A few days ago I shared one of my passions, the next generation. I'm personally invested because I've got 2 kids, and I'm professionally invested because I spent almost 9 years in student ministry. One of my dreams as a new pastor is to see our sanctuary and property filled with kids running around and young parents chasing after them. But that's not all. As I've driven around our area my heart has been burdened by the number of 55+ communities around us. God's dream isn't just for one age group to be together, but for all. The Gospel's message is for everyone, and Gospel community involves everyone from 1 to 101. That's why I've embraced and loved the word multigenerational--bringing together people from extremely different backgrounds just by the year they were born into a community that's beyond friendship, it's family.
So many times when a church wants to focus on one age group, others are left wanting and neglected. Sadly when this happens a church doesn't become a multigenerational family, it becomes congregations within congregations (young vs. old, contemporary vs. traditional, three-piece suits vs. Skinny Jeans), and it disrupts the unity of the Body that the New Testament emphasizes over and over again. I want to give 7 ways that a church can become a truly multigenerational family.
1. Invest in Next Generation ministry - Investing in these ministries (birth-young adulthood) is more than providing a budget item or space, it's an intentional effort to champion and support these ministries. Investing in them includes recruiting and developing volunteers, promotion during worship services, and inclusion in the church as a whole. Investing also includes facility structures, including safety/security, cleanliness, and accessibility (signage is huge, so is having key people to help guests).
2. Develop Pathways for Assimilation - Are there ways for people, regardless of age, to assimilate into the membership and involvement? Introducing a Prospective/New Member Orientation can help with the front door of assimilation, but beyond that are there ways to involve in small groups, opportunities to use gifts/abilities to serve, and accountability to keep the back door closed? Developing a Multigenerational mindset means asking the question "Can anyone, regardless of age, find a place here to belong?"
3. Reflect Titus 2 - One of the coolest things I learned about Millennials in my doctoral work and beyond is that this is a generation that craves mentoring. Titus 2 gives us a great pattern for older investing in younger. Younger are able to learn from the wisdom and experience of those older, and the older can be incredibly valuable to helping build a legacy.
4. Connect Generations - I love separate spaces for youth and children's ministries, because it gives them "their place" where they can learn, worship, share, and grow in their own way. Sadly what I've seen many times is that this turns into isolation--where kids and teenagers never cross paths with adults (and vice versa). I served in a church 7 years and I couldn't count how many times people would say "oh what a lovely space for the youth, I never knew this was here." Connecting generations means inviting them into each other's space. It can be a formal fellowship or it can be as easy as a middle school class inviting the widows to join them for Bible study. When we bring generations together, we're tearing down the walls that too often separate us in churches.
5. Encourage Deference > Preference - We all have preferences over what we like in music, style, fashion, sermon length, and seating arrangement. When Paul talks about his liberty in Christ, he doesn't use it to flaunt or brag about what he can do, instead he points to deference to others. So when we don't like the music or think the service should be oriented towards _____, we need to put our preferences on the back burner and instead defer to someone else. This attitude of humility, considering others more than ourselves, lets each generation see how the others flourish and thrive. So sing songs you don't know (even if they repeat, because the angels will sing Holy, Holy, Holy forever!), let a teenager talk about Christian rap, and don't roll your eyes when the Southern Gospel quartet gets up to sing.
6. Community Engagement - "If you build it, they will come" worked great for Kevin Costner, but not for churches. Becoming a multigenerational family means finding ways to be involved in the community. Contact your local schools to see if there are ways to serve as volunteers, set up a table at Open House, build relationships with retirement homes and senior centers, encourage members to coach Little League, connect with families at the pool or grocery store, and recognize the influence areas God has given you to engage people who don't know Jesus.
7. Listen - Leaders who charge all-in without listening are asking to step on a land mine. Listen well to your people, develop a vision that they will buy into. James gives us great wisdom that we should be quick to listen but slow to speak--and becoming multigenerational means that we're taking time to listen to the genuine, heart-felt concerns of people. It means we become a people who are willing to listen to each other to learn and grow, rather than a people who dismiss the other generations. When younger people learn the older ones have sacrificed and worked hard for what they have, they listen. And when older people hear the passion and enthusiasm for Christ the younger have, they cheer.
