*(The names in this post have been changed…because I don’t like their real names.)
Mark’s a kid who beat the odds. His parents don’t attend church. He should have been one of the 90% of non-church kids who leave their faith immediately after high school. Mark’s now 20 and still has a vital, growing faith in Jesus.
Not long ago I asked him point blank: “Mark, you beat the odds. Why are you still following Jesus?”
After 10 seconds of deep thought, staring at the floor with a furrowed brow the answer came: “Jim Barker.”
“Jim Barker? How in the world do you know Jim Barker?”
Jim Barker was a fifty-something man who has attended worship services for 10 years or so. I didn’t really know Jim. He was a likeable man but didn’t seem like the type to pursue a spiritual mentoring relationship with a teen.
The relationship between Mark and Jim started naturally. No mentor programs. No shared “Sunday church jobs.” Mark and Jim happened to be assigned to the same work team in our effort to restore elderly people’s homes in the inner city. Jim simply took Mark under his wing and showed him the “fixin’-an-old-house” ropes. He later asked Mark to breakfast. They began to make it a point to seek each other out on Sundays. Now the relationship has grown to the point to where Mark now attributed his spiritual longevity to Jim.
The first time I told Jim of his spiritual influence on Mark, he was stunned. “I had no idea. I would've guessed you (the youth pastor) were a bigger reason Mark is committed to Jesus. I'm speechless. I just like Mark. He’s a great kid!”
Unfortunately, this kind of relationship is more of the exception than the rule. Rarely do adults (other than youth workers) forge such faith-shaping relationships with teens. We've tried formal mentoring programs, but no programmed relationship has held a candle to relationships like Mark's and Jim's. Theirs formed naturally.
Why are natural intergenerational relationships so rare in our churches?
Are "unnatural" intergenerational relationships worth the effort? In other words, should we try programmed relationships (i.e. mentoring programs) or just be satisfied with the natural ones (like Mark and Jim) that occasionally pop up?
What can we do to facilitate natural connections between generations?