A young friend of mine recently told me he prefers to study the bible with people his own age because, he said, “They really understand my struggles and challenges.”
“Yes,” I replied, “that’s understandable. You want to gather your peers”—to which he nodded earnestly—“and come together around the bible”—more emphatic head bobbing—“and pool your ignorance and study the bible with no one wiser than yourselves to help and guide you!” Needless to say, his enthusiasm was replaced with embarrassed consternation.
Wisdom and Aging in Intergenerational Churches
His reaction is indicative of the youth culture that I wrote about in a previous post. In that piece, I argued that aging wisely in a youth culture means embracing the fact of growing old, not in spite of its disadvantages, but because of the wisdom it brings.
Such wisdom is not commonly found among the young, and it is for that reason that God intends his church to be intergenerational — composed of believers in all stages of life.
These difference life stages are present in the church because it is a family—and as in any family, its members find themselves at all points on the age spectrum. And as in a human family, strong church families embrace all the stages of life, and make the best use of their unique contributions.
If we are to make the most of the contributions of all the members of our church, it means that we cannot unreflectively accept the mindset of youth culture. We need to change our perceptions of aging.God intends his #church to be intergenerational. Click To Tweet
First and foremost, we need to change our perceptions of our own aging. Obsessing over our departing youthful selves prevents us from appreciating the benefits of age.
There is wisdom, experience, and perspective in age that is impossible to have in youth. Having the ability to think back not just across months or years, but decades, gives us the ability both to make wise decisions about our lives and to give wise council to others.
We should confront and reevaluate this dynamic. “The glory of young men is their strength,” says Proverbs 20:29, “and the splendor of elders is their gray hair.”
We need to cultivate an appreciation for the splendor of gray hair. Who better to teach us about enduring hardship, weathering the storms of setback, and coping with loss, like those with long years of experience?
Who better to shape our understanding of parenting, marriage, and ministry, like those who have experienced the realities of these things?
Our churches will be much stronger when we value the elderly for the contributions they can make, and honor them for the important role they can play.The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of elders is their gray hair. Click To Tweet
Understanding Youth in Intergenerational Churches
Finally, we need to change our perceptions of the young. In some churches, this will mean that we keep clear eyes about how much responsibility they can handle, and not rush to invest them with too much authority before they are properly tempered.
In other churches it will mean making hard evaluations about whether or not our ministries cater to their needs to the exclusion of other age groups. Our culture may prize—and indeed overvalue—youth, but we must think wisely about these things.
In other churches, however, it will mean rejecting the knee-jerk tendency to be dismissive of the young. In our zeal to give proper value to age and experience, we must beware of the tendency to swing too far away from an obsession with youth culture.
The young among us may not have an abundance of experience, but they bring vitality, creativity, and energy to their pursuits. If we are wise, we will take advantage of the boundless enthusiasm that the young bring to our churches.
An Intergenerational Church
The healthiest communities will be those that take advantage of the strengths of all of their members, young and old alike. If I can tap into the youthful exuberance of my bible studying friend, then I may find a wellspring of energy for the carrying out of the ministry.
And if I can temper that exuberance with the wisdom of my experience, then he can direct his energy in ways that are fruitful to the church and that contribute to its ends and purposes.
When our churches are truly intergenerational, with all members contributing according to their abilities, then they will be the dynamic, robust, and productive communities God intended.
Also published on Medium.