January 19, 2021

Sundays with Michael Spencer: August 9, 2015


The wedge contemporary evangelicals are driving between young and old is incredibly short sighted and deadly. Doesn’t the Bible itself say that the older should teach the younger? We’ve turned things around so that anything new (even if unproven) and appealing to the not yet mature, still developing young is trotted out as appropriate worship. More experienced, mature Christians who should be teaching the young about and sharing with them their great Christian heritage are instead asked to “get with it” or “get out.” The evangelical church will die if all it can do is try to keep up with secular culture and make its focus offering whatever the latest fads or glitz it can to “attract” the young as if the church were somehow dependent on a Christian advertising machine rather than God to draw people to Him.

• iMonk comment from “Jeff”

• • •

I took Denise to morning mass at Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”) Roman Catholic Church in Moultrieville, SC. Almost 50 in attendance, of every age. Two priests. Two acolytes and two altar boys. Traditionalist. Ad orientem. Eucharist offered in one kind and most didn’t receive it in the hand. Lots of other traditionalist stuff happening. Several Latin masses during the month. All the little things.

I’m watching a father bring his 5 year old (?) to mass, take his hand and dip it in the water, make the cross for him, then take him to his seat and show him how to genuflect. Teenagers around me- apparently on retreat- are immersed in the various actions of Catholic worship, as are all the worshipers of every age this morning. Of course, adults of every age. Plenty of men. At least half or more of the congregation was male.

The traditionalist flavor of mass is more interesting to me, even in this low mass on a weekday, and I’ve read Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy and know where these priests are coming from. There’s a sign at the entrance to the church saying the parish can’t register any more members from outside their boundaries. Translation: traditionalism is popular down here in Charleston.

The whole idea of the daily mass, and the level of devotion one sees among so many Catholics such as those surrounding me, has to be of real interest to any post-evangelical. Evangelicalism is diverse, but as a movement it is simply engaging less and less with worship, spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines and any form of tradition. The multi-site, internet driven model combined with evangelicalism’s inherent pragmatism and entrepreneurialism makes one wonder if clicking at the computer terminal or taking in the 20 minute drive up/drop in service can be far away as significant models of evangelical Christianity’s virtues.

I am especially impressed with how a small child and an 80 year old man are functioning within the same world of thought, ritual and understanding. Within evangelicalism, we have communities with strong elements of tradition that bind generations together, but overall, we have compromised this to the core, allowing the quest to make the faith acceptable to teenagers to define the style and substance of everything. Where has evangelicalism gone in the last 60 years? Toward maturity and the core of the faith, or toward the latest efforts to be relevant to the young? The old among us are often those who manage to hang on amidst a hurricane of changes.

I see evangelicals doing less and less that will hold anyone in the faith into their 80s. If I were 80, I wouldn’t go near 99% of evangelical churches. The traditionalists somewhere would have me as a customer.



  1. This is exactly one of the reasons I left the evangelical church and became Catholic.

  2. Steve Newell says

    Growing up in a large Southern Baptist Church, we had “children’s church” during the same time “adult worship”. It was more entertainment for kids.

    As a parent of three going to an LCMS Church, we brought our kids to worship and had them set with us on the first or second pew. We had our kids participate in worship at the level that they could. They would stand with us and pray with us. There was a “children’s message” at the front of the alter for the kids to come (with their parents for the young) to hear a simple message (and sometimes better than sermon) related to the sermon and the readings of the day. The service was truly inter-generational. My kids could see there the action is and were engaged during worship so we did not have any behavioral issues. My kids also how to use a hymnal as part of worship.

    My son, now a college junior, loves high liturgy and attended worship at Westminster Abbey for matins and St. Paul’s Cathedral for a Haydn Orchestral Mass this summer while he attended summer school. He has a love for the history liturgy of the Christian Church and finds that churches that don’t include the Creeds and the Lord’s Prayer, along with Holy Communion, is lacking great aspects of historic Christian worship. He also finds most modern songs lacking depth in music and in theology.

  3. Thank you for this series, CM. It is interesting how much my perspective has changed since reading all of these the first time around.

