Passing on the Faith

Jack Levison:

The church I grew up in, a small church sandwiched between a TV repair shop and a donut store, wasn’t big enough to have all sorts of sub-groups, so when church experts talk today about becoming a cross-generational church, I have to laugh. That’s all I knew. When there were parties, church people of all ages were there. (And, believe me, that little band of New Yorkers knew how to party; I learned more than just faith–like how to mix a Harvey Wallbanger at a party full of church people.) When there were work days, adults and kids painted walls and doors side-by-side. When there were church picnics at Salisbury Park, we barbecued and played softball together. How else could we field two teams?

And when we worshiped, kids and adults endured the same sermons (an endless hour of them every Sunday morning) together. We figured it made us strong somehow. And it did. The faith stuck for me and my sisters because there was authenticity in this undistinguished band of believers. I remember how Mrs. Fife, our sixty-plus Sunday school teacher, turned, knelt on the floor with her head on the pew, and prayed, right there during the service. There was familiarity, too. We didn’t just know each other’s names. We knew each other’s flaws and problems and worries, from babies born with deformities to old people sick and dying. We teenagers worshiped, worked, prayed, and partied shoulder to shoulder with people seventy years our senior.

There are, we all know, far more distractions for kids nowadays. The church has to compete for their attention, so we separate them into their own enclave and occupy them with age-specific activities and teaching and worship and mission trips. But I learned the faith alongside older people. Like on Wednesday nights, as I listened to Uncle Willie sing, as he and I shared secrets, and as we laughed together in the second row of our makeshift choir stall. Uncle Willie never taught my Sunday School class. He never led me on a mission trip. He never preached a sermon (though I wish he had). Yet Uncle Willie sang and laughed the faith, not just to me, but with me. And that’s one of the ways the faith got passed on to me, in the shared giggles and the angelic tones of my older and wiser friend.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • josenmiami

    yes, the faith is ‘caught’ more than ‘taught.’ My friends church gave up their Sunday School program years ago and started including the kids in the adult service. Since then they have doubled in size. Most of the new people are homeschoolers who did not want to shuffle their kids out of the service for SS classes. Now, when I visit the church, over 70 percent of the people who enthusiastically join in with the worship are under the age of 25!

  • Brad VW

    I agree with the spirit of this post but as a family pastor I’m currently struggling with knowing when it is most beneficial for generations to be all together and when is it best to have some age division. For instance it seems quite popular for families to want to keep all their children with them for the whole worship service, but it seems to me that balance needs to be kept in mind.

    Children can offer a lot and receive a lot during many parts of corporate worship but I don’t think the benefits of small children being with the group during the sermon out weighs the likely boredom/interruption/distractions that are bound to happen. The stories and lessons that children can hear from dedicated teachers during that time are more likely to reach their distracted ears. Sure kids can be taught to sit and be still but is that really the best we can offer to them. I’m very much a big believer in inter-generational friendships like we read about with Uncle Willie but those can happen in various ways without having all the church family together all the time.

    I guess I’m trying to say to young parents out there, don’t feel bad about taking advantage of your church’s safe and secure nursery, it might just make the corporate worship experience better for you and for your neighbors in the next pew. (But make sure they get to know Uncle Willie too)


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