We Need Each Other

Leaders who see the power of connecting generations—choosing to live with the tension it brings and do the hard work of leading through it—will set their churches up to fulfill the Great Commission with greater effectiveness.

by Phil Harris
T

he Bible commands us to confess to one another (James 5:16), so here I go: I was wrong. Before you judge too quickly, I was not willfullywrong. It was an accident-I promise. Nevertheless, I was wrong.

See, when it came to generational ministry in the local church, I was a separatist (for lack of a better word). I believed all age groups deserved and needed their own environment at church.

As the person responsible for overseeing the spiritual development of children and youth, I frequently lobbied for rooms and resources. I insisted that we have age-appropriate teaching so kids could “get the gospel on their level.” I contended that in order for our youth to thrive spiritually, they needed their own place to worship. I even supported our senior adults’ endeavors for fellowship and Christian education in their rooms and on their terms.

However, I was wrong. While age-focused ministries are important, I was wrong for not realizing how much the generations need each other. I was so adamant that every group should have its own space that I diminished the enormous value in bringing generations together. I missed the significance in being with and learning from each other.

We can never move to where we need to be without speaking honestly about where we are. Many congregations face the problem described by Peter Menconi:

“Churches with one dominant generation, no matter what generation it is, are most at risk for ineffectual ministry” (The intergenerational Church).

In those churches, major decisions are based on how they affect a specific demographic. Churches who use this restricted filter limit their potential to fulfill the Great Commission. Menconi believes effective intergenerational churches allow all age groups to feel at home as they participate in the life of the church.

The struggle is that intergenerational ministry presents challenges. I am not a homebuilder, but I’ve read it is easier to build a new house than to remodel an old one. Clearly many pastors and church leaders apply this philosophy to ministry. They choose to start over rather than to shape and add to what is already established. Intergenerational ministry requires people to see the necessity of honoring their heritage while engaging their future. Intergenerational ministry will force churches to live with the tension that it brings. Incorporating a few principles will make living with that tension a little easier.

    WORSHIP

Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away (Neh. 12:43 NLT).

Usually, worship experiences serve as the central ministry of a church. They are the center of the hourglass. In order for all generations to feel part of the church, there should be regular opportunities for multigenerational worship.

If kids and students never participate in “big church,” they never get the sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. Even worse, if they are exposed only to the age-appropriate environments we’ve created for them, they could become focused on style rather than substance.

The danger is when they graduate from these specialized environments, they begin to ask questions like, “Why don’t we sing my kind of music?” If they do not get what they want at your church, they may decide to go to the hipper, cooler church that started on the other side of town.

An effective multigenerational service is not accomplished by just throwing a bone to each generation. If that is all we do, people will leave church not remembering the elements catered to them, but being upset about the parts that were not. A true multigenerational service involves the generations. Kids, students, adults, and seniors serve as greeters, ushers, Scripture readers, and worship leaders. At our church, we include focused prayer as a part of every worship service, and I love it when we team up our kids with adult prayer partners. It is beautiful to see kids and adults praying together.

    SERVE

Be like the Son of Man. He did not come to be served. Instead, he came to serve others (Matt. 20:28 NIrV).

Over time, organizations tend to turn their energies inward. This is true for churches as well. Every church plant (at least the ones not the product of a church split) starts with a passion for the Great Commission. However, as time passes, even the most outreach-minded churches will begin to assess the needs of their own people. In that process, it is easy to lose sight of the needs of the lost because, well, they may not be in church every week . . . but we are.

One of the best ways to escape that trap is by implementing community service. Serving our community takes the focus off ourselves and rightly puts it on others. When you have a paintbrush in one hand and a hammer in the other, the style of music last Sunday suddenly doesn’t matter as much. When you go with a person from another generation to take food to a needy family, you realize you’re on the same team.

When we’re serving, it’s impossible not to have the mind-set described in Philippians 2:4: We no longer focus on our own interests, but we instead focus on the interests of others.

    VALUE

He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Mal. 4:6).

When it comes to the generational divide within our tribe, I land somewhere in the middle. I’m young enough to know that kids talking about The Hunger Games are not planning their next “Daniel fast.” However, I’m old enough to have a degree from Lee College. As someone in the middle, I need to value both the voices older than me and younger than me.

No matter your age or experience, you need to value those younger than you. Their opinions do matter. Their concerns, as hard as they may be for you to understand, are real. If you do not value those younger than you, when you finally do decide to pass along your faith, you may find there is no one left to receive it.

Likewise, it is vital that you listen to the voices of those who have gone before
you. Stylistically, you may differ. When it comes to methods, you may not agree. However, their wisdom can help you avoid the pitfalls they’ve already experienced.

We can read about the worst “church split” in history without going onto the Internet. Bad leadership in the midst of a generational challenge caused it (2 Chron. 10). Rehoboam, the newly appointed king, made a huge mistake. Before making his first major decision as king, he sought the wisdom of two generations. However, he chose to follow only the counsel from friends who had grown up with him. He listened to the folks who looked like him, talked like him, and thought like him, ignoring what his elders had to say. Within days, the nation of Israel split in two.

As church leaders, we need to listen to the voices and opinions of those younger and older than us. Too often church leaders do not listen, and too often the results are similar to what happened to Rehoboam. Conversely, leaders who see the power of connecting generations—choosing to live with the tension it brings and do the hard work of leading through it—will set their churches up to fulfill the Great Commission with greater effectiveness.