    That hit me particularly hard this morning, as last night I was at a Catholic Mass participating in the baptizing of a “nephew” of mine. I definitely would not have put that sentence in anything like those terms when I met his father, a man who is as close me today as a brother. Yesterday, though I might cross myself backwards from his family’s perspective, our shared faith was obvious and deeply felt.

  4. I appreciate intergenerational worship, but I always found “children’s church” a bit cringe-worthy. One thing I like about our Catholic church is that the children participate in most aspects of the mass, but as equals with adults. There are young teenagers who are lectors, for example; they aren’t given dumbed-down children’s readings but read the standard lectionary. There are children who serve as ushers and greeters, sing in the choir, and of course are up front as altar boys and girls. They all participate because they feel called to and just join the regular rotation. Once or twice a year there is a special mass where the little kids (seven and eight) serve as lectors, ushers, etc., but even then, they are trained to fulfill the adult roles with dignity rather than given children’s roles.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I always found “children’s church” a bit cringe-worthy


      “Childrens church” ignores the truth that the purpose of childhood is to become an adult.

      • A Simple Hillbilly says

        > “I always found “children’s church” a bit cringe-worthy”

        but sadly not as cringe-worthy as teen retreats or campus ministries which just extend childhood into your twenties.

        That being said, I recently visited a church where I am sure both the parents and children were blessed by the separate children’s church as the pastor’s sermon was terrible and, by the grace of God, they missed it.

      • Once a month, I get to lead kids church. Last time I led it, I asked the kids, “What’s the most difficult thing about being a Christian?” The answers were great. Very honest.

        I avoid teaching all the standard kids stories (Jonah, Noah, etc.). Taught out of Hebrews once; a couple months back I had the kids read through the first few chapters of Luke and we created a little booklet called “The First Accounts of Jesus According to Luke.”

        The kids seem to like being treated like adults.

    • David Cornwell says


    • I’d like to get anyone’s thoughts here on how that applies to choirs. Should we have a separate “children’s choir,” or do you think they could handle singing with the adults?

      This year we just recently lowered our entry level to the lowest I’ve ever done and began allowing some eighth graders to sing with the adult choir. We’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a children’s choir after I grow a third arm, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s even possible to have them come and sing soprano, perhaps with another family member who is also in the choir. I know Anglican cathedrals make great use of young boys in their choirs, and the sound is remarkable and distinctive. Already we have a great multigenerational mix in our ensemble, including some parents who bring their older children (most of whom are also my students). But does the idea of a children’s or youth choir essentially dumb down choral music for them? If they’re able to participate fully in the singing of hymns and liturgy with the congregation, perhaps I may allow them to join the choir as well.

      I’ve never done music with anyone younger than Jr. High, so at this point it’s mostly a curiosity for me. But I’d appreciate anyone else’s thoughts or experience in the matter. My only guess is that it could bring some vitality to the group (as the High Schoolers already do) and challenge us to diversify our repertoire some.

      • Miguel, you’re a pro musician, so I have no doubt you would have a dignified children’s choir that served a worshipful purpose if you went that route.

        Sadly, most children’s choirs I have seen are poorly rehearsed and poorly run, with music chosen for its cuteness quotient rather than how it might fit into the service. Then when the children make mistakes or act out, the congregation laughs (or tries to suppress laughter). Also in this day and age the cellphones come out to take video.

        Full disclosure: I was in a children’s choir when I was young and what I remember the most are the congregation’s condescending and pitying looks at us every time we went up front to sing. It was the height of embarrassment for many of us.

        • Yes. Have no fear, I will eat my guitar before going that route. For me, part of the purpose of even having a children’s choir is to help teach them how to fully participate in the worship traditions of the church. And then to exploit their enthusiasm to teach reluctant adults by their example. When young children participate and lead in the music of the liturgy with excellence and zeal, adults are often shamed into revealing how easy it actually is for them too, when an actual effort is made. And thus the generations are brought together to sing the song of our Savior. It may seem manipulative at first, but when you have a room full of people united in song, nobody complains about that.

