How many generations do you have represented in your congregation? Do people of different ages interact? Is that even important?
The presence of a full spread of ages in a congregation is a sign of that congregation’s general health and potential for longevity. On the other hand, congregations who only have representatives of a few generations (usually older generations) do not have good prospects. However, the big question isn’t just the presence of multiple generations but how they interact and what relationships (if any) are built over generational lines.
Faith Formation across Generations
I just finished a four-week series answering the questions “What Is Faith Formation?”. I looked at the definition of faith formation, faith formation and worship, how faith formation involves (but is not the same as) Christian education, and faith formation and the church’s mission. Briefly, I define faith formation as:
Every action, experience, or relationship that nurtures a transformative relationship of trust with the triune God and shapes the way we see and interact with God’s world.
With this post, I’m starting a new series on a topic near and dear to my heart: cross+generational ministry, or faith formation across generations.
A Quick Definition
I like and use the term “cross+generational,” a spelling/phrasing that was introduced to me by friends, which originated from the work of Dr. Rich Melheim. Here the cross and plus sign representing both “across” and the cross of Jesus, on which all Christian ministry is based. As I use the term, cross+generational is synonymous with intergenerational. Cross+gen ministry is ministry in which not only are multiple generations present, but they are interacting and building relationships.
For more on this, see my FAQ on Cross+Gen Ministry.
Dignity of All
At least for me, the foundation for cross+gen ministry is the crazy idea that every person in a faith community is a valuable member of that community. [Note: I use “member” to include every person who participates in the life of the congregation in one way or another, not just those holding official membership.] And, I mean everyone—from the youngest infant to the oldest adult, from those who participate in every event and ministry to those who attend just once. Our value comes not from how much we contribute in the old “time, talent, and treasure” but from the simple fact that we are each beautiful and unique creations of our loving Creator. We should be valued not based on what we do or who we might become, but who we are right now, God’s beloved children.
Relationships and Learning
Faith formation is not about learning information or skills (though both are important). Faith formation is about building relationships, relationships with God and with others. When we talk about cross+generational ministry/faith formation, we are specifically emphasizing the importance of relationships that span multiple generations. We learn information and develop skills in intergenerational relationships, but of equal or greater importance are the life-sustaining connections we make. But, more on that next week.
Everyone a Student
Learning is critical to faith formation. And, in faith formation, we learn best through relationships. Through our intergenerational relationships, we honor the value of the person we are connecting with. We discover that the other person knows things that we don’t. We realize that we have much to learn, and we can learn something from every person that we meet. And, we learn more from people who are different from us. This applies to any difference two people can have, but here I’m focusing on the differences that arise from being different ages.
It is clear that those who are younger have much to learn from those who are older. Those who are older have had more life experience and therefore a longer story to tell. It is critical that we honor those who are older than us and listen to them. However, those who are older also have much to learn from those who are younger. The young can share different experience, different stories, and have unique insights on various topics because of this. We should all practice the humility that acknowledges that we don’t know everything, and we can learn from every person we meet.
Everyone a Teacher
If each of us can learn from everyone we meet, that means that each of us also has something to teach. No matter what, you have your own story to tell and unique perspective to share. Again, this is true whether you are 2 or 102, though the youngest disciples might do more showing than telling. Just as we ought to practice humility with the knowledge that everyone—including me—needs to listen to others, we need to own the fact that each of us has a story to tell and things to teach.
This dual sense of being able to learn from others as well as being able to teach them creates a pattern of mutuality. Mutuality removes the notion that there is us (who have the knowledge to impart) and them (those who need to learn). Everyone shares the responsibilities and the benefits.
What can your congregation do to foster healthy relationships between members of every age?
God’s blessings on your faith-forming work!
Gregory Rawn, Publisher
High-quality tools make faith formation easier! Check out our resources for all ages on the Narrative Lectionary, as well as elementary-age worship education, cross+generational confirmation, and even special orders.