It's a beautiful picture isn't it?
Yesterday began the highest of holiday weeks for the Christian calendar with Palm Sunday. During this week, called Passion Week, Holy Week, or if you're Baptist "Easter Week," our attention turns to the culmination of Jesus' life and ministry, His victorious death and resurrection. The special nature of this week causes us to reflect on Jesus' work in our own lives, and we remember the sacrifice on Calvary that was necessary to pay our sin debt. And the great news is that because Jesus' death was enough to cover our sin means we don't have to live with guilt and shame.
Families have the great opportunity to use this week to make a lasting impact on not only their own families but their communities and the world. Here are seven ways how:
1) Make the commitment to have family devotions this week - Use your dinnertime as a time to spend time in the Word, praying, and having a spiritual conversation. It doesn't have to be anything formal or scripted, but it does have to be intentional. Spiritual conversations can be about what they're doing at church, how God is working in their lives, and a chance for parents to encourage their kids. Maybe read through John 13-20, which gives a full account of the Last Supper, the arrest/trial of Jesus, and the crucifixion & resurrection. If your kids are younger, you can use the Jesus Storybook Bible and its stories on pages 286-317.
2) Go through your stuff and give it away - If your church or community has a clothing ministry to needy families, this week can give you a great time to clean out your closet. If you can't remember the last time you wore it, give it away. Those jeans you used to fit in before you discovered the candy stash? Give those away too. Bless your neighbors with the things that you don't need anymore.
3) Collect money and give to the Annie Armstrong Offering - Every year at Easter, SBC churches around the country collect money for church planters and missionaries in North America (US & Canada). There are hundreds of Kingdom workers around the country who are serving in major cities making Gospel impact, and the Annie Armstrong offering is a chance to bless them and their work. You can give through your church or directly through the Annie Armstrong website.
4) Share the Gospel with your kids - One of the most profound things about being a parent is that when we look at our kids, we not only see our pride and joy, but we also see a prospective brother or sister in Christ. If your kids haven't made a profession of faith yet and are old enough to understand (check out this article from John MacArthur on the "age of accountability"), be intentional this week about sharing the Gospel with them, and point out their need for a Savior. You can get more help from Focus on the Family, David Platt, Centri-Kid, Source for Youth Ministry, and LifeWay Students.
5) Serve a widow(er) or senior adult in your church - There are lots of senior saints in our churches who are experiencing a special season without their spouse, or who are dealing with the loneliness of old age. Your family can bless them by visiting them, spending time with them, sharing a gift, and reminding them of their great hope in the Living Christ. If you need help finding a senior adult to spend time with, talk to your church leadership or deacons.
6) Do a mission project as a family - This doesn't have to be a big production, it can be an evening volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Your family can be a part of blessing and serving alongside a Gospel-focused ministry this week. Doing this as a family and letting your kids see you serving can show them the joy of missions and help them to learn to love serving Christ.
7) Intentionally invite someone to church on Sunday - Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days for guests in churches. We see lots of people who come to church because it's Easter. Why not intentionally invite your neighbor, your coworker, your kid's soccer coach, or your babysitter to church on Sunday? Intentionally inviting them is more than asking them to come, it's engaging them throughout the service (especially if they don't understand Christian-ese), it's asking them their thoughts, and asking if the Gospel presentation made sense to them.
Families, what suggestions would you have for this list?
Last night while taking our students through Ruth, we came across the passage in 4:1-12 where Boaz meets with the Redeemer to find out if he will marry Ruth or if the other man will. As I was prepping for the lesson, I was struck by the example of manhood that Boaz displayed in this. And as the preparation matured, it became obvious that last night was a call for manhood to our guys. The starting place for spiritual leadership in the church and home isn't age, experience, degrees, or whether or not you can shave. It's being a man. Being a godly man means being responsible and being committed.
Responsibility is when you as a man own up to your faith, yourself, and you're willing to be accountable for what you do. Responsibility is lacking when too many "adults" want to pass the blame higher up the chain, rather than own it. It happens when someone becomes a father but fails to be a dad. I see this so often in student ministry where the dad is too consumed with himself, video games, a bigger truck, or chasing after his hobbies that he fails to do the task God gave him: cultivate the ground (work hard) and be fruitful (be a husband and dad). Boaz took on responsibility he didn't have to, but he willingly took on. That's what Christ has done for us. Romans 5 reminds us that Christ died for us while we were still His enemies. Being a man is being radical. And being radical today means spending time in your Bible, working hard, building a family, investing in your wife and kids, mowing your yard, and serving your church.
