Maneuvering Intergenerational Ministry
I grew up in a small church in a small city in Maine. In this setting, there wasn’t much conversation about how to make time for intergenerational ministry—it just happened. Our small church didn’t employ a youth pastor. In fact, I don’t think I even knew the role existed until I was in college. We had a youth group, but it was led by a volunteer, and if we wanted any kind of deepening of faith beyond Thursday night youth Bible study, it was going to take place in an intergenerational context.
Reflecting on that now, I realize how blessed I was by this. I had great relationships with believers of all ages, and I had the opportunity to learn and grow from their experiences in the faith. It was awesome. I really did grow up with a full view of the body of Christ. Now, as a youth worker and as someone who serves other youth workers, the kind of experience I had is something I really desire for this current generation of teenagers. I think of how rich my experience of faith was because I grew up in a church where there was just no other way.
THE PRESSURES PLACED ON THE PROFESSIONAL YOUTH WORKER
Now that I’ve been a professional youth worker for more than a decade, I understand better than ever the pressures that youth workers face. Paid youth workers—especially those in larger churches—feel the pressure of building great programs where teenagers can be fed in their own niche. There are significant pressures placed on those youth workers by their church boards and senior pastors—pressure to have a full youth ministry calendar that’s loaded with opportunities for students to be evangelized and grow in their faith. For those of us who want our teenagers to have the experience of growing alongside believers of all generations, the question arises: How will I ever find the time to make this happen?
REMOVING SOME OF THE PRESSURE
When you make the decision to prioritize intergenerational ministry, it can’t be an add-on to an already busy youth ministry schedule—you’ve got to make room for it. This may mean removing some things from your ministry calendar. It might mean removing a retreat, a concert, or a trip to an amusement park so that planned times for intergenerational interaction can take place. It will likely also mean selling your church on the idea that less is more, which means a shift in the church’s mindset and culture in regards to how to minister to the next generation.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
Changing your church’s culture will not necessarily come easily, and there will be a lot of moving parts. Things to think about might include helping your church understand why you want your students to connect with other generations, helping them to see the youth ministry as part of a healthy approach to ministering to students rather than the whole approach, and helping each member of the church to see the important role they play in passing on the faith to the next generation.
These changes won’t happen overnight. In fact, culture change is one of the hardest things to accomplish in the church—sometimes it feels impossible. However, if you believe as I do that intergenerational ministry is important, it’s worth the time and effort required to help shepherd this along.
PLAN YOUR COURSE
As your church begins to see the broader vision of the importance of intergenerational ministry, you can begin to plan your course. Start small. Have a few fun events geared at exposing your students to older members of your church. Not only will this be new to the adults in your church, but it will also be new to your students. Fun events will break down walls and help everyone involved become comfortable with one another.
From there, you can plan a course for how to help deepen the relationships that will form and how best to encourage discipleship to take place. Creating a setting for mentoring is one awesome approach that can enrich the lives of both students and the adults who take the time to invest in them.
WHY DO THIS?
At this point, there may be many asking, Why do this? Why go through all this time and effort? I’m doing pretty well ministering to my students without all this trouble. There are many reasons. But for the purposes of this post, I return to my own experience. Depth and richness were added to my faith as a teenager because I regularly experienced a full view of the body of Christ. The relationships I gained and the wisdom I gleaned helped to shape me into a much stronger Christ-follower than I would have been without an intergenerational Christian experience.
MATT LARKIN serves as the Director of the Department of Student & Family Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (WWW.ACGC.US).In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MATTWLARKIN.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.