“A great deal of America’s social sickness comes from age segregation. If ten fourteen-year-olds are grouped together, they will form a Lord of the Flies culture with its competitiveness and meanness. But if ten people ages 2 to 80 are grouped together, they will fall into a natural age hierarchy that nurtures and teaches them all. For our own mental and societal health, we need to reconnect the age groups”Mary Pipher, Sociologist, 1999
Recently, I participated in a conversation with fellow kidmin ministers who were asked what the greatest challenge facing their ministry was. There was one answer that showed up over and over and over again: Parents. There was a general consensus that the greatest challenge facing children’s ministry were parents who were apathetic about spiritual formation, didn’t prioritize church, and didn’t take seriously their spiritual influence in their home and on their kids.
I did not, and do not, agree.
In fact, I don’t see parents as challenging at all. I see them as tired. I see them overwhelmed and under-supported. I see them as lonely and ill-equipped. And I see them as doing their very best to raise their kids in exactly the same way they were raised and their friends were raised.
There’s been an approach to spiritual formation in our churches where the work of discipleship is owned both by professionals (of which I am one) and mandated to parents (of which I am one). But this approach has been found lacking. There is one glaring oversight – relationships in community; a rich web of intergenerational connections committed to loving, supporting, and nurturing one another in daily life and spiritual growth. As a result, everyone is tired because everyone is trying to carry his/her own load with little to no support.
So how do we address this lack?
In regard to parents specifically, some clarifications are needed.
1. It is not the parent’s “job” to disciple their kids. Parents/caregivers, in the context of the community of faith, have the most influence and therefore, are significant members of the discipleship team. But the entire faith community has a part to play in discipling the next generation and placing that task solely on the parents is a misstep.
2. Parents are often told they “should” disciple their kids. This poor word choice often makes it seem like parents have a choice in discipling their children. But the truth is, parents are the single most influential force in their children’s faith formation so whether intentional or not, they ARE discipling their kids. The goal, then, is to help them to approach this intentionally and equip them for that work. It’s not a “should” – parents DO disciple their kids; it’s up to the community of faith to help them do so well.
How does all of this relate to the quote at the beginning?
As noted by Pipher, one of the major disadvantages of age segregation is the creation of age homogenous environments where nearly everyone in one’s social circle are the same age. In other words, rather than having that rich web of relationships from people at different stages of life and health to support each other, we’re all grasping at people who are just like us. And believe it or not, that actually increases our feelings of isolation and helplessness.
Studies show that age homogeneity in social networks leads to isolation and loneliness. Younger people experience delayed socialization. Older people experience a lack of generativity needed for positive cognitive health (Source). And sometimes, the way those things manifest, are in things like apathy, busyness, and disconnection….sound familiar?
Lifelong discipleship necessitates interactions with multiple generations.
Scottie May of Wheaton College points out that “Within many churches today, children and parents rarely share experiences. This generational separation makes it difficult for parents to learn how to nurture their children spiritually” (Source). Combine that with a lack of intergenerational relationships in the church and what we are left with are lonely, exhausted parents, disillusioned ministers, and a congregation just waiting to be connected together, on mission, in relationship, with each other and with God.
The importance of intergenerational connectivity in meaningful relationships cannot be underestimated especially when it comes to relationships within a faith community.
These relationships sustain us. They combat apathy with genuine care. They reduce the need to hide in busyness by creating safe spaces to learn and grow. They nullify the disconnection by normalizing shared experiences and life on mission.
I truly believe this is the biggest challenge facing, not only children’s ministry, but the Church in general. But this is not a “forever and always” situation. We can begin to create connections within our churches and our homes that will lead to more engage parents, kids, and congregation.
This will require us to move beyond our programs and our buildings and begin to forge space for meaningful relationships and nurturing community. But the payoffs in terms of community and discipleship are so worth it.
Ready to Start, Not Sure Where?
ReFocus Ministry is pleased to present a four-part webinar series on generational discipleship and connection for churches interested in exploring intergenerational ministry both in their church and in their homes. Each session will focus on a unique aspect of gathering generations together, both the challenges and opportunities, as well as practical tips to begin implementing now during this time away from regular church gatherings.
Sessions can be attended individually or all four can be attended as a series.
Session 1 – ReConnect. This first session of the webinar focuses on defining generations, generation gap, and the need for generational discipleship in your church. This is the “What” behind generational discipleship.
Session 1 has already happened but a recording as well as Session 1 materials can be sent to anyone who registers this week!
Session 2 – ReGenerate. This session focuses on the the research, the reasons, and the heart behind connecting generations from both a secular and spiritual viewpoint. This is the “Why” behind generational discipleship.
Session 3 – ReProduce. This session offers practical tips, strategies, and ideas to being connecting generations in your faith community and in homes in meaningful, lasting, life-changing ways. This is the “How” behind generational discipleship.
Session 4 – ReLease. It’s time to go and do! This session will provide a discussion and debrief around the questions, “What? So What? Now What?” and give you an starting point for incorporating generational discipleship as a meaningful part of your faith community. This is the “Who” behind generational discipleship at your church and in your home!
Anyone registered for all four sessions will receive a FREE half-hour coaching session/follow-up specific to your ministry needs.
To register, go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reconnect-a-webinar-for-generational-connections-tickets-116093734485. Questions? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to journey with you!
For more information about
- Kids in Worship
- Determining which Type of Family Ministry model works best for your church
- Discipleship in Intergenerational community
- Encouraging the continued conversation through Practical Discipleship at Home
- Seminars, Workshops, Coaching
About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. She also serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship with the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ.
With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, ChurchLeaders.com, and Seedbed.