A godly man is committed because his effort isn't based on convenience or what he can get out of it. Rather, it's a matter of integrity for him to finish what he started. Sadly that doesn't happen everyday when men walk away from their wife and kids because they're not "happy" anymore. Or when a man walks away from his role as provider and protector to "chase his dreams." Too many men today are like kids signing up for baseball or getting a puppy, it sounds great at first and there's initial excitement, but once the reality sets in they try to find a way out. To be the spiritual leader in a church, or more importantly in your home, requires that you make the firm commitment that you will see your task through. Fellas, that means you don't get to claim "Me time" because when your job obligations are done, your wife and kids need you to be Husband and Dad with them. Being a man means sacrifice, service, and generosity. That's what separates a godly man from a guy.
Closing the Back Door
If I can be honest, one of the hardest things about student ministry is the "Dropout Effect." The dropout effect is what happens when students who had been a part of our ministry walks away from it, the church, or at worst their faith. The statistics are vague on how prevalent this is, depending on who you talk to it can be as low as 50% or as high as 90% (Kinnaman tags the number in You Lost Me at 59%). Because this is such a fluid topic, we'll suffice it to say that the number is "a lot." And for decades this has been an issue for churches to try to figure out how to retain young people. I believe this "Back Door" in the church is a gaping concern, and I also believe that it's impossible to point the blame at any one group in particular. Too often student ministers catch the brunt of this, where they are blamed for failing to stop a young adult from walking away from the church, but had watched their parents for years model a superficial commitment to the church. Or parents catch the blame for failing to raise their kids right, but watched a church burn out student ministers in succession or where the student minister was dismissed for moral failure.
I believe the answer to closing the back door is to first look at the front door, and make some major commitments on the home and church side. Closing the back door is only going to happen when the front door and the time between is such that the back door can stay open and students don't want to leave. It requires both sides to recognize their important role in shaping young adults, and to make one fundamental shift in the common objective:
Our goal is not raising children to adults, but to shepherd them to maturity in their faith
See the shift? We're wanting to do more than simply graduate students to adulthood, but to develop a maturity in their faith. In this paradigm, the church and home work for a common purpose: the discipleship of a student towards maturity in Christ. Along with that come all the normal responsibilities and expectations of adulthood, but with a primary emphasis on their faith becoming the central aspect of their life. Here are the way how I believe the home and the church can close the back door by focusing on the front.
Home - Shepherding Children & Students' Hearts
1. Parents should display a vibrant faith that has genuinely changed them - It's hard to ask from your child & student what you don't have yourself. So the starting place for this is for parents to look in the mirror and ask "Am I a Christian?" "Do I live out my faith in such a way that I show Christ?" "Does our home reflect what the Bible says about the family?" It starts by moms and dads recognizing their need for a Savior and leaning on Jesus for their salvation. More than a decision or prayer, it's reflected in everyday life.
2. Don't just parent, disciple - Discipling in the home is Good Parenting + Gospel. It doesn't mean that everything is over-spiritualized, but it does mean that discipline and punishment is an opportunity to talk about sin and consequences, restoration and forgiveness, and to ultimately point to Jesus who takes all our sin on Himself. It means the Bible is read, studied, cherished, and lived. It means parents are encouraging the spiritual growth of their family (and growing themselves!).
3. Keep the end-game in mind - I tell parents always to ask themselves 3 questions: "What do I want my child/student to Know?" "What do I want my child/student to Love?" "What do I want my child/student to Do?" The end game is the mature disciple produced after a faithful 18 years of loving care, shepherding, providing, and grace. Knowledge involves the shaping of a worldview (see #1 below), Love involves treasuring Christ and loving the Church, and Do involves living life on mission.
