Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Unnatural

Earlier this week jshay posted the following comment:
“I don’t think we can have real intergenerational connections in our current form of church.”

I tend to agree.

In my final two years as youth pastor we did everything we could to become a more intergenerational church because we recognized the spiritual longevity that it produces. We began educating the parents of teens, church board members, adults in the church, and the teenagers themselves (in that order) of the importance of intergenerational connections to faith formation. There were very few people who disagreed with the premise. Most not only agreed but said, “Yeah, we want this to happen!”

A ton of people (actually several tons) got involved in connecting with our teens. But nearly every attempt seemed unnatural, contrived, awkward and forced.

Our current forms of church seemed to get in the way of a natural connection. We're on a hamster wheel.

I believe that the church is capable of real intergenerational connections. BUT (and this is a big ol’ but) not in the current form. That’s why the solution is so hard.

So, let’s do this together. What are the factors (structures, practices, mindsets, systems, culture, beliefs, etc.) in the “current form of church” that prevent real intergenerational connections?

6 comments:

berean1949 said...

At many points over the past 34 years I've been a tenth to an eighth of a ton so I definitely help the "tons of people" who get involved with teens.

These are my "first-blush" thoughts about the intergenerational efforts of churches to connect with teenagers. They are "unrefined" like crude oil. And it's 2 in the morning so my political correctness filter is not functioning due to a design flaw.

So yes, "nearly every attempt seemed unnatural, contrived, awkward and forced." I do believe that almost all the people who make these attempts do want them to succeed and do love teenagers.

But do they really LIKE teenagers? Christians love everyone, but they don't like everyone. And teenagers know right off the bat if this or that "adult" likes them. Whether you like someone or not cannot really be hidden behind love.

My experience tells me that teenagers will quickly classify an adult as a "teacher" [a la school] -- a "preacher" [a la church] -- a gramma/grampa [a la family] -- a buddy/pal/bff/gf/bf [a la peer group -- where so many youth ministers/workers have mistakenly tried to go] -- or a friend -- which is totally unique in their short experience.

Obviously, "friend" in that context is not the word they would use to distinguish this adult from their peers. But they have no other word.

This is an adult who likes them -- individually and as a group -- who listens to them -- who credits them with some real intelligence, real feelings, real joys and sorrows, real questions, and real knowledge of right and wrong. This may be an adult whose goals and objectives for these teenagers are .. non-existent -- or at least never stated or imposed. This is an adult who asks them what they think, what they like or don't like, someone who seeks to know them and will let them know him or her -- this is an adult who asks a lot of questions because he or she is truly and deeply interested in this teenager here and now AND going forward into the future -- this adult is still going to be a true friend even as the young person grows in wisdom, age and grace -- and is proud of them as they grow -- and is supportive and encouraging during the mis-steps, because they will happen.

Does "church" in it's current form allow this? Are there enough adults who get this?

Joel Mayward said...

A church structure I believe that prevents true intergenerational community is programing for specific demographics. There is the children's program, the junior high program, the high school program, the college program, the single young adults program, the women's, the men's, the divorcees, the newlyweds, the retirees and elderly, etc. If there is connection between the two groups, it is just that--between two groups. While most churches wouldn't explicitly say that they are pandering to demographics or creating disconnection in the body of Christ, they simply are by their practices.

Personal Example: the junior high students I am leading do not go to the main worship gathering on Sunday's; they will only attend the "junior high service" currently in place. There's no need for them to connect with the larger body when they have their own junior high body functioning just for themselves. We are working on shifting this paradigm and culture, but it is a slow process.

I wonder what a church body would look like without demographics separating families and groups during worship gatherings?

Anonymous said...

In my own life I have had a few struggles with friendship in church and for the last couple of years I have been praying out the Jesus model - trying to find 12 Christians who would speak into my life, offer advice and teaching and consistantly help me in their vaious ways. I made certain allowances. One of the 12 could be a partner, two could be my parents if they came back to Christ, some, but not all could be actual family members. Others may be memebers of the same church, a Christian from my past I am in regular contact with etc. I would aim to have at least 2 of the 12 be same sex Christian friends at the same stage of life. If you are married and have kids, I see no reason you couldn't include adolecent or adult children if that was your relationship with them. I would aim to see each of the 12 every six weeks at the very least, or they are not really well aquinted enough with my life to speak into it with the Godly power and wisdom I would like.

