Obstacle 4 // We Have Not Effectively Fostered Intergenerational Relationships
Think for a moment of yourself as a child or teenager. Now think about the place you felt most at home and accepted, the place where you could truly be yourself and know that you were unconditionally loved, that your voice mattered to the adults who were there. Was that place church?
For me it was not. On the few occasions that I sat in “adult church” I had to remain extremely quiet and still, which did not come easily for me. Most of the time, following Sunday School, I would make my way to Junior Church with the rest of the kids.
There were no children’s programs in the early church. In fact age segregated programming is a relatively recent addition. The early church, and the church for many generations that followed, was truly intergenerational. Every age worshipped together, ate together, and together participated in the whole life of the church.
I am not opposed to age appropriate programming but I believe that Sunday morning worship is not the time to segregate. The long term consequences are too great. As author Tim Wright explains about a lost generation,
“By segregating our kids out of worship, we never assimilated them into the life of the congregation. They had no touch points. They had no experience. They had no connection with the main worship service—its liturgy, its music, its space, its environment, and its adults. It was a foreign place to them. And so…once they finished with the kids/or youth program, they left the church. With good intentions we attempted to raise kids to be Christians, but we didn’t raise them to be Churched Christians. And perhaps that, in part, is why so few of them attend a church today. We’ve essentially “Sunday-Schooled” them out of church—because we never assimilated them into church.”
But it is not too late. We need to get to know our children and youth and allow them to get to know us. We need them to be an integral part of every aspect of our Sunday morning worship, not just as greeters or ushers. But how do we make these changes?
The first step is relationship. We need the generations in our churches to get to know each other. Plan activities outside of Sunday morning that allow the generations to interact. Bake together, plant a community garden, make sandwiches for a soup kitchen, or have a technology help day (allowing the younger generation to show off their knowledge). Having a shared project makes things less intimidating for all.
Encourage storytelling. Share what it is like being you – now and how it was when you were younger. I remember my grandma, when she was almost eighty, telling me that she was still waiting to feel “grown up.” As a young mom that made me feel better about my own insecurities. As C.S. Lewis put it, ‘Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”’
Remember to also LISTEN. Encourage the younger generation to share with you what things are like for them now. Let them know that you care about them and their struggles. You do not need to solve their problems but just be present.
Deuteronomy 4:9 instructs us, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” This verse is in the context of a faith journey. And I believe it goes beyond biological children to our whole church community. As they say, “It takes a village.” But take note the word “teach” not “preach.”
Sharing your faith journey and listening to the journey of others leads us to step two. Encourage the children and youth in your church to use the gifts God has given them to lead on Sunday morning. Welcome them to the worship team, ask them to share their story, allow them to serve communion. There might even be one brave enough to preach a sermon. Guide them but also show grace when they don’t do things the way you think they should be done. I guarantee that you will be surprised by how gifted and able they are!
Tammy Klassen - CBWC