      • My vote would be to let qualified kids into the regular choir. I started singing in an adult choir when I was quite young, but I was mentored by my father, who was also in the choir. Music written for children is pretty vapid. The young people I’ve worked with have preferred to sing Bach and Palestrina than “It’s Me, O Lord” — despite what many adults thought.

        • Believe me, if it’s going to be worth my time, they will be singing chorister repertoire, and no choreography. Hymns and chorales will be the basis of their repertoire, and they will teach the adults to sing some of the old, forgotten gems of our heritage. That’s how the best run programs I know do it. They will learn proper technique and musicianship, not “how to be cute.” People who waste their time on that song and dance stuff should not call it a “choir,” but a cuteness club.

          There. For my level of experience I am quite opinionated on this already! 😛

      • Miguel, having sung in choirs for many years I might say that it would take a musically gifted director to be able to integrate youngsters into a mostly adult choir. However, though, I believe that you have enough imagination and talent to do it. For instance, using young voices as a counterpoint or for singing an afterward or chorus to a song or verse. The effect could be impressive if done right.

        But to include them in the general voices might be too distracting and may also discourage the adults who take pride, as I did, in executing their part as flawlessly as possible.

        And if you DO go the ”children’s choir” route please do NOT have them sung ”children’s” songs. Let then be a part of the whole congregation instead of ”dumping down” their participation.

        • I don’t think any of our adults would be incredibly bothered by it, provided they can behave. That can be a rather large “if.” Most of our adults, when surveyed after my first year, expressed a desire for more younger voices in the choir. I have certainly been able to make this happen, but I don’t think they were thinking this young.

      • Miguel, you might do well to consult with a trained music educator or vocal teacher in your church or local school district in your area. As a trained music educator myself (instrumental, so I can’t speak definitively on the vocal side of things), I believe a key to encouraging a long-term love of singing is learning to do it properly. With young children, you are going to run into issues of vocal range that adult choral literature may not be geared to consider. With junior high students, there are accompanying issues related to vocal change for both boys and girls as they go through adolescence. While the goal of integrating age groups in choral singing is admirable, I would guess a large amount of music written for adult voices may not be idiomatic for young or developing singers, and may even open the possibility for vocal damage, particularly if children are not instruction in proper vocal technique and voice support. I would strongly encourage consulting with a professional vocal educator on literature selection, rehearsal technique, and other issues related to this!

        • I also teach Jr. and Sr. High choirs at our parish K-12 school. Having worked with some of these kids for over four years, I let some into the adult choir only after I am confident they are ready for it. Most experts I have seen working with children in music do use separate ensembles for them. But on the other hand, you have the admirable Anglican chorister programs, where young boys are fully capable of handling the soprano parts on rather sophisticated literature. Right now, I can see either approach having challenges and rewards, but I am leaning towards a separate ensemble at this time, because that seems to be the approach more commonly used by experts. Anglican cathedrals may be exceptional in this case because they do not have women singing in the choir, therefor the need for boys to cover their range.

          I’m just kinda thinking aloud here more than anything else. Perhaps I’ll go with a separate ensemble, but combine them for special occasions or something.

      • Thanks for your thoughts, everyone! I have a year to reflect on this. Pretty soon my own will be old enough to start singing, and let me tell you, the kid gots a set of pipes already!

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    “The evangelical church will die if all it can do is try to keep up with secular culture and make its focus offering whatever the latest fads or glitz it can to “attract” the young….”

    While I agree with this, and it is a very commonly held belief here at IM…. I’ve had conversations recently that give me misgivings – that this ‘conflict’ over worship style is tertiary; it is the caboose, not the locomotive. The conflict, perhaps, happens, or has happened, at a much deeper level and this particular conflict is merely a manifestation?

    I see real deep philosophical divisions, generally, between the younger and the older. Different choices, expressed in life-style, economic mode, etc… And conflict in so many of those spheres. Perhaps the older – for a long time *very* dominant generation – is not interested in engaging those differences. The gut-level hostility expressed by so many older people when younger people question the choices they made – when that questioning is civil, educated,…. It makes conversation and being-relational seem kind of trite; those things don’t mean anything when one side stands in pretty open disrespect of the other.

