Why Grandparents and Grandchildren Can’t Worship Together


multigenerationalIn an effort to appease multiple generations and minimize conflict, worship leaders either attempt to seek a watered down stylistic and musical common ground or they divide congregants along age and preference lines. Except in rare cases, it appears from both efforts that the worshiping culture suffers and all generations lose. The impasse is the result of trying to accommodate the musical tastes of congregations that include both 20th and 21st century worshipers.

Gary Parrett and Steven Kang wrote, “Churches must realize that it takes the whole community of faith to raise the children of that community in the faith. But, many American churches have moved with fierce determination to separate the generations from one another to provide more generation specific ministry.

Tragically, such an approach to ministry can easily have the effect of encouraging the segregated ‘generations’ to be unduly absorbed with their own needs and to have little concern for others. This runs both ways – from older to younger and younger to older. But it is the younger who suffer most in such an arrangement. And it is the older who will have to give account for shirking their God-appointed duties toward the young.”[1]

Differences between 20th and 21st century worshipers:

  • 20th century worshipers are linear, written text and physical; 21st century worshipers are multi-sensory, hypertext and virtual.
  • 20th century worshipers are independent and independence is owned; 21st century worshipers are collaborative and collaborative is shared.
  • 20th century worshipers are stationary for a lifetime; 21st century worshipers are mobile for a season.
  • 20th century worshipers are deductive and deductive is top-down; 21st century worshipers are inductive and inductive is bottom-up. Note: The weakness of inductive is its limitations in building doctrine. The weakness of deductive is its susceptibility to being infected with dogma.
  • 20th century worshipers are local; 21st century worshipers are global.
  • 20th century worship is routinized. Since it has worked for generations why change? Routine is predictable and we like predictable; 21st century worship is creative. Since it has been around for generations, why not try something new? Creativity is unpredictable and we like unpredictable.

Obviously, the previous list is a generalization. If, however, even a few of those differences are evident in the cultures of our congregations how can we ever hope to find worship common ground? The answer is…we probably can’t…at least not in those differences.

Intergenerational worship is only possible if our common ground is deference instead of preference. Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction, preference is based on feeling and traditionalism.

Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the traditionalism and embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions. The willingness to defer to others offers a common ground that style and musical preferences never will.

Deference is the agreement that although we may not always love the music of our children and grandchildren…we are willing to sacrifice because we love our children and grandchildren. Deferring is setting aside our preferences for the good of and future of those children and grandchildren.

So it is actually possible for grandparents and grandchildren to worship together as long as the battle lines are drawn over who can offer or give the most instead of who deserves or demands the most.


[1] Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity, 2009), 152.



16 Responses to “Why Grandparents and Grandchildren Can’t Worship Together”

  • Craig Collins Says:


    In my opinion you take the totally-backwards approach to deference. You infer that the adults should defer to youth, I posit that it should be the exact opposite.

    Youth may know what they want, but they don’t know what they need, and often times they don’t know much else. Our culture has made the grave mistake of catering to youth, even putting them up on a pedestal of sorts. It has ignored the accumulated wisdom and experience of previous generations. Parents seek to be “friends” of their children rather than actually being parents and teaching and disciplining their children. If the church continues in making the same mistake, I fear that in 10-20 years there will be no church.

    Even many adults don’t know what they need. A great part of the problem in churches today is that attendees take a consumerist approach. They are looking for what they want, what makes them feel “happy” or “good” and they want to tell church leaders (pastors, musicians) how to do their jobs, rather than respecting the knowledge and training of those leaders. Further, they need to focus on actually worshiping God and growing in their commitment and obedience to God, and not just being entertained. Much of what passes for “worship” in these days is anything but in my opinion, or it may be worshiping “something” but that something isn’t the creator of the universe and/or our Heavenly Father, but rather the self, contemporaneity, happiness, or some other false idol.

    In my opinion, what you advocate is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” You speak of “embedded theology that previously influenced their thinking and actions” as if it were some infectious disease that must be cured or eradicated at all costs. Knowing our history as a church, what we have professed to believe and why is vitally important to understanding who we are as God’s children. Without that, it is chaos and we revert to wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. Hopefully, it won’t take 40 years for people to wake up and realize that.

    In your response to AJ you say that the older generation should defer more to children and youth because “those who are less mature don’t yet understand the blessing of worship that requires sacrifice” and then go on to ask that if we don’t model it for them, who will. Again, your thinking is convoluted and backwards. They (children and youth )will learn this by deferring to their parents, not by their parents “modeling” (abdicating their responsibility for leadership really) this for their children. Do you advocate children telling their parents how to run the family, what things are safe and acceptable, how to spend their money? If you have children, do you feed them a diet consisting solely of candy, cookies, pizza and hamburgers, or do you feed them healthy food (vegetables, fruit, lean meats, fish, etc.)? Children and youth don’t know squat. It is up to adults and grown ups to teach them and discipline them. Why in the world should we defer to their childish, immature, ways of thinking and looking at things?

