The Issue of Age in Modern Worship

By Manuel Luz, Contributor
January 18, 2018

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Scenario 1: An unemployed worship pastor confided in me recently. He had just candidated with a church and it seemed like a perfect fit. But after a successful interview process where he led worship at the Sunday morning services, the elders pulled him aside for a private conversation. "You're perfect," they confided. "But frankly, we're looking for someone younger."

Scenario 2: He arrived a little late to our monthly meeting of local worship pastors and leaders, but it didn't stop him from urgently sharing something. "I've got an issue, and I want your opinions," he interrupted. "I've had an influx of musicians in my church lately. They're really good, and they want to join my worship team."

"Sounds great. What's the problem?," we queried.

His reply caught us off guard, "They're coming from another church in our area. They said that their church doesn't want to use them anymore, because they look too old."

Scenario 3: I'm on a speaking tour of the Pacific Northwest, and a hipster worship leading guitarist I just met is explaining his church's worship team philosophy to me. "It's an issue of branding," he declared matter-of-factly. "We're trying to reach twenty-somethings, so it's really important to sound just like what people hear on the radio." His implication is clear: You can't do that with old people.

Scenario 4: I'm speaking at a worship conference, and I decide to take some time between talks to slip into a session on worship songwriting. Dozens of young, aspiring, guitar-toting, white males in skinny jeans wait for an opportunity for their song to be heard by a panel of worship industry experts. As one song after another is played, it is obvious that they are talented, driven, focused—and quite cookie-cutter.

I'm witnessing a growing trend in some churches these days. And that is to quietly retire older worship leaders and musicians in favor of younger, more hip-looking equivalents. And let me be clear on this: I don't have anything against young leadership, and I strongly believe it is an extremely important part of ministry to disciple and empower young men and women to serve and lead worship in our congregations. They bring a fresh, creative, and necessary expression to the church. The issue is that I am seeing—more and more—wise, talented, heart-driven, mature worship musicians and leaders, both vocational and volunteer, being "retired" from ministry.

Obviously, there are a myriad of complex factors involved—from clashes in leadership style and church vision to personalities and salaries (yes, more experienced worship pastors get paid more than less-experienced ones). And those with artistic temperaments can be quirky and free-spirited and set in their ways, which seems less acceptable the older one gets. So the issues are larger than simple age discrimination. Still, it is disheartening to see the church acting so much like the world.

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