    I used to engage in some of the worship-style arguments, so I am a guilty part. Now I think a lot of that entirely misses the point.

    • +1
      I think this means that the trouble the Church, across the board, evangelical and traditional liturgical, is having with retaining young members and keeping them engaged is not really about worship styles.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        The trouble manifesting in The Church is something manifesting much more generally – I think looking at it in a “church” context greatly facilitates missing the point. It is not about The Church, the church is just caught up in it.

        • Good point. Good insight. I think you’re exactly right.

        • I think part of is that the generations that have matured since the sixties never really grew up, and actually compete with younger people rather than offering them models of maturity and wisdom. Perhaps younger people today rightfully expect more of their elders before they will allow themselves to be guided by them, or recognize their authority?

          • At what age do you become a grownup? I’m 30 years old and frequently treated as if I’m a child by older generations, and especially in the church I’ve been expected to bow down to matriarchs and patriarchs who just know best. And, generationally speaking, few of us are given opportunities to be the adults we should be, with responsibilities, mortgages, investments, children, and the like.

            So…at what age do you become a grownup?

          • Stuart, it is definitely not a good era in which to reach adulthood. We’ve scrapped any recognizable rites of passage; modern medicine and the growing economy of the postwar years enabled more young people to postpone work for extended education; and the spoiled baby-boomers have not wanted to let go of their (our) entitled youth and instead drive around in Winnebagos sporting bumper stickers that say “I’m spending my grandchildren’s inheritance.” Add to that the contracting economy and the conviction that stockholders are more important than employees, and you get perhaps the worst work environment for young people that we’ve had for centuries — so for many, work, marriage, independent living, or ownership of some form of capital is out of reach.

            That means that job, marriage, home ownership, and other outward signs of adulthood are hard to come by — nor does the whole culture accept them as signs. It seems to me, then, that adulthood is marked by increasing self-control, productivity (in whatever way), and focus on others rather than self. Those things can be done even in — especially in — even the most dysfunctional society.

          • StuartB,
            In many respects, I’ve never “grown up”, and I’m caught in the perpetual rictus of wounded adolescence. So I’m not qualified to respond to your comment. But I will anyway, because I trait of adolescence is to speak whereof one does not know.

            I think, in important ways, no generation ever really “grows up”. If “responsibilities, mortgages, investments, children and the like” made for grown-ups, my parents and extended family would have been full of grown-ups, but it wasn’t. What it was full of was people who had been taught, directly or indirectly, how to pretend they were grown-ups. Now, this might not be the ideal, this pretense, but it was something that had a certain social utility, and provided some stability, though at the expense of perpetuating a pervasive social falsehood.

            In the sixties, I think this pretense was punctured and rejected by many in the generation of youth coming of age at the time. Youth, youth value, and youth culture (which had only just come into existence in the fifties) were put in first place; the hollow pretense of growing up was denigrated, criticized and despised. “Hope I die before I get old” was the mantra, celebration of all things youthful became a kind of religion.

            But then the generation that hoped to die before it got old started getting old. It had children and needed gainful employment. It started indulging in its own pretenses, perhaps the biggest among them being that it could remain perpetually young, live perpetually in a youth culture, deny death by never getting old….and at the same time have everything it wanted materially and socially.

            Those are some partial thoughts… there’s more but I don’t have time. Shoot it full of holes; that doesn’t matter either. It’s a house of cards anyway.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > I think part of is that the generations that have matured since the sixties never really grew up,

            I do not think we need to accuse people of not growing up. I am not certain what that even means.

            > actually compete with younger people rather than offering them models of maturity and wisdom.

            Certainly this is true; I witness this competition all the time. But it is in no way confined to the church.

            In some ways I think this is a sad inevitability. You have a society rapidly advancing technologically, which drives a change economically – faster than a lot of people can adapt to the new circumstances. And you pile onto that a generational gap – Gen X is a much smaller than either the Boomers or the Millennials – this naturally creates a punctuation in the normal progression of generations, so transfer is not so gradual and normal. Then for more salt add greatly extended productive life-span to the Boomers [really the first generation to have that pervasively]. Is not some decline in cohesion inevitable?