    I like your blog a lot and like much of what you say, but pray that you will re-think this issue. Again, I heartily recommend that you read, “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns.” That book should clarify why your thinking on this issue is wrong.

  • Pamela Haddix Says:

    In addition to my previous post, it’s also crucial that people understand what the Bible teaches about worship – including what it says about having new songs as part of our worship. I understand those who prefer the traditional hymns, but we need to also embrace the new things God is still doing in and through His people. It’s biblical!

    Here’s my post “Why the Church Still Needs New Songs” at http://pamelahaddix.com/2014/05/25/why-the-church-still-needs-new-songs/ .


  • Pamela Haddix Says:

    Good thoughts, David. I’m new to your site and excited to find it!

    This is a challenge isn’t it. And the enemy will make sure that there are plenty of distractions to the worship of our amazing God. I’ve found that the best way to “defer” is to arrive at church prepared to worship – prepared to pour out myself in intimate communion with my God at His feet, REGARDLESS of what’s going on that I may not care for. (That’s a long list usually.) This can only happen if I’m seeking and worshiping my God throughout the week and am already positioned in my heart and mind to worship Him. Otherwise, the distractions kick in before I even arrive, ramp up as the worship begins, and I spend the time frustrated and complaining in my head instead of responding to our Most Holy God. The battle is lost – sadly.

    I blog on understanding biblical worship and last spring posted “4 Keys to Intimate Sunday Morning Worship” at http://pamelahaddix.com/2014/05/12/4-keys-to-intimate-sunday-morning-worship/ . Maybe some will find it helpful.

    Thanks again for your post and this site!
    Pamela Haddix
    author of “Worship and the Word”, a Bible study

  • Doug Lawrence Says:

    Thanks, David

    I have always called this a “negotiated sacrifice.” Incidentally, you can’t get to an intergenerational worship experience until you accept that this is not a style issue—it’s an ethical one.

    “Watered down stylistic and musical common ground,” is, of course, NOT a good description, but one that assumes that worship is about style and commonness. I don’t believe that to be so.

    Words like “accommodate” are questionable, as they relate to round table, community, and focus group conversations, in deciding next worship steps for a church.

    Your generational analysis is both good and mostly accurate, though it assumes things that may not always be true.

    I am always interested to note that worship conversations start with style and musical content and, coincidentally, end there as well. This fact does not resonate with my observed notions of what worship actually is or isn’t.

    Yes, I went through the wars. Yes, I had the discussion. Yes, I have wept over the resultant hurt and mayhem. Much of that discussion was unnecessary and non-productive.

    So where should we go from here? Perhaps first we should change our lexicon when we talk about worship. This old one doesn’t seem to have worked well.

  • Bill Simpson Says:

    Thanks, again, David. I really appreciate the clear delineation of both 20th and 21st century worshipers. That said, though, your call for deference cuts right to the core of the matter.

  • Vicki Cleere Says:

    A blended service is the way to go! Why not make everyone happy. If you separate generations then the younger cannot learn from the older and the older cannot learn from the younger. It is so important that all generations worship together and that the children see their parents, grandparents and great grandparents worshipping the Heavenly Father corporately. The builds unity and shows them how important worship is to the Christian life and family.

  • Zach Sprowls Says:

    “Intergenerational worship is only possible if our common ground is deference instead of preference.” That line alone makes this post worth. Really helpful post, David. Thanks for your labor.

  • Shelvin Says:

    Great article. Where was this 15 – 20 years ago when we needed these words of warning? As a worship pastor of 20 plus years I feel the need to apologize for what my generation has allowed to happen in corporate worship. We should have been wiser.

  • Red Thornton Says:

    Great job to both of you. I can AMEN what you have to say here and you have put in writing what I have struggled with for so long to communicate to my congregation. Todays worship culture has become “all about me” in both directions and we have lost our Biblical and God focus. Every generation brings something to the table either by contribution or example. the 21st Century generations are losing out on the wisdom and examples of faithfulness from the 20th Century generations are turning a blind eye to heart-cry of a more vertical worship focus. I really think you hit a home run on the what and the why of this issue. Can you give any examples of how. How to educate, when and where do the best opportunities to lead our people to see that the church was founded to be multi-generational for a reason. Thank you for this post. It was very helpful to me.

  • Nate Says:

    Several thoughts:
    There seems to be this same generational divide between formality and informality as well–this is true in American culture as well as worship. For example, How many in my generation (post-boomer) would wear a sport-coat except to a job interview, a wedding, or fine dining establishment?