Church - Partner with Parents to Provide an Environment for Faith to Thrive
1. Don't just teach Bible stories, develop a biblical worldview - We do a disservice to our children and students when we just give them Bible stories, even if they're really good stories. We have to make a commitment as teachers to develop a biblical worldview. That starts by seeing the Bible as One Story, one that is about a God who Creates, Man who Falls, Jesus who Saves, and Creation that's restored. Everything is about Jesus, and God is at work in every page of the Bible to show His Son. Next, a biblical worldview involves seeing life through that four-fold lens. A biblical worldview informs how we watch the news, read a book, drive our cars, and choose a career/spouse/house/car/etc.
2. Connect the generations, don't separate - If you're a youth leader, ask yourself one powerful question: If an 80 year old widow in your church died today, would any of your students miss her? Even notice? What happens so often in churches is the generations are pulled apart--either philosophically by separate programming emphasis, or physically by the design of the church facility. When we do that, we fail to put the full Body of Christ on display for our children and students. When we connect the generations, we allow for Titus 2 mentoring opportunities to happen (80% of young adults noted never having a spiritual mentor in their lives), we allow older generations to share their stories of walking with Jesus faithfully for decades, and we give children and students an opportunity to allow others into their world.
3. Provide opportunities for students & young adults to live out their faith on mission - When we build facilities that are designed to keep our students inside them and shelter them from the outside world, we do less to impact the world than we do to just build an ivory tower. It also reduces the "win" to just getting them in the door. Instead, embrace the mindset that sees how important it is to be on mission, where students are engaged with their communities and the world in sharing and serving Christ. One of my greatest convictions in student ministry is that every student should spend time serving outside of their context (different country or different region) once before they graduate high school. This gives them a love for their neighbor, a love for the nations, and a heart for serving that carries over long after the fog machines from camp are gone.
What strategies have you seen work in your church and home for producing disciples?
Ever heard of the app TimeHop? It's an app that uses your social media history (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and shows you each day what you said/posted that day a year ago, two years ago, and back. Carrie and I love it because we can look back at pictures of the boys and marvel at how quickly they're growing up, we can see what we were doing while we were dating and engaged by the pictures we post, and we can laugh at the long journey we both took for doctoral work.
TimeHop can teach us a few things about student ministry, both good and bad:
1) The past is great to remember, but terrible to live in - TimeHop gives us a glimpse into the past and allows us to relive the memories of newborn babies, the first months of marriage, graduation, and other important events. But those events have come and gone, and we can't try to live the "glory days" like The Boss sings about. For us in student ministry, we need to remember and cherish the memories of past camps, events, and spiritual milestones. But we can't do that at the expense of the crop of middle schoolers desperate to hear from God's Word. A lot of our students are learning to drive now, and one of the first things to teach a new driver is to glance at the rear-view mirror but focus on where you're going.
2) God has used you before, and will again - When we see TimeHop, we see really cool things that have happened before. We get to see the early days of our oldest learning to walk and talk, and we get to celebrate past things that we went through that were really special. For us in student ministry, looking back in the past is a great way to remember how God used us before. And Philippians 1:3 tells us that when God begins a work in us, He'll see it through to the end. We can claim and rest in the fact that God used us before and He's going to again. This past summer we took a group on a mission trip and some on the team had been the previous year. They got to watch (like I did) as the week unfolded and the connections were made and the Gospel was preached and hope was built into siding and roofs and decks and paint.
3) You're making a difference - Someone said they saw me mowing my yard the other day and I explained to them how helpful it is as a stress relief (I can mow it and see progress and when the job is done I can drink some water, get a shower, and admire the finished product). So often in student ministry the results don't get noticed for years, until they're a college student and they realize how important their faith is, or they get married and make the commitment to build a godly legacy. Until then the hyperactive and somewhat distracted nature of middle and high school makes you wonder if you'd rather talk to the wall because it listens better. A few months ago I saw a group picture of the first short-term mission trip we took with our students. Most of them are graduated and moved on, and looking at that picture I saw how the course of the last 6+ years shaped them for the rest of their lives.
4) What you say leaves a forever digital footprint - In ministry, the most important role is that of teacher/preacher, and we use words as our currency in that role. What we say has a huge impact, whether we actually said it or not! Matthew 12:36-37 reminds us that we will have to give an account for every word we say. That's why James says it's not for everyone to be a teacher! In student ministry, we need to remember that the words we say and the way we say them matters.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.