            People saw this coming, and they did nothing. When the consequences of this reality arrived The Church did not have a considered response; neither did much of our society. The reasons for that are irrelevant – we are here now.

            StuartB asks a good question – “when am I an adult”. Being treated and spoken to as if one is a child is a common experience well into one’s 30s. In a church, or anything else, where everything is already being taken care of – there is little role to step into.

          • Adam,
            When I talk about not “growing up”, I guess I’m really talking about the absence of developed psychological maturity. My statements regarding all of this are no doubt overly broad generalizations based on my own experience with my family and many of the people I’ve known. Should I assume that my experience was uncommon? That perhaps may be correct….but how would I know?

            I like what you said. Increasing self-control, productivity, and focus on others rather than oneself. And perhaps finding oneself in others?

          • Robert, i am about the same age as you, and i do not agree with you on this one. “Old” is relative to how old a perdon is chronologically, for one thing. 20 year olds see 50 as “old,” after all.

            Perceptions change. Everyone who lives long enough to get padt early adulthood has to end up reckoning with loss, death, snd a sense of their own mortality. It is not easy, and i certainly don’t think that other people my age or older are spending all their time and energy trying to hang onto whatever you are characterizing as youth. Not unless they are not quite sane, that is.

            Besides, only white middle-class kids were able to afford the counterculture. It couldn’t ladt – not when idealism ran into reality.

          • numo, It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve barked up the wrong tree; unlikely to be the last. I probably should avoid any amateur jabs at sweeping sociological theories; must remember that in the future.

          • Damaris, spot on, and amen.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Stuart, it is definitely not a good era in which to reach adulthood. We’ve scrapped any recognizable rites of passage…

            The only “recognizable rites of passage” we have are:
            1) Driver’s License at 16
            2) Drinking yourself under the table on your 21st birthday
            3) Losing your virginity at some point along the line

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            People saw this coming, and they did nothing. When the consequences of this reality arrived The Church did not have a considered response…

            Other than “Double Down AND SCREAM LOUDER!”?

        • Clay Crouch says

          Perhaps a large part of the problem could be summed up by changing the generational title from “Millennial” to “Ironic”. What is the antidote for generational irony?

        • The church has become a thermometer of the culture instead of a thermostat. Reactive instead of proactive.

      • I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that worship style has nothing to do with it. Worship style does reflect an underlying philosophy of who God is and how we relate to Him. It could very well be that the way we worship, even in some liturgical churches, communicates a superfluous God to many people. It may be that our “style” communicates a substance of faith that just doesn’t seem very important. I mean, ask around to the disenfranchised why they think going to church used to be important. Then ask their parents why its important. I’ve seen the parents draw a blank on this, and then wonder why their kids don’t continue in their empty ritual. So somewhere along the line the purpose of the “called out” assembly has been neglected in an effort to use other means to motivate attending. This can manifest itself in various styles, but I am convinced that certain styles are more prone to this, because of the underlying philosophies that shaped them (revivalism).

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say that worship style has nothing to do with it.

          I do not believe I said that.

          > Then ask their parents why its important. I’ve seen the parents draw a blank on this,

          I have done exactly this, and witnessed exactly this. This blankness relates back to a failure to engage, and it explains much [IMNSHO] of the unhelpful reaction when things are called into question.

          > I am convinced that certain styles are more prone to this, because of the underlying
          > philosophies that shaped them (revivalism).

          We agree.

    • Perhaps the older – for a long time *very* dominant generation – is not interested in engaging those differences. The gut-level hostility expressed by so many older people when younger people question the choices they made – when that questioning is civil, educated,…. It makes conversation and being-relational seem kind of trite; those things don’t mean anything when one side stands in pretty open disrespect of the other.

      Which can be summed up in one article.


    • Michael is not taking about “worship styles” in this post, but about what one might call, a community of shared traditions.

      • The generation above me thumbed their noses at those shared traditions. My generation is moving back to embrace them.

        Grandpa’s church, indeed.

