I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve always been involved in church life, because I am a ‘Pastor’s Kid’, because I have a good relationship with my grandparents, because I’m the eldest child, or something else entirely, but I’ve always managed to get on with those who are older than me.
I remember enjoying the company of those older than me, even more so than those my age. At church, during my high school years, there was a great bunch of young adults five to ten years older than me, and I always found being involved in their activites—included in their space—was an exciting, encouraging, and thrilling part of my church experience.
But it’s not just those slightly older than me who have had an impact on my faith.
I can think of all those ‘oldies’, roughly my grandparents age, who would take an interest in my life and talk to me as they sipped their Nescafe Blend43 and Scotch Finger biscuits in the church foyer.
I can think of all those guest preachers, seemingly older than my parents, coming around for lunch after church. They would share stories of their ministry life and take an interest in knowing a little about me.
I can think of all my Sunday School teachers too. They always seemed old to me, but their faces are memorable because I knew they were there to invest, teach, and take an interest in me and my faith.
As the gospel is accepted, so it is to be passed on: from generation to generation. God is to be made known through our families—both biological and ecclesial.
I’m sure we’ve all got our own stories about people of different ages impacting our lives and faith. It should be a natural part of discipleship. As the gospel is accepted, so it is to be passed on: from generation to generation. God is to be made known through our families—both biological and ecclesial. From Moses (Deut 6:1-9) through to Paul (see below), we read examples of the story of God being passed from generation to generation.
Of late, 2Timothy 1 has made an impact as I reflect on this concept of intergenerational ministry as youth ministry. In verse 5, Paul acknowledges the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother and, no doubt, the contribution they made to Timothy’s faith. Paul himself was older than Timothy and invested heavily in him, discipling him on his missionary journeys. In the same chapter, Paul encourages Timothy by saying:
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2Tim 1:13-14)
There is the constant expectation that people who are older and more mature in the faith will teach those who are less mature and younger in the faith. As we think about the impact of this in our churches and youth ministries I find there are five benefits of considering implementing a whole body of Christ approach to youth ministry
First, the benefit of perspective.
When meeting with an 83-year-old who began following Jesus long before you were born you suddenly realise the commitment required. You realise the faith, wisdom, and commitment that comes from one who has walked the path for so long. You hear what’s involved in growing and walking with Jesus year after year, decade after decade. You learn that life is not easy, that the hardships along the way are real and painful.
The young people in our churches need to hear these stories. And they are only going to hear this when there is interaction together. A coming together of older and younger generations. But it is also important to realise that it will be unlikely the younger person will seek this out. It is unlikely that a younger person will seek conversation with an older person. And so I’d encourage those older to take the initiative and begin conversations with those who are younger. Take an interest. Ask questions. Think about what you could do to build a relationship with them outside of Sunday morning.
Where this occurs, I’ve observed that those in the older demographics also begin to learn more about, and gain an appreciation for, those who are younger. Hearing from younger believers helps them appreciate the new challenges that are thrown at teenagers trying to navigate life, relationships, family, study, and faith. Different generations that know about each other’s lives can pray and worship together in a deeper way—saying with the psalmist: “The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” (Psalm 28:7)
Second, the benefit of history.
Unless you’re serving in a church plant that has only recently launched it is more than likely that you are a member of your church in a particular season of the church’s life. The church may have been around for decades before you got there, and I suspect it will be around long after you leave.
Interactions between those younger and older can help us get a wider picture of the life of a church, its culture, and how it has got to where it is today. Hearing about stories, significant events and ministries from people who’ve served faithfully across the life of the church can provide historical context. New people don’t know many of these things when they enter, but over time, interaction between generations can help them come to understand more about why the church operates the way it does.
Third, the benefit of encouragement.
If we constantly surround ourselves with people our own age then we miss out on a wealth of encouragement from other generations. Conversations and relationships between generations allow us to encourage each other. The younger person learns, and is encouraged, because of the words and affirmation of the older. The older person is encouraged to see the growth and development of those who are younger.
When we consider youth ministry alongside intergenerational ministry we are promoting encouragement. The long-term perspective of the older saints encourages the younger generation to continue in faithfulness and service. Older saints are invigorated in their faith as they see the energy and enthusiasm of those in whom they are investing.
When we consider intergenerational ministry we are promoting encouragement. The long-term perspective of the older saints encourages the younger generation. Older saints are invigorated in their faith as they see the energy and enthusiasm of those in whom they are investing.
Fourth, the benefit of prayer.
I’m not sure about you, but I always look up to those older saints who are constantly praying. Meeting with those that are older provides an opportunity for those younger to grow in deeper relationship with them. But to pray together or to pray for each other privately extends this further.
As each generation prays for one-another the ministry of the church is bound together in a more intensive way. Rather than each generation simply praying for their own people and ministries each generation is holding each other up in prayer. Whether it be through small groups, through Sunday gatherings, and through one-on-one ministry, the shared ministry of prayer for one-another builds up the church. And in turn, the ministry of prayer leads to the ministry of care.
Five, the benefit of life together.
Hearing anyone’s story is a privilege.
To have someone open up and tell you their life story, their walk with God, and what is joyful and painful for them is a privilege. Whether it is an older saint meeting with someone younger. Or whether it is a younger person meeting up with an older. The privilege of simply being in closer relationship and friendship through the sharing of story is a powerful ministry.
The church is in the people business and, as our congregations grow up together in age, so they are also able to grow together in love and faithfulness for one-another. As each generation shares and hears the stories of the other we find a deeper appreciation for one-another. Providing opportunities for these things to occur is essential for any youth ministry, and any church, more than we possibly realise.
As you observe your church, what steps could you take to encourage another generation? By doing so you may in fact be doing youth ministry as intergenerational ministry.