From the September/October 2023 issue of Discern Magazine

Legacy of Older Christians

Trends in society can draw young people away from organized religion—and even the Church Jesus built. What can older members of the Church do?

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By many accounts, the Christian church in Western society is in peril. In September 2022, a report from a Pew Research Center study examined the increasing rate at which U.S. Christians leave their traditional faith “to join the growing ranks of U.S. adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular’”—often categorized as the nones.

The study results are part of a continuing trend. Christians, especially young adults, are increasingly abandoning the faith of their parents and grandparents. While the study focused on the United States, these trends began even earlier in many other Western countries.

The root causes of this abandonment of religion are varied, but a factor that is generally overlooked is that much of modern Christianity has strayed from biblical truth. (For more on this, see “Why the Decline of Christianity?”)

Those leaving their childhood faith mentioned reasons such as learning about evolution, seeing too many Christians do un-Christian things, not believing and not having time for church and religion.

The end result is stark. The Pew study estimated that “31% of people raised Christian become unaffiliated between ages 15 to 29, the tumultuous period in which religious switching is concentrated.”

And Bible-believing Christians can be affected by these societal trends. Since the founding of the Christian church, individuals have struggled to remain faithful. The apostle Paul marveled that early Christians turned away from God to embrace a different belief system (Galatians 1:6). Paul expressed concern that individuals would be “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” by latching onto another gospel or a corrupted version of Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).

For older Bible-believing Christians, these trends present a heart-breaking dilemma. Surveying a younger crowd that is rapidly abandoning a faith and way of life they cherished can be frustrating and troubling.

It is disturbing for older Christians to see, but what can they do?

Generational transfer

The Bible shows us that each generation plays a critical role in conveying truth to the next.

Older, mature Christians, you are vital to the health and stability of the Church. You can make a tremendous impact on the next generation.Notice the psalmist’s conviction: “He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psalm 78:5-7, emphasis added throughout).

Here we find a model of generational transfer of knowledge, truth, hope and faith—the keys to a fulfilling, rewarding life. This model supports the family guidance to teach children the godly way to live (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

If you’re an older Christian, you can have a powerful impact on young people. The next generation—navigating a world that is organized to seek and destroy faith—needs your help and assistance.

As an older Christian, how can you make such a powerful impact?

Establish a relationship

In order to positively impact the next generation, appropriate relationships must exist. Be approachable. Be willing to initiate conversations with younger individuals.

This is a responsibility for older Christians. When explaining the internal dynamics of the Christian church, Paul affirmed that the church is more successful when it is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, [and] causes growth of the body” (Ephesians 4:16).

Older Christians are vital joints and parts of the body of believers. Younger individuals need advice, counsel and positive examples. They need real-life examples of individuals who successfully pattern their lives by God’s biblical laws and admonitions. Titus 2 provides examples of what this looks like.

To make an impact, strive to build and strengthen relationships across generations. Be intentional about constructively engaging with younger Christians. Make a concerted effort to befriend and mentor younger individuals.

An action plan

God provides an action plan to help older Christians impact the next generation. It is practical, doable and straightforward.

Notice the encouragement of King David: “One generation shall praise Your works to another” (Psalm 145:4).

There is a responsibility here—one generation shall do this for the next. Older Christians should make a meaningful difference in the lives of younger people.

And why not? Older, mature Christians have lived and breathed the Christian faith. They have stood in the arena of life and faced the challenges of heartache, disappointment, confusion, trial and adversity. They did so and thrived by relying on God, seeking to do His will day by day, and living by faith. That experience, character and perspective is a reservoir that can water the next generation.

King David then laid out an action plan for older generations to directly and powerfully impact the next.

They “shall declare Your mighty acts . . . Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts, and I will declare Your greatness. They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness” (Psalm 145:4, 6-7).

David speaks of a generational transfer of knowledge, experience and faith. Older Christians can and should step in to fill this role.

Let’s take a look at these action items.

Declare His acts

The first action item is to declare God’s mighty and awesome acts.

Mighty and awesome acts.

Let that sink in for a moment. God is asking you to thoughtfully and boldly declare His deeds to the next generation.

The Bible is full of the mighty and awesome acts of God. Discuss them with younger people.

Share your story—how God worked in your life, the miracle of your calling (John 6:44), and the practical understanding you were granted on how to live. Relay concrete, personal examples of when you witnessed God’s hand.

Many abandon the faith because they abandon belief in God. Share your conviction and examples of when God directly intervened to answer a prayer or worked a miracle. Tell young people about these moments.

Push back against ideas that discredit God by declaring the mighty and awesome acts of God in your life.

Declare His greatness

The next action item is to declare God’s greatness.

Society attempts to elevate almost everything above God. While disheartening, this is nothing new (Romans 1:18-32).

Glamour, appearance, intellect, professional or social achievement, and personal challenges have supplanted God on the greatness scale across much of society. Young people need to see and hear a counterweight to society’s greatness pitch.

God’s greatness, reflected in His majesty and power, is incredible. Much of His greatness is readily accessible and viewable in creation (verses 19-20). Yet God bids the older generation to declare it.

So, declare it—boldly and often. Initiate conversations about the greatness of God found in the intricacies of creation. Talk about the greatness of God’s plan for the human family. Discuss the incredible results of choosing obedience to God instead of conforming to the societal norms (Romans 12:1-2).

Declaring God’s greatness offers a balanced perspective that younger Christians need.

Speak about His goodness

The next action item is to “utter the memory of [God’s] great goodness” (Psalm 145:7).

This is a critical point in Western society. God is often portrayed as old, tired, judgmental, out of touch and irrelevant.

While God has standards and expectations regarding human behavior, He is not the harsh, demanding tyrant some critics attempt to portray.

Older Christians, you can stand in the gap here. You have personally experienced the goodness of God. You have seen His tenderness in answering prayers. You have witnessed His faithfulness in providing encouragement.

Share those stories and perspective. Be vulnerable enough to share those personal moments and experiences when the goodness of God made a real difference for you.

Frame God for young people. Help young people reject the austere, distant, corrupt and false version of God that society attempts to foster. Convey the patient, merciful, engaged and comforting nature of God by speaking of His great goodness.

Sing of His righteousness

The final instruction in Psalm 145 is to sing of God’s righteousness.

God’s righteousness is reflected in His law and the way of living described in the Bible (Psalm 119:172).

Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has promoted the view that God’s laws—which define righteousness—are restrictive and hold humans back from their potential. There is a temptation—especially appealing to younger people—to view God’s life boundaries as burdensome, though they are not (1 John 5:3).

Older Christians can push back against that view by singing of God’s righteousness.

This does not mean that older Christians walk around singing hymns continuously. However, this does speak to our attitude. To sing of God’s righteousness implies an attitude of joyfulness toward God’s law and His expectations.

Consider Paul and Silas. In Acts 16 they found themselves arrested, beaten and imprisoned—talk about a difficult day! Yet, “at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:25). What a powerful example of joy in the service of God!

This is important because attitudes can be infectious. Be joyful—not dour—about the righteousness of God. Amid the evil and rancor of this world, older Christians should model excitement and anticipation regarding the Christian life.

Be joyful. Be uplifting. Sing of the righteousness of God!

A lasting legacy

Jesus promised that His Church would remain through the end of the age (Matthew 16:18). Older, mature Christians, you are vital to the health and stability of the Church.

You can make a tremendous impact on the next generation.

Get involved. Follow the plan outlined in Psalm 145:4-7.

Make an impact so the next generation “may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psalm 78:7).

About the Author

Jason Hyde

Jason Hyde attends the Louisville, Kentucky, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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