I believe that the Church is unhealthy. It is disfigured, but there is something we can do about it.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives two ways that a group can become disconnected from the body. A group or individual can isolate themselves just like the foot who says, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” (1 Corinthians 12:15-16). Another way that division can occur is when a group or individual is cut off by others in the body. Paul says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21). I believe both forms of isolation are happening in our churches today, and one cause of this isolation is age-segregation.
In the early church, age segregation was not common, but today it is the most common way of grouping within the church. Whether an age group wants to isolate itself from the body, or whether isolation is imposed on it from another age group, it causes the body of Christ to be incomplete.
Adolescents have pulled themselves away from the rest of the church, and adults have so restricted them that they feel isolated and cut off. Dean believes that adolescents should be considered as part of the body of Christ. Using the illustration of Paul from 1 Corinthians 12, she says, “Neither young people nor youth ministry can be extracted from the church as a whole, any more than the musculature of the Body of Christ can be separated from its circulatory system.” (Dean) Age can cause schisms in the body, and therefore the church should actively seek to be unified across barriers that age can create.
Each member of the body is important regardless of their age, and unity between generations is essential to a healthy church. If a church limits, subjugates, or segregates any part of the body, the health of the church is endangered. Gordon Fee, professor of New Testament at Regent College, says,
“God placed the body together, and the body needs to work together. “This interchange of the sense organs makes it clear that Paul’s point is not the ‘inferiority’ of one to the other. The point is the need for all members; otherwise some function of the body would be missing.” (Fee)
Human tendency is to honor some individuals more than others; however, God gives honor to those who lack it. God does this to remove divisions, and show the church how each member should be valued. Many local churches have undervalued adolescents and emerging adults and their role in the body. The appearance of importance can be deceptive, and the church must always be wary of valuing one segment of its population above another. Paul says each part of the body is important, and each part should have equal concern for the others.
The health of the body is at risk. We cannot function without their involvement in the body (not just their presence in youth programming).
How have you proactively seen adolescents included into the body of Christ?
Dean, Kenda Crissy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church.
Fee, Gordon. 1 Corinthian: New International Commentary on the New Testament.