        • An old “joke”:

          Q: Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well?

          A:: They have a common enemy: the generation between them.

  6. Somewhere around 1955 when I was 16 or so, I remember vividly looking around at all the traditionalist, dour, dutiful, unsmiling Presbyterians and thinking, if these are Christians, I want nothing to do with it. Still feel the same way today. There probably weren’t many real alternatives available at the time, until the 60’s came along, and the middle 60’s at that. Today I attend a church that probably looks very close to the way it looked in 1955, except then it was overflowing with people and today a dozen in attendance might run us out of bulletins. Next Sunday is the annual meeting at which a vote will be taken whether to shut the doors or continue until the money is all gone. That’s if a quorum shows up. Last year it didn’t. I’ll continue giving hospice care for as long as needed and wanted, don’t have the emotional investment of those whose grandfathers were stalwarts. It would be a shame to lose the beautiful old building. A replica would never replace it.

    It is a completely different world than it was in 1955, than 1995 for that matter. I can not think of one person all along the way my age or older who looking back could have pulled my coat, set me on a better path than the one I found myself and bumbled thru. Well, I just remembered David R. Hawkins, who was older than me and has made a big difference in my later life. That’s it. My main influences now are somewhat younger. If age brings wisdom, something went terribly wrong in the 20th century, tho I guess that would be obvious to anyone, even visitors from off the planet.

    I think it’s getting better now, but it doesn’t look like it on the surface. I think the answers people are starting to come up with now in small parts of the church are answers I would have responded to when I was 16, tho I am certainly not representative of my peers. The Church Age may be all but over, I don’t know. Somehow it seems mostly irrelevant to me, but I recognize that this is not so for everyone. More so than ever for a lot of people tho, the Nunns and the Dunns, the Yungs. It was mostly negative learning that got me here, not all, and for good or ill, I have learned more from Evangelical thinking and teaching along the way, good and bad, at least until the 21st century kicked in.

  7. Christiane says

    ” Evangelicalism is diverse, but as a movement it is simply engaging less and less with worship, spiritual formation, spiritual disciplines and any form of tradition. ”

    I found Michael’s words to be haunting.
    . . . Could Michael’s observation account for what Timothy George (of Beeson College) describes as
    ” The thinness of American evangelicalism — short on doctrine, worship as entertainment, little or no catechesis — stems from spiritual amnesia (“we have forgotten who we are”) and results in ecclesial myopia (“at least we’re not like them!”).”


    is it possible that younger evangelicals, having lost ties to ancient Church, come to realize that they not only admire and appreciate some of the history and traditions of the old ways, but also begin to experience an actual ‘need’ for a way to a kind of active worship that is more transcendant, tying them to the ‘ones who came before them’ all the way back to the first Christians? I think, in reading the blogs, there is a longing for ‘more meaning’ . . . not all are getting hung up on ‘macho man – submissive wife’ cult thinking, or on the philosophy of the Pearls in ‘breaking a child’s spirit’, no. That kind of ultra-controlling cult-like behavior does attract those who are insecure, but not the stronger young evangelicals who are healthy-minded and looking to serve Christ in a more vibrant way with less passivity in the practice of ‘Sunday worship services’. And I say good for them.

    The catecombs, the great early liturgies out of places like Alexandria, and Rome, and Antioch, and Jerusalem . . . the creeds of the early Church, the first hymns, the absolutely beauiful prayers of these early liturgies . . . the writings of the Church Fathers (and Mothers) . . . all of this belongs to these young evangelicals, as much as it belongs to the rest of us. That they are discovery this, and finding meaning in it, but not abandoning their evangelical goodness and fervor . . . this is all hopeful . . . this is all healing . . . I can pray for them with no problem that they are strengthened out of the connection with those who came before us who are STILL a part of the Body of Christ. In a way, these younger people are ‘coming home’. This is good.

  8. Amazing to see that comment of mine quoted at the top. I actually believe that was my first comment at internetmonk and it was *many* years ago. I ended up Catholic eventually, which is still a surprise to me in many ways. I’m glad there are still lively discussions on this topic.


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