Working toward Intergenerational Relations (by Jonathan Storment)

Working toward Intergenerational Relations (by Jonathan Storment) January 29, 2014

Last week I introduced a problem that most churches were already aware of: we can’t get young people and older people to hang out together anymore. I want to do more than just identify the problem, but part of the solution is identifying the problem

I’ve had to learn how to show different generations how much they need each other. So when this comes up, I find myself asking questions like:

How was your Christmas? Did Phil Robertson and that GQ interview come up? Did you find that you had different opinions than your grandparents? Were you just talking past each other?

Are you tired of feeling guilty because you aren’t doing something more radical with your life?

Do you ask your friends what God’s will is for your life and find yourself wishing for a bit of perspective?

And then I tell them something like this:

I’m a young 30ish pastor, I can’t fit into skinny jeans but I’m in the demographic that wears them. About 4 years ago, I was at a crossroad, trying to discern if I should take an opportunity to plant a church, or to take an opportunity to be the preacher at a 90-year old church. I chose the older church, primarily because I believe that intergenerational interaction is so important.

Did you know that for hundreds years, in order to walk into a church, you had to walk through a graveyard? You had to walk past the tombs of the people who used to go to church there.

I know that church can sometimes be boring, and contrary to what you may have heard boring is not a virtue.

But have your ever noticed how boring genealogies seem to be? It’s just these lists of hard to pronounce names that are sprinkled throughout the Bible, they seem to kill any flow that the narrative had, and they are everywhere in the Bible.

I don’t think they are in there just to help us remember that this is a historical faith, I think they are also in there as a testimony to what we are trying to do. Passing the faith off from one generation to another is incredibly difficult work. It involves humility and sacrifice and generosity and courage and faith. Maybe this is why the Bible keeps telling us the genealogies.

Maybe it’s why we keep skipping them when we read.

God Himself refuses to be introduced without rooting Himself in a mini-genealogy. He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He’s the God of generations.

It seems to me that this has got to inform the way we think of organizing our churches.

Andy Crouch, in his great book, “Playing God” says it like this:

Any church worth the name must learn to bury its members. One unhappy side effect of American Christianity’s accommodation to youth culture has been the formation of congregations that have no significant intergenerational membership, no elders who are facing frailty and death, no one to say goodbye to and commend to the perpetual light of Christ. Such churches may be full of youthful vitality, but learning to proclaim the resurrection life in the face of grief and loss is essential to spiritual maturity and true spiritual power.

It seems like our Church cultures are saturated with ministers and churches talking about doing something radical for God, but our notions of radical faith are often crushing and fail to take into account Paul and Peter’s encouragement for Christians who are living “quiet lives” as a way to serve the LORD.  I like the way Peter Berger reframes this: “Somewhere in a retirement home there is a Christian woman whose greatest fear in life is that she will be humiliated by being unable to control her bladder in the cafeteria line . For this woman, the greatest act of radical obedience to Jesus Christ is to place herself in the hands of a loving God every time she goes off for a meal.”

Keep her in mind when you read Shane Claiborne.

History often repeats itself because we didn’t listen the first time.

When we create or belong to institutions that consist of only a generation or two, we are cutting ourselves off from the wisdom of generations who’ve gone through the civil rights movement, the invention of mass-media, World Wars and the rise of nuclear warfare. We’re cutting ourselves off from stories about how to be married or single, how to be a parent or grandparent…or how not to do that.

So I tell my peers and people younger than me, we need someone who’s gone before us. And that involves being humble enough to admit you don’t have life all figured out, and accept the wisdom of those before us.

You won’t agree with them on everything, and they’ll think you are wearing clothes that look like stuff they’ve thrown away.

And you need to know that it’s hard for them to pass on to you the gospel.

It’s also difficult for them to trust you’ll appreciate and understand some of the traditions that have been so meaningful to them, like songs they heard their mother or grandfather singing. It’s going to be hard for them to see those things not be as meaningful to you…and vice-versa. But sometimes you should sing them, not because they are so moving to you, but because they’re moving to the people around you.

After all, worship is for God. And God belongs to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

Next week, I want to address generational generosity from senior saints, but for today, Have you seen any effective ways of communicating to younger generations why this matters and how to do it?

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