By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
Thirty-five years ago, citified Johnnie and Phyllis bought 56 acres of rough ridge we call Godwin’s Mountain. We love that mountain but need help with things I can’t do. And when I need help, I’ve got people. What one of my people told me characterizes what an intergenerational church ought to be like. After literally getting me out of a ditch, Ronnie said, “Mr. Johnnie, I don’t think you’ve got anything out here that needs doing that I can’t do or don’t know someone who can.” He and others help!
What an intergenerational church is. Technically, it’s just when folks from more than one generation worship and minister together. But it’s really a lot more than that. In an intergenerational church, every person from the cradle to the grave is important. The key is consistent valuing of personhood in all the church. Some churches even have classes for those with dementia. Their time focuses more on familiar Scriptures and hymns. For a brief time, some whose minds and eyes are dead and darkened come alive with brightness.
Today, we’ve got too many churches segregated and divided by ages. Some speak of a generation gap. But biblically folks worshiped together without one being more important to God than another. When they considered the Passover and the Shema [i.e. Listen up!] (Deuteronomy 4:4-9), they didn’t dismiss the kids for another kind of church. They all listened up as their heritage, faith in God, and review of God’s mighty acts got told to each new generation. Unity together of the whole church in worship and ministry defines an intergenerational church.
What about generational needs in churches? Educators can tell you how important it is to help each generation jump over life’s developmental hurdles. That’s why churches do their dead-level best to help individuals and families meet the needs of each age group in each generation. But it’s critically important that we not have an age-group gap as a church. When I left FBC, Midland, Texas, to go to college, I left the only church I’d ever known. Quickly, I joined the equally large and wonderful college church. But something was missing! I couldn’t figure it out for a few weeks. All I saw was a sea of college students and some older people — not much of a middle-age generation at all. I was a teenager, but I sensed a gap different from what I had known. So I joined another intergenerational church.
Demographically, churches may not be balanced by age groups. But all age groups in a church are needed; and they all ought to feel a part of each other. Though their styles and preferences may vary, their love for God in Christ and His Word and for each other is a divine imperative for the church. Most SBC churches are small enough they tend to meet under one roof anyway. But that doesn’t mean they’re united and lovingly respectful across all age groups and totally involved. Churches are to focus on everyone of every age — all groups — but not over focus on any one group.
How does a church ideally become intergenerational? You can read yourself blind on the Internet finding good answers of factors involved in answering this question. I’ve done that. But it seems to me, the pastor is the key — under God. Our pastor used to be a soda jerk. Now, on Wednesday nights before he leads prayer meeting, you can see him making milkshakes downstairs for the youth. He’s not superman, but he gets with every group and age and stage. And he models that for the rest of the pastoral staff and church. I believe the pastor leads and we follow or help lead. We need to be the person who can help whatever the need is, or else get that person who can meet the need we can’t.
Each church faces its own challenges in being intergenerational — from small to large and in-between. But in God each church can meet that challenge. Each person needs to know and feel he’s equally important to God and to the church. All the individuals need to be participators and not spectators. One church I pastored was a musical church. It was so intergenerational that the song leader chided me from the pulpit when I tried to put the quietus on my son whose widely waving arms beat time to the music. As I put the quietus on my son’s joy, the music stopped! The singer said, “Preacher, leave that boy alone and let him beat to the music!” And I did.
Conclusion. An intergenerational church is not an option. It is for the whole church — every member — to be the church of God in Christ in unity. I spared you everything on this subject except my experiences. But I stand by my testimony. Be intergenerational!
— Copyright 2016 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write: email@example.com