival of the early 20th century. One thing I have noticed about churches with Azusa Street ancestry is that the young people who grow up in those churches bolt the second they graduate from high school. Gone. Vamoose. A few of them marry, settle down, and then get nostalgic after their children are born and return to the fold. But for the most part, they take off and are never heard from again.

We live in a mobile society. College forces young people out of the “suffocations” of their youth and into the world. We know all the reasons why people leave a church.

But the questions of a church going increasingly gray loom large.

When I was in college back in the early 1980s, I remember trying to find a church home while at school. Every church I walked into was packed—with old people. And by old, I mean retired. I remember visiting one Lutheran church where the youngest person, other than me, was the pastor. And he had to be 60.

I’ll let you guess whether I settled at that church or not.

In my younger years, I used to think I had all the answers when it came to “fixing” churches, yet reversing an aging trend is pretty darned difficult, and I’m no longer convinced the usual “tricks” work.

So I open this one to you, readers. Other than Grecian Formula and Miss Clairol, what’s the secret to increasing the number of gray-free heads in a church that seems more and more like its filled with candidates for Geritol?

Dropping Our Stones


One of the goals I have for Cerulean Sanctum is to carve out a godly middle ground on the issues that face the American Church while at the same time never backing down from what needs to be said. Despite the fact that I work hard to find a more godly response to those issues, I’ve had a few people label me an angry young man.

We Americans have always held the angry young man in esteem, especially when that angry young man dispenses his brand of angry young man justice on despicable villains. On the other hand, there’s something about being an angry old man that unnerves us. We have an equation worked out in our heads that looks something like this:

Young + Angry = Hero

Old + Angry = Crank

Watch this play out in public and you soon learn that you’re given a pass till about age 35, then you start sliding into crankhood. That age didn’t escape the notice of the founders of this country, either. No one can occupy the highest office in the land until 35.

I believe the founders understood a deep truth that plays out in the eighth chapter of John:

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

—John 8:3-11

My revelation in understanding this passage came when I understood the second half of this snippet:

…they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones…

To me, that’s one of the greatest strings of 11 words ever committed to print.

Do we understand the profundity of John’s Spirit-inspired words here?

When you’re an angry young man, your blood boils at the thought of a good stoning. Finding the perfect rock, heavy, jagged even. You feel the adrenaline enliven your muscles, engorging them with blood. The smell of sweat. Loud roars from angry men shouting for justice. The adultress’s vile perfume stinging your nose. The thought that you can get in the first throw. Wham!  A head shot! That perfect throw that smashes her skull and caves in her head. Your throw. Your death strike against sin.

Can you see it? Can you taste how bad you want it to play out in life as it does in your mind’s eye?

But when you’re an older man, it should be different.

Should be.

Vasiliy Polenov-- detail from 'Christ and Woman Taken in Adultery'You look around and see an old friend standing off to the side, his grip on his stone not so tight. The light had been dim, but you thought you saw him come out of her place a month ago, though you told yourself otherwise. He casts a downturned glance your way because you know, and he knows, too. And what of your own struggles? Who knows about your private sin, your little dalliance from years ago, and how you thanked God every day that you weren’t found out? Though in the end, who can hide anything from God? It should be you in that circle with that woman, shouldn’t it? In fact, it could be every man standing around that woman, stone in hand. All of you, ready to have your teeth shattered, your bones broken. Every last one of you. Buried under a pile of well-deserved stones. Because you had it coming as much as that woman before you now.

One of the greatest self-deceptions the devil throws at us is that our sin is somehow not as bad as their sin, no matter who “they” might be. I wonder how many of us who should know better still cling to that angry young man we should’ve put to death a long, long time ago as part of our maturity in Christ. As much as we talk about grace, too few of us actually dispense it. There is nothing sadder under the sun than an old man, stone still in hand, ready to throw it at whomever he classifies as deserving of it’s granite sting.

It amazes and saddens me that so many Christians out there who should know better can’t drop their stone. They’ve got to hurl it at all cost. And they do so because they have no concept of grace or of their own sin. They live an unexamined life that focuses on everyone else’s failures and none of their own.

Tim Keller and David Powlison wrote eloquently on one way in which we can learn to drop the stone. I would encourage everyone to read it here,  bloggers especially.

The old adage goes “There’s no fool like an old fool.” God help us if Christian maturity doesn’t lead us beyond the angry young man stage and into the wisdom of dropping our stones.

That Strong Hand


This is a break from the “Hidden Messages of American Christianity” series.

I’m at that age where I think about mortality more readily. There’s something about reaching your forties that the aura of invincibility has totally worn off. I turned 43 a few weeks ago and my middle brother joins me in that fifth decade this weekend.

I seem to like a lot of dead authors and musicians, especially those that shuffled off this mortal coil before their time. Keith Green has long occupied my pantheon of greats, Rich Mullins and I attended the same church for a while, and Mark Heard penned the one Christian song that I wish I had written. Dry Bones DanceGreen never made it to 30 and Mullins and Heard were barely into their 40s.

After a long while searching for a pristine example of Heard’s Dry Bones Dance, I was able to find an unopened copy. Evidently it’s in print again—lucky me. This makes the second CD I’ve purchased in the last three years. (Note to young guys: You won’t believe me, but you start getting burned out on music. Somewhere along the line you’ll be fifty and playing nothing but old Coldplay albums, harkening back to your youth. Trust me on this one. I’m still stuck in that era from 1976-1991. I hear “More Than a Feeling” or “Wheel in the Sky” and start getting all misty-eyed.)

My copy of this outstanding zydeco/country/pop/folk album from 1990 arrived today and I can’t stop playing it. I never got into all of Heard’s stuff, but this collection is superior. My hard drive is just about fried from looping through it all day—I burned it to iTunes almost immediately.

Why such passion? Like I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, this album contains what I consider to be the best lyrics ever written in a CCM song. That song is “Strong Hand of Love”:

Down peppers the rain from a clear blue sky
Down trickles a tear on a youthful face
Feeling in haste and wondering why
Up struggles the sun from a wounded night
Out venture our hearts from their silent shrouds
Trying to ignite but wondering how

We can laugh and we can cry
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows
We can dance and we can sigh
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows

Young dreamers explode like popped balloons
Some kind of emotional rodeo
Learning too slow and acting too soon
Time marches away like a lost platoon
We gracefully age as we feel the weight
Of loving too late and leaving too soon

We can laugh and we can cry
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows
We can dance and we can sigh
And never see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows

Mark Heard – 1990 Ideola Music

I told my wife that I want this song played at my funeral. I can promise you that even if I go at 109, I would still want to have others know that the Father’s Strong Hand of Love is always there, even in the shadows.

Too many of us love too late and leave too soon. God knows how much of my life has been lived with regrets. All those years consumed by the locusts and still I’m picking them off me.

Far too maudlin for the Christmas season? Jesus was born to die and so are we. What gets us through to the end is seeing the Strong Hand of Love hidden in the shadows.

May this season be filled with us noticing that Strong Hand more than we ever have before.

Have a great weekend.