Have you ever wondered what church revitalization sounds like?
While my current appointment isn’t a hotbed for generational strife, I do interact with many other churches and have pastor friends of churches rooted in past traditions, and so I am reminded of generational tension often enough.
Today, I was reading in the Book of Ezra about the rebuilding of the temple. The people had been living in exile, and they finally get a chance to come back home and rebuild the temple. Their faith was centered on temple worship, so this was a rather big deal. Thousands of people join the effort. Ezra 3 tells us what the first day of building looks like:
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
They held a worship parade! The people were excited to have their temple back!
What is interesting is what happens next. It isn’t all praise and celebration today:
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
I struck deeply by this image: “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping”
Something about the way this new generation was building the temple was deeply disturbing for the older generation. Maybe it was inferior. Maybe it was poorly planned. Maybe it was too chaotic. Maybe it was just different.
But the noise was overwhelming, and depending on your perspective it was either good or bad. For those who grew up with the old temple, their heart was broken to see how this new one looked. For those who grew up in captivity, as a slave, they were overwhelmed with joy to have a temple at all!
As a young person who has grown up in traditional, often struggling churches, I have a vastly different perspective on church than those who can remember the glory days of the 1950’s. Our past perspective of God’s work greatly influences our response to God’s work today.
In many churches today, when new things come, there is still a mixture of celebration and tears. For some, the little that has happened towards a renewed faith is worth having a parade for. For others, who remember a golden age, it’s just painful. I have worked with both those who wanted to praise God for the change that was taking place, and others who wanted to curse God for it. This is what church revitalization sounds like: some sing, some weep.
I don’t think there is a right and wrong answer here, only understanding to be gained on both sides.
As someone who embraces change, here is my perspective: We only celebrate when things feel like they are getting better. As a young person who is growing up in a post-christian world, and who has seen many churches fear closing, I am excited when new worship, preaching styles, and young passion is able to reach future generations. That’s me, others in the church might have a different perspective.
What do you think? How do you respond to this tension?