I shared last night with our Bible Study group one of the things that God has been convicting and challenging me with lately. It's still cooking in my head, so I don't have a "program" or even a plan yet as to what to do, but it related to intergenerational ministry.
I shared with our pastors on staff this week about this conviction as well and admitted that over the years, though I always knew something just wasn't quite right, I too led ministries and planned events that encouraged the separation of generations rather than the coming together.
Here's where I am with this. I believe that in our continually fragmenting society, there is a great need for people to interact with others from different generations. It seems that society has built a norm for separating everyone. It's pretty honest at first - preschools, schools, and youth clubs and then continues until you have lodges, and eventually senior adult centers.
Now, don't get me wrong. I believe there are developmental stages and actually needs for children, youth and adults to have their own environments for learning and even for fun activities. It's just that there seems to be no opportunity for the generations to come together.
Years ago, when it was common for a person to be born in a town and live with their parents, near their grandparents and with aunts, uncles and cousins nearby, the natural growth with others from different age groups happened. Now, most people live in different cities, even states, than their extended family. My children, for instance, have a similar connection with their grandparents that I did. They get to see them and spend time with them about a week every year. It's a good week, but it's still only a week.
I strongly believe that teenagers need regular interaction with senior adults, and vice versa. Why? Well, I believe in the biblical teaching on mentoring. You know, the old women are to teach the young women and the same for men. Yet, often in our culture that doesn't happen. At least it's not common.
So, we have the church. The church focused on worshiping God and reaching people. We, like many other church, want to be known as a church where the entire family is welcome and loved. So, here comes the family in the front door on a Sunday and immediately we split them up. We put the children in one building, the teenagers in another. Mom and dad meet somewhere else and if grandma comes with them. . .well, we have a building for her as well. Hmmm. "Welcome to the family church." I think we have work to do here.
When I shared this last night, it seemed like folks in my study (from different generations) were giving me that "I've never thought of that before" look. One lady afterward said "Well, that's just how we always have had church." I responded by saying "But, does that mean that it's the best way or even the right way?" She said "No. It just makes it hard to think differently." I agree. Sometimes we do things so long the same way we begin to think that's the normal or best way. It may not be.
I don't have an answer yet. I'm not ready to throw away all our age-graded ministries. I'd really like to work here a while longer. However, I am ready for us to begin thinking of intentional ways for people of different generations to serve and learn together.
One of the best current examples is our Church for Men on Sunday evenings. We have over sixty men coming regularly and they are of all ages. Some guys are in their 20s. Others are in their 80s. It's amazing to see how they interact and learn from each other. It's normal for any generation to think they are the first to encounter things or at least the best. It's eye opening to see that, as Solomon said "there's nothing new under the sun."
I was reading a story by Jim Johnston, Director of Threads, the young adult division of LifeWay. He was talking about this need for intergenerational ministry and used the illustration of Sherpas in Nepal. Here's the story:
Sherpas are natives of Nepal who have served as essential partners for the climbers of Mount Everest for nearly a century. They know where the dangerous crevasses lie. They know where to camp on the mountain for the night. They know when the storms are most likely to strike. Do you have seasoned Sherpas in your church that can guide young adults through the tough times in life? Do you have an intentional discipleship and mentoring process in your church where young adults can connect with older adults for friendship, help and advice?
It's vital, because too many young adults today have no one to turn to when it comes to the tough questions of life (faith, marriage, life and work) and also the practical questions of life (changing my oil, preparing my taxes, making my budget work, building a resume). Churches that attempt to separate generations drive cracks into the foundation of the body of Christ. But, churches that connect generations can be wonderful bodies of believers who respect each other in every facet of congregational life.
Wow! I must agree with Jim. We have to be intentional. Mentoring, growing together, learning from each other - these are all essential on the faith journey.
So many churches are nothing more than a collection of "little churches" that come together to hear a pastor each Sunday. These "little churches" are called Children's Ministry, Youth Ministry, Senior Adult Ministry, etc. Now, again, don't hear what I'm not saying. I believe these age-graded and even gender specific ministries are vital, but they never come together other than to sit in a big room and sing hymns and hear a sermon, we're missing something.
Where is this division shown? Other than the fact we have a building for every age group, it also is shown with the annual budget goes out. Every person immediately looks to the line item of the budget for their "little church." If their "little church" is getting less funds than another age group's "little church" then the Enemy uses that to create dissension. You don't think this happens? Get real. It's human nature. I've been here fifteen years and each of those years, questions have come up related just to this. Funny though, as has been our practice, we have funded and adjusted as need be to make sure every ministry has all the resources they need to minister to and reach people.
Oh well, we forget that I guess when looking at the budget form.
Still, it's more than budget or Sunday School rooms. It's a mentality. Pray with me as we seek God's lead on this. God created the family, the extended family and the church family to be multi-generational for a reason. This is nothing new. In fact, maybe it's just getting back to the basics of being church.