    There’s a large divide just in musical traditions in the anglo church. The hymnody tradition (like most of Western high-art music) wasn’t built for complex syncopation, poly-rhythms, or “blue notes” not on the piano. These are all essential elements of the musical tradition of jazz -> rock -> hiphop that infuses younger generations. There is a parallel between this divide and the divides articulated here. “Classical” music relies on written notation, formal structure, and repeated practice–not the intuitive, improvisational, aurally-driven world of modern popular music. As a music director, I see that even good intentions by older worshippers are not always enough to overcome the utter foreign-ness of this kind of music.

    I like what you say about us parents (I am one now) and grandparents giving up our preferences as we give up many things for our children. This could be a compelling argument for deference. How to make a compelling argument for younger worshippers? I don’t think finger-wagging will do much. (“You ought to respect your elders, so suck it up and eat your worship vegetables.”) Rather, if younger worshippers are more globally oriented, I think it needs to be presented as cross-cultural worship–this is the chance to enter another culture, to learn something foreign (that is, the music of their parents/grandparents’ generation).

    Finally, I wonder if the divide written about here is really in its’ last throes. Not to be morbid, but this seems to describe the divide between myself and my grandparents’ generation. But boomers (like my parents) are quickly becoming the grandparents, and they themselves embraced a musical tradition much different from the previous generation (most “contemporary” services started under boomer leaders). Do you agree there’s less distance between boomers and millennials than between boomers and their parents? Or is this a similarly wide gap that is just now coming to light?

  • Tim H Says:

    Great article David, Really like the mobile and stationary. its interesting in today’s culture that we change worship based on the theme and style depending on where we are in life instead of allowing the seasons to mature and change. we get stuck on the same style and themes for decades. There are several baby boomer churches that are built on this model where the worship is very singularly focused (one note tune kinda thing) I think ultimately it waters down or weakens your faith because there’s no maturing process.

    good thought provoking

  • Paul Schmoll Says:

    Tim and AJ, I am of the older generation, and yet I don’t mind the new worship music. However, I must admit I do miss the older. That said, another thought has been weighing on my mind lately. I wonder if we haven’t moved from real worship to entertainment. If you think about it for a minute, whether the music is new or old in its style should not matter, after all it is called worship. If we are really worshiping then the music comes from our heart, directed to our Lord and Savior. We worship because we have experienced His Grace and our souls can hardly contain the joy. As part of the older generation, it becomes my job to teach the younger generation their need for His Grace, then once received, how to worship from the heart.
    I think some of the music from the older generation doesn’t always demonstrate our worship and praise. The music that states “I’m barely hanging on till he comes!” doesn’t really seem like much praise or worship to me, and a lot of old songs used that theme. But aside from that, I believe there is much to be gained from the older music, in both worship and praise, and musically. I also believe that the newer music tends to extend a level of joy and adulation that much of the older music lacked.
    All that said, I must return to my original point, regardless of the music, the question must be, “Are you worshiping or trying to be entertained?”

  • David Manner Says:

    Yes, Tim! Good word.

  • Tim Says:

    I like the concept of deference. More importantly, it is biblical. In addition, though, I wonder if the deference of people in the church should be to those not yet in the church. I believe that not only music, but the entire service can and should communicate truth to believer and unbeliever in a musical/stylistic language which communicates powerfully with the uninitiated. There are times, therefore, when the initiated (i.e., believers) need to set aside there preferences and speak the language which communicates to their broader culture.

  • David Manner Says:

    Good comments AJ, I am not, however, advocating deference from just one generation. Common Ground means the opinions or interests shared by each of two or more parties. I do believe that those who are more mature in their faith should be called on to defer more often than those who are less mature in their faith because those who are less mature don’t yet understand the blessing of worship that requires sacrifice. In most cases, we as parents and grandparents are willing to sacrifice almost anything, including our own lives for our children and grandchildren because we have learned the value of deference. So if we don’t model that for them, who will? Your last paragraph is right on target and adds helpful commentary.

  • AJ Says:

    Dave, thanks for your blog.

    It seems to me like you’re advocating for the generational segregation in Worship to be stopped by having the older generation abandon their own preferences in worship and join the younger generation’s worship.

    But this does not help the younger generation to think outside of itself; this only makes the older generation think outside of itself. And I’d argue that this would be even WORSE for the younger generation. Not only will they continue to set their preferences above others, but they will think their preferences are the only right and good way to do worship. Truly intergenerational worship abandons both generations’ preferences, looks to the Word and Spirit for guidance in worship, and is shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I’d add: “Deference encourages worshipers to respond in spite of the EMOTIONALISM AND EXPERIENTIALISM that previously influenced their thinking and actions. The willingness to defer to others offers a common ground that style and musical preferences never will.
    Deference is the agreement that although we may not always love the TRADITION AND THEOLOGY OF OUR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS…we are willing to sacrifice because we love our PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS. Deferring is setting aside our preferences for the good and future OF THE ENTIRE BODY OF CHRIST.”

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