When Jeroboam and all Israel came, they spoke to Rehoboam… Then King Rehoboam consulted with the elders who had served his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you counsel me to answer this people?” ….But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him.
2 Ch 10:3,6,8
His father, Solomon, turned away from the Lord in the latter part of his reign, he was told by God that the result would be a civil war, a tearing apart of the kingdom. God even sent the prophet Ahijah to anoint Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s servants, to be king. Upon hearing the news, Solomon put a death warrant out on the young man. Fearing for his life, Jeroboam fled to Egypt. (I Kings 11:1-40)
That was the problem Rehoboam inherited. At the death of Solomon, Jeroboam comes back from Egypt and seeks council with the king. It was a defining moment in the history of Israel. And Rehoboam blew it.
He first consulted with the elders who had served his father. Their council was to make peace with the young man and his followers, a peace which would heal the kingdom and keep it from tearing apart. Not liking that idea, Rehoboam consulted with the young men around him. Their advice was radically different. Their advice was to goad Jeroboam, to make his life even harder, to squash him out of existence. Rehoboam listened to the young men around him – and the nation of Israel was cut in half.
Our churches today suffer from the amount of weight that we put on the advice of younger people. We see teenagers on ruling bodies of churches. Denominations at major meetings stop and take the “youth vote” and the “seminary student vote” before turning it over to those whose votes actually count. We see young pastors, young ruling bodies, young denominations – and utter chaos in the body of Christ. Churches are trying out the latest in contemporary worship music, implementing programs to “bring in the young people”, and trying out the newest in designer Bible studies. Our churches are slick and modern, and utterly irrelevant.
This chaos, in part, is the result of turning away from the moderating influence of our elders. Elders slow things down and make us take along-term perspective. Because they “have been there, done that” they help us see beyond the latest fad or program for the church and focus on what really matters for the people of God. Their passion for the latest thing has been replaced with a wisdom of the ages, and their oft hard-earned insights are more correct than the latest “big thing” that is pushed by younger generations.
As a young pastor, I was blessed with a board of elders who would kindly listen to my wild ideas, but who would then patiently work with me to moderate those ideas into something doable for the church. This dynamic of new ideas and long-term perspective resulted in a church that was growing and vital but still very much rooted in history and tradition.
The church is wrestling with new problems such as health care, gun laws, marriage, NSA wire tapping, and how to reach the digital community with love and the Gospel of Christ. Now more than ever we need to turn our eyes to those who have the wisdom of ages.
Or we can just consider the advice of the young men…
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!