I love Greek myths. You may remember the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool, staring at himself and finally dying when he realized that he could not “have” himself. The nymph Echo repeated Narcissus’ words endlessly, until she too was reduced to mere vocality echoing into the woods.
The lesson from the myth is that we are supposed to avoid the vanity of too much mirror-gazing. When we become too absorbed with ourselves, or, by extension, people who look like us, we are worthless to the world.
I think about this frequently when I see how easily churches slip into the subtle narcissism of age segmentation: our children are dropped off in the children’s wing, our youth are hidden in their building, the young marrieds are elsewhere, the median adults gather in another space, and the senior adults are housed in suites somewhere else. A visit to most churches of any size will turn up a listing of Sunday school classes that are indexed solely by age where everyone looks, more or less, like everyone else.
In other cases, even worship options reflect age segmentation. One service is “traditional,” with softer music and a bit more liturgy. Another is peppier, with a praise team. A third, livelier service meets on Saturday nights, hoping to target young adults. In some cases, the average age of the worshiper varies by more than a decade between the various options. What’s more, this segmentation can be passive: the volume of one service is just as effective in keeping out the “oldsters” from that service (for fear that they will “harsh the worship buzz”) as were the stern-faced deacons in many Southern churches who once kept out the folks of a darker hue of melanin. The Perry Como-esque music of another service likewise keeps out the “rambunctious whipper-snappers” who tend to “disrupt” the quiet of that setting.
In the end, we run the danger of turning church into a narcissistic pool where we see our reflections and miss out on the true object of our worship: God. We allow our group identity to drive our Bible studies and sermons, rather than allowing His Word to speak to us as a faith community.
Any church that practiced formal racial segregation would be anathematized, and rightly so, but somehow age segmentation is merely accepted without question. This kind of segmentation is absolutely unscriptural: How can we live out the cross-generational exhortations of Titus 2:1-6 within such a context? How can we serve as one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) when we are busy lopping off arms and legs and grey-heads and somehow trying to fit them together into a freakish Frankenstein?
A holy hall of mirrors tends to turn inward upon itself and ignore the outside world until it dissolves into a faint voice that echoes ineffectively throughout the world.