Yesterday, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a video from a recent chapel service where he addressed the topic of children in the worship service. While Dr. Mohler and I likely have some theological disagreements in other areas, this is one place where my heart and his resonate together. You can hear a portion of his sermon here, but I’ve included below a few pertinent quotes that lend specifically to the conversation of intergenerational worship.
“Christ’s people ought to be more welcoming than anyone else to children.
Our churches should not be places where the adults cannot wait to put the children away in order to get to the adult task of worship.
One of the scandals of so much evangelicalism is that we send people to their rooms as soon as we get to church…
You should see people sitting in pews whose feet cannot touch the floor…we should, in church, welcome the wiggling and the squirming “- Dr. Albert Mohler
In 12 hours, the video had generated over a thousand shares, over 2,000 reactions, and over 100 comments. So, it touched a nerve. Some people wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agree with Dr. Mohler’s points. Some people vehemently opposed his approach.
This has been my experience since I began championing the ideas of intergenerational worship as part of a healthy church experience. Like Dr. Mohler, I take a both/and approach to this idea meaning I support age-appropriate ministry within church settings as long as it doesn’t disallow for intergenerational times of worship and ministry. However, I find, like with some many things, the tendency is to turn this discussion into an either/or scenario – either we wholeheartedly agree with something or we vehemently oppose it. And, like with so many other things, that does not allow for a way forward.
So what are some ways we can create a both/and discussion around this topic that is healthy, robust and cooperative, that is theologically sound, developmentally aware, and spiritually strong?
Know the Theology
It is so important before we begin advocating for something like incorporating all ages in corporate worship that we have at least a basic theological foundation for what we are doing; our “why” so to speak. When kids and youth began to be pulled from the larger congregation for age specific ministry beginning in the 1950s, the “why” that was given was fundamentally developmental in nature. But as that was done, the theological and spiritual ramifications weren’t explored until later when we realized we were losing the gift of generational discipleship within our church walls because our generations never interacted.
If a church desires to bring back that intergenerational space is some form, it is vitally important to have a theological understanding of why it is choosing to do so.
The Bible is literally full of examples on the whole congregation being present, both in the Old and New Testaments. Christ’s life and ministry model the same for us. Know these verses and explore these Scriptures so that when questions come, there is a “why” behind what is being done that establishes a foundation for intergenerational faith communities.
Here is a great article from Fuller Youth Institute to get started with, but don’t stop there! Do your own study. Explore the Scriptures. Explore what theologians have written. Develop a “why” that fits with your church, its vision and mission, and its members. I once had a mentor tell me that “Christ will meet me in the Scriptures.” He has indeed and my “why” is firmly established in the Word. That’s so important if we are to champion this particular space in worship.
Know the Research
Because developmental research was so significant in the move from a fully integrated church to a a fully siloed one, it is important that we are familiar with what the research is saying regarding intergenerational worship and relationships within the church. That is why my heart is for a both/and approach to intergenerational ministry rather than an either/or. I’ve reach that point because of the research that has been done regarding children and youth and their relationship to faith.
As I’ve reviewed both developmental research and ongoing research into faith affiliation and church attendance, I’ve become convinced that both age-appropriate and intergenerational ministries are both strongly needed and should be fostered within a faith community.
How that plays out in each church will necessarily be specific to that church and its culture, but to do one to the exclusion of the other is a disservice to our rising generations.
Where to start? This article is a good spot to get started on looking the research that is coming out. I would also recommend the following books/studies:
- Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations by Dr. Vern Bengtson
- Youth Ministry that Lasts a Lifetime by Dr. Richard Ross
- Hardwired to Connect by the Commission on Children at Risk. This is a study that looks at the importance of community in the lives of children and youth. It is a secular study but it pertains to the developmental conversation of intergenerational community and youth.
- Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love your Church by Drs. Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffen.
Know the Community
Each faith community has an identity all its own. It’s been like that since the church started; just look at the names of the epistles in the New Testament and the specific way Paul speaks to each community (also, note that he speaks specifically to children so as these letters were read aloud, he expected the children to be there). It is so important to know the culture of each church and understand what it identifies with in terms of its vision and mission.
Cookie cutter intergenerational ministry does not work. It is not enough to simply steal a program from the church down the road and expect it to work in yours. While each program or project or idea for intergenerational ministry has merit, it is only an asset to your community if it fits within your church’s identity.
The best thing that we can do as we transition from a traditional, age-segregated model to a more intergenerational, age-inclusive model is to get to know our faith community and help them to do the same. Help the generations learn each others names. Find ways to plug children into places where they are already welcome to be involved. Strengthen the relationships that already exist and find ways to build new ones. Transitional ministry is crucial to introducing “new to you” things to any group of people, so go slow and put a lot of time, prayer and thought into getting to know the church.
Want a great way to start helping generations get to know each other? Check out the Pray For Me campaign. It is a wonderful way to incorporate prayer into your church and connect the generations at the same time!
This discussion that is happening right now in the church world is a good one!! It might be a hard one in some spaces. We will likely disagree on some things. But the heart of the issues is this – we love our children and youth and want what is best for them. It’s worth taking the time to have a good discussion about this; to know our theological “why”, to understand the research being done, and to embrace our faith communities. My prayer is that this discussion is one that results in more children and youth staying in the faith as they grow so that we, the whole church, can say we have answered the call to “impress these things upon our children.” (Dt. 6:8).
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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. 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
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