Two of the people must be to me like the disciples Jesus most loved, and share a special relationship of intimacy and revelation in my life. I pray this over with God all the time. It used to be my most frequent prayer.

The trouble is, I think it might take me my whole life to find those 12 people. But in searching for them I am getting a better idea of who I am and who I want to be, and I find I would manage quite well with half that number or less. I have one so far. Far below my optimum.

But if I find another one every year from now on then in 12 years I will be a very happy woman, and I will have had a wonderful, Jesus filled adventure along the way.

I see no reason teenages shouldn't be encouraged to follow something similar. They could set their own rules with their youth leader, and it would help them to be pro-active in making friendships. There is a groove to suit everyone. Some people may prefer to find six people while they are quite young, some may life a formal 'godmother/father' type of extended agreement, others just to hang out, or correspond by email or chat on the phone once a week. I dunno really - whatever suits the person on the holy grail of friendship! Whatever floats your boat!

It sounds selfish, but a key thing to remember is that these 12 key people are there for me. I will chose them. And I don't expect any one person to be my everything. I am actally hoping that if I get married this structure will help and support me as I will know if my partner is just no good with money, for example, I could potenially ask another of my 12 for advice (with his permission) if they had advised me on this issue in the past, and this was the relationship I had with them. If I hit a complete personal crisis I would hope a partner would be the first port of call, but I don't see that having another 11 people to ask stuff from at various times would do me any harm, particularly if he had been encouraged to seek his own 11 throughout his life. I would even expect some ~(but not all, please)~ of the people to overlap!!

Other things I might like to talk to my 12 about about would be work, career path, family, fashion advice, how to cook or aquire a new skill, reading the bible/recieving wisdom from God; I might go to one person when I need cheering up and another when i want to forget about it all, one when I am feeling nostalgic, someone else when I want to look forward to the future, hopefully any of them when I wanted 10 minutes of prayer!...you get the picture!!

I reckon only about half on the number should be reciprocal relationships (where I would also be giving advice to them about a different issue) and of course you can have many more peer group friends than this at work, church or whatever who may be both close frinds and non christians (which many of my close friends are, and I plan on keeping them. But it is different.)

I know this model may need tweaking as I go through life and become commited to different things at different times (I am single at the moment)but I truely intend to try and stick with it. There is a poem called 'Ithica,' by I forget who, and it's a bit like that really.

I also feel that it's God lead; that he is shooting the cupids arrows, and I pray about that all the time. The fact is that Jesus needed people around Him to offer support, companionship; to bake the fishes and do the dishes. And I don't mean to big myself up here, but I need that too. Life can be hard. And lonely.

Sorry if that was really long. Beth x

Anonymous said...

The poem 'Ithaca' is by C.P Cavafy - one of my favourite poets, and there are several translations available on the internet... Beth x

Brenda! said...

At my church we are intergenerational. But this has been an 8-year intentional process.

First just to tag onto Joel's comments, a large barrier is the age-specific programming habit the Church has.

We still do age-specific programming. It is hard not to because you want to teach and teach effectively.

The big barrier I was able to remove was myself. I am no longer central to the youth ministry program. I purposely did this 8 years ago.

I still do all the planning and coordinating. But I purposely plan for various adults to do the teaching and projects so the youth are put into situations to talk with the adults of the church. I've roped in many of the parents as well as the pastors, elders, widows, our artist ministry, etc. If you are an adult, I'll find a role for you.

I see my role as youth pastor as a master chess player. I'm moving around the adults in the church on this chess board to capture the prize of our teens in a growing and sustaining faith. While the teens do have a relationship with me, I'm not the central relationship. I'm lost amongst all of the adults in the church who have relationship with them.

8 years later and our teens know they are loved by their church and valued. I've been in youth ministry 27 years and I wouldn't change a thing about how I'm leading now.

By the way, some of my insights I've learned as well as others are compiled on this user-generated website www.familybasedyouthministry.org.

Dave said...

I love Brenda's model---i.e., the master chess player. It is probably the toughest thing to step aside and become a coordinator vs. a doer. That is the kind of thing that builds lasting relationships and lasting disciples = when adults are encouraged and expected to step up. Not easy I know, but worthy of our time and efforts.