Transcending 'Young' and 'Old': Intergenerational Youth Ministry & the Solution to Volunteers
- Thursday, July 10, 2008
OK. "Intergenerational youth ministry" may sound like an oxymoron, but think about it. What can be more normal than other generations being a part of ministry to young people / teenagers / students / adolescents / whatever? I’m not trying to return to back-in-the-day days, nor am I trying to sound culturally relevant, even though anyone who knows anything about youth ministry would know being culturally relevant is a youth ministry mantra. So let’s sound culturally relevant while suggesting some back-in-the-day common sense.
Coming to Terms
Intergenerational ministry is connecting various generations in meaningful ministry opportunities that have intentionally been created. Jesus Himself demonstrated a coming together of the generations (Matthew 18:1-6), with each generation learning from the other, as well as a harsh penalty for those who take advantage of a younger generation.
Many churches tend to segregate the generations, from teenagers to children. I would be the first proponent to that kind of ministry segregation. It should be done, and done well, but within those segregated groups, other generations need to be integrated into leadership and participants. On the flip side, there needs to be ministry that includes a coming together of the generations. “Are we connecting our kids to nurturing relationships that will last them after they complete their teenage years, or are we simply exploiting them as public relations tools to make our ministries appear successful? I submit that unless we are making intentional, focused efforts at connecting kids with mature Christian adults in the church (not just their youth leaders), we are more like the vultures preying on kids at rock concerts and less like the spiritual leaders praying that their children’s lives would be founded upon eternal things.” (From Richard Dunn’s book Reaching a Generation for Christ, Chicag Moody Press, 1997.)
Somewhere along the way, some purposeful merging of the generations needs to take place, usually in some main church gathering or service. When it comes to “big church,” leadership needs to strive toward having parts of the service, from time to time, speak to their younger generations. Something that is said, done, performed or sung needs to catch the attention of the younger, more scrutinizing audience, no matter how minimal it may be. Something needs to resonate with this younger generation, something they recognize. If you attempt this, some folks may resist or complain, so be prepared.
Focus on Your Own Family
Intergenerational youth ministry means including as much family as possible. I don’t mean necessarily doing stuff where the entire family is welcome. Sometimes young people need their space, as well as their place simply to be teenagers, but I am saying that having parental and grandparental types who are best described as matriarchal and patriarchal in their demeanor, would go far in effective ministry among young people. Their involvement can be regular or seasonal, but whatever the involvement, it is needed and should be valued.
Transcending Age Limitations
Now let’s be honest. In most church youth ministries, advanced age and maturity are not always top on the priority list of desirable characteristics. “Young and dumb often are the more accurate discriptors.” This needs to change. It does not have to be one or the other. It really should be a combination of the two. Youth ministries need the age, maturity, experience, wisdom and resources of an older generation. Youth ministries paradoxically need the youthfulness, enthusiasm, energy, technical savvy and entrepreneurial spirit of a younger generational leader.
Age is relative and unavoidable. Some people are old because they think in old ways. Their age of mentality has caught up with their chronological age. If you begin to think in old ways, then you are old, no matter what chronological age you are. What do ageless people look like? They help things progress; they exchange ideas, make decisions, change decisions, encourage initiative, bring visions to fruition. Everything is kept on track because of ageless thinking. They are in your church or ministry. There aren’t many of them, but when you have them, you wish you had a dozen more like ’em.
Making it Easy for Adults
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