The pandemic has brought an ‘uncertain certainty’ to many congregations. The uncertain part is that we don’t know exactly what it will look like when we all start coming back together in force. We are certain, however, that we will abide with God just as he dwells with us.
I believe that an important part of Congregational health in the coming months and years, is to ensure that our members of every age and spiritual maturity sustain and strengthen intentional connections. The spirit of community is built into us, after all, God said, “… Let us make man in our image…” (Gen 1:26, emphasis added).
From One Generation to the Next
If you talk to any mature Christian, most do not want or expect to play the exact same role forever.
When I was in my late 20s, I was approached by Max Craddock, our long-time minister at the Strathmore Church of Christ. He said that once a month there were some speaking opportunities on Sunday evenings and asked if I would step in. It seemed a bit ironic to be asked, as I am sure that I had dozed off during some of his sermons as a teenager. I accepted the offer and discovered a wonderful opportunity to hone my writing skills and to practice public speaking in front of those small Sunday evening groups. Having ‘grown up’ at Strathmore, these were people that I knew and trusted, and who were patient with me as I as I practiced those new skills.
About a year later, I ‘graduated’ to speaking on a Sunday morning. It was exciting to look out into the congregation and to see plenty of smiling faces. And off to my left, there was Max, who was just starting to doze off. Who knew that it would give me such a warm feeling?
It was a beautiful exchange of roles and part of the natural process whereby those who are more mature share responsibilities with those who are younger to bring about maturity and the continuity of God’s work.
An Example from Israel (Deuteronomy 11:13-28)
Deuteronomy chapter 11 takes place at the end Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, and just prior to that nation entering into the Promised Land. God had taken His people out of Egypt, and for a generation, they experienced first-hand what it meant to depend upon God. Here, like a good parent, God provided guidelines for the situation into which they were about to enter.
This chapter includes certain key instructions about giving honour to God’s word (v.18-20). To this day, certain orthodox Jews take this passage quite literally, keeping scriptures posted by their doors and bound to their foreheads.
To paraphrase the message: Once my promise is fulfilled, this is what you need to do: Tell your children at every chance how I’ve been faithful. Don’t forget about how I have taken care of you. You’ll continue to be blessed if you obey my commands, and cursed if you turn away from me (v.26-28). From history, we know that Israel only lived by these commands during certain parts of her history, and that fulfillment of God’s grace and love came fully through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.
Inter-generational Relationships In Modern Churches
In more recent history, especially within Western Culture, there has been an artificial division between age groups. It began perhaps with Sunday Schools which during the industrial revolution were a response by churches to the growing number of unschooled children that were working in factories. More recently, events like ‘youth rallies’ and the role of dedicated youth minister, have in the post WW2-Baby-Boom Era attempted to respond to the massive growth in the numbers of young people. This isn’t to say that modern youth ministry doesn’t have a place, as it helps to address certain challenges.
Having spent many years working with the young people of the church, I can say that there are certainly some unique things about ministering to youth. Each generation is faced with a different set of values than the one before. The times are changing and changing quickly. Not only that, but young people have different energy levels, and struggle with their own set of questions because of their stage in life. Yet I believe that healthy and authentic inter-generational relationships play an indispensable role in the life of the church and the growth of each member.
An example from John, called Mark
John, called Mark has a few mentions in the New Testament, and provides a powerful example of someone who grew into a leadership role within the Church and did so with the help of more mature Saints. The role that his family played in the church is suggested in Acts 12:12, when Peter, having escaped from prison went directly to a home where the brethren were praying for him. It was the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother. Mark was chosen by Paul and Barnabas to accompany them on their first mission journey. But since he decided to return home before the work was complete, Paul and Barnabas disagreed over including him in their second effort. They parted company over this disagreement and went their separate ways (Acts 12:25; 15:36-40). By the time that Paul wrote 2 Timothy, he had changed his mind about John Mark. He now considered him to be such a valuable asset that Paul is requesting his presence (2 Tim 4:11). In light of this example, we might ask ourselves – how we are fostering relationships between generations that encourage patient growth?
5 Steps- Encouraging Faith Into Action
Every Christian is a Minister. Every Christian has the responsibility to prepare themselves and to the best of their ability prepare others for service. As mature members, we can use our words and actions to encourage less mature Christians, and gradually release responsibility to them. As less mature members, we can take time to appreciate the experience that is being shared and bring our own energy to the work of the Church.
Let me suggest 5 Steps that we can take to successfully mentor the next generation of leaders:
- Invite Someone to put their Faith into Action.
- What is a work that this person might be interested or talented in?
- You Observe, I do
- Let them sit and watch only
- Break it into smaller steps
- I do,you help
- Let them take a small responsibility
- You do,I help
- Let them take most of the responsibility
- I observe,you do
- Let them take the whole Action
- Mature Christian is a ‘Safety Net’ Only.
Bible references are from the English Standard Version.
Note: Immanuel is a Deacon with the Strathmore Blvd. Church of Christ in Toronto, and President of the Great Lakes Bible College.