A lot of conventional wisdom these days regarding church outreach revolves around the glorification and celebration of youth. You see it especially at church growth conferences, in church leadership magazines, and in the proliferation of generationally branded lifestyle websites retailing a progressive theology (e.g. relevant.com). That’s fine by me. I disagree with the thrust of what they want to do, but to each his own.

My problem is with the resurgence of a misconception that goes back several decades celebrating young people as inherently better equipped  and more socially aware than their elders. It’s based on a faulty premise: that young people have a radically or uniquely superior insight into spiritual issues and their relevancy to life.

This is a popular confusion. It usually hinges on misinterpreting the fact that young people see the world with fresh eyes, as it were.

And it’s true that young people have a gift for seeing through the false reverences and polite social graces of modern life, as when a teenager points out one’s embarrassing signs of aging or outdated fashions.  Even the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes is a story, in some ways,  about a kid too ignorant to know when to placate a king’s vanity. 

But the simple fact is that young people are not, as a group, better informed, wiser, more enlightened or even more keenly aware than older people. A reality validated  by the Scriptural requirements for leadership in both Old and New Testaments. 

What about Timothy, you ask?

Yes, Timothy was a young man charged with being the minister of a church. But Timothy gained his appointment not because of his youth. Paul appointed Timothy because he met the spiritual requirements for leadership in spite of his youth. Clearly, Paul concerned himself with Timothy’s susceptibility to youthful lusts and limited experience. 


Because we all are born ignorant of the world we live in.  We only lose that ignorance and susceptibility over time.

Think about what you knew and understood at half your current age. Were you more obedient to the Word then? More spiritual? 

“I recommended they target boomers and traditionalists and grow old together,” Hayden Shaw, founder of People Driven Results writes in the Christian Standard. This is the sage and sound advice he offers as a paid church growth consultant. The church must self-segregate, explains Shaw, culling older, dull generations from the herd effectively rooting out the contaminated past. This makes way for a modern more evolved iteration of Christianity. And in the meantime, these dim but financially secure patriarchs ought to surrender the keys to the building, and send financial support the next generation – once they find a new location “to grow old together.”  

“I get hired by churches to help them figure out how to reach the younger generations, I spend more of our time helping them figure out if they are able to do it.” Hayden divines this knowledge by how well each congregation scores on his “Generational IQ” assessment. 

But this nonsense is as pernicious as it is obnoxious. It’s also not true. A church flailing in or unconcerned with outreach does not indicate some superannuated loss of agency – it is a die marker for the spiritual problems and sicknesses of the community more broad. 

Shaw is standing in a pulpit built with the toil of previous generations and he’s taking a sledgehammer to it — because he doesn’t know better or because he is a moronic grifter. 

My hunch is that a great many people who might take offense at my criticism do so either because of Shaw’s harmless demeanor or because they agree with him — if not about the moral blindness of the older generations then about his deification of millennials, gen Zers, Centennials. 

And that brings me to the another problem with the glorification of youth: It invariably involves powerful adults finding young people who agree with them on some issue and then claiming that all young people think this way (and then hiding behind the myth that the church must listen to “the young people”). I can assure you if these young ministers, young parachurch entrepreneurs, and young progressive writers didn’t agree with the likes of Gene Appel, Jerry Harris, Cameron Strang, et al they would not be featured so prominently. 

But the most galling thing about adult partisans hiding behind the young and inexperienced is that it amounts to a kind of power-worship. ‘These are the views of the young up-and-comers and eventually they will replace us and our antiquated notions of sound doctrine.’ 

Never mind that factually, this is falderal. Young people change their minds about lots of things as they get older, and historians rarely lock in the views of young people a few decades later. This is also morally bankrupt because it undermines the inherency of Scripture and assumes that whatever young people today believe will be right because the victors define moral values, so we should just surrender to the youngest mob. 

The very core of the Christian faith rests on the immutable nature of a holy God. It is not a belief system  contingent on your age. Lots of kids don’t understand that, but spiritually mature men are supposed to.

By Terry Sweany

Terry Sweany has served as senior minister of Playa Christian Church since 2006. His education includes a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from Hope International University and a BA from Cincinnati Christian University. He is author of the book Life In Ministry and his greatest joy is helping people deepen their relationship with God. Terry lives in Westchester, California and is a member of the LAPD Pacific Division Clergy Council. He and his wife, Patty, have been married 38 years and have a daughter and granddaughter.

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