By Devin Donnell
Growing up, I had an interesting experience at church. For significant periods of time I was the only kid in my age group. All the other kids were either several years older or younger than I was. This presented a few challenges, but mostly, I believe God used this to form me in some powerful ways. Because I had no one that related to where I was developmentally and what I enjoyed, I had to learn to relate with others who were different than I was. As a fifth grader, I learned how to hang out with the high schoolers in a way that wouldn’t totally annoy them. I learned how much wisdom and knowledge the senior saints had and could pass on. I learned to help younger kids grow and learn, whether on the playground or from the Bible. Being “stuck” with people from different generations helped me learn what it is like to live in relationship with people who have different ideals, interests, values, maturity levels, and depths of faith.
The idea of intergenerational ministry is to create environments where there are people of all ages, from 1 to 101, participating in the work of God together. Now, this is not a natural thing for us in 21st century American Wichita. Our society is structured in such a way that makes us generationally isolated. Schools are split into age isolated grades* and debate the philosophy of Minecraft and their favorite Youtubers. Seniors move into retirement homes, don’t get many visitors, and reflect on the good ol’ days. Parents congregate on the sides of soccer fields discussing parenting and mortgages. Twenty-somethings flock to coffee shops and rave (or rant) about the latest iPhone. This model, in the worst case can lead to a “my generation is the only one that matters” mindset, and at best leads to being uncomfortable in the presence of other generations.
That’s not how God designed His people to function. After giving the law to the people of Israel, God tells them:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
Now, God is talking to the entirety of the nation of Israel as well as to individual parents. Raising the next generation was a community task. There are things that teenagers, retirees, and other adults can teach to children that they cannot learn from parents, peers or teachers. But, not only do the children learn from the adults. Jesus says in Matthew 18:3-4 “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” As adults, we can often lose the innocence and simple faith that children have due to the cynicism of the world eroding our outlook on life. Jesus tells us that we adults need to emulate children. We can’t do that if we don’t spend time around them and learn from them.
God wants His church to be unified across race, country, language, social status, and most definitely across generations. If you’re older, find some younger people to invest time in. You might not understand their lingo but learn from their vibrancy and youthfulness. If you’re younger, find some older people to learn from. Their technology might be out of date, but the wisdom God has given them won’t ever depreciate. There is something you can learn from everyone in the body of Christ, and God has given you something to share with everyone.
*There is a trend toward getting different grades to work together at different times throughout the year which is helping to bridge this gap in the school age years, which is awesome!