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The Intergenerational Church

Posted by Nathan Moore on

In many of my conversations over the last year, I have noticed a common refrain which is some variety of: “I’m concerned about the direction of this country.” It has been my observation that most of the time, this sentiment comes from mature adults who have raised children or perhaps even have a proud collection of grandchildren. I suppose this is because members of those generations have lived through more cultural change than those of my own generation.

There is no question that our culture has undergone a radical cultural transformation over the last 40 years and it remains to be seen where the moral revolution will finally settle in this country. I too have grave concerns over the condition of our great nation. My concerns are varied: moral, economic, civil, and political concerns. I am especially alarmed at the erosion of certain freedoms and the loss of moral conviction. I believe there is good reason for such concerns though I do not wish to expound upon them here.

Second only to the aforementioned refrain, I often hear people say something like, “I don’t know what kind of America my children and grandchildren will grow up in.” This too is a noble concern. It is good and right for us to consider the welfare of the coming generations. But may I ask a question, What, exactly, are you doing to secure a better future for the next generations?

In his recent book “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis and How To Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance, Nebraskan senator and evangelical Christian Ben Sasse, laments as he articulates this American cultural crisis. One of the problems he identifies is radical age segregation, suggesting that our “hyper-generational segregation” is among the most radical in history.

In American culture, as soon as children reach school age, they are separated into peer groups for most of their lives. This is true for the final stages of life as well, as we gather our elderly into communities. We have perhaps unintentionally, created an environment where we protect the old from the young and the young from the old. Just think of your life, how many meanginful relationships do you have outside of your stage of life, excluding your family?

Let me ask again, What exactly, are you doing to secure a better future for the next generations? This is an important and necessary question in the context of our families as well as the public square. But I’d like to consider this question in the context of the local church.

The Bible offers a way of life and vision of church that is radically intergenerational. We all know that parents are called to nurture and disciple their children (Eph. 6:1). You may even know that the Bible commits this task to grandparents as well (Deut. 4:9). But what about those outside your family? It’s important to note that this instruction and others like it weren’t given solely to parents but to the whole assembly of Israel.

The psalmist said that “one generation shall commend your works to another…” (Ps. 145:4). How are women to learn to be wives and mothers? How are they to learn to manage the home? From “older women” says Paul (Titus 2:3-5). How are young men to learn self control? From the “urging” of their elders (Titus 2:6).

There are many lessons that are better taught from a different stage of life. How is the next generation going to run this country, or their homes, or this church if they don’t see varied incarnational examples of how to work hard, suffer with patience, and grieve with hope. Sure their parents can teach them these things, but even the best of us have a limited scope of experience. Solomon wrote that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31). This is a glory to be both displayed and revered.

I’m concerned about the naturally occurring age segregation in our church. There are exceptions here for sure, but by and large we are an age-segregated church. We have a children’s ministry, a youth ministry and a Sr. Adult ministry. Most of our adult Sunday school classes are divided among the “life stages.” Most of those who visit our shut-ins are elderly and most of those who teach our children are young parents.

I don’t want my children growing up only hearing expressions of faith from the young and healthy. There is much more gravitas when a truth is transmitted from the voice of gray wisdom, than from Bob, the singing tomato.

I don’t want my children miss out on seeing the faith of the grieving widow, or the patient suffering of chronic pain. I want them to value the writing of cards, the taking of meals, and visits to the lonely. I don’t want them assuming they will always be healthy or that their peers possess the most valuable knowledge. I want them to hear from those who have walked with God for 60 years, who have been married for 40, and who have stories to tell.

We must strive to become a more inter-generational church.

How much wisdom could be shared if our youth found meaningful ways to build friendships and enjoy our seniors? Imagine if our seniors were the primary servants in our children’s ministry? What if our students shared their vitality with the aging while the aging shared their wisdom and experience with the young?

Do you want to change the direction of this country? Do you want to make this a better place for your children’s children? Then commend His works to a generation not your own. Sure other generations can be awkward and strange, sometimes messy or even smelly. But that’s how real life actually is, isn’t it?

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