How can parents bless and encourage their adult children even when they live far away?
I was reflecting on this after hearing a young mother in my mom’s group negatively talk about her parents. She wasn’t feeling supported with their 4 young children. I didn’t ask questions, but from what I gathered, her parents had moved away once their children were grown and were now serving on the mission field. My mom friend said, “I’m not going to do that to our kids.”
Obviously there is a lot that could be unpacked with this story and I don’t want you to read too much into it. But the conversation did cause me to consider this question:
“How do we as leaders encourage people to invest themselves in mission efforts that may take them away from their families, but also give them advice and suggestions for fulfilling the ministry they have to their own family?” Read more
Each generation has preconceived ideas and attitudes toward other generations. “Those older people just don’t understand.” “Young people today have no respect.” “Older adults are stuck in their ways.” “Young adults are lazy.” And you can add all of you own statements and the ones you’ve heard people say.
The problem is, these attitudes prevent us from really connecting with one another and more importantly, they prevent us from looking beyond the surface and seeing the real person. The hardships. The struggles. The joys. Read more
From owning the latest piece of technology to reading the most recently released novel, American culture promotes a message that new is to be valued. Add to this the fast-paced life that many Americans live and what results is a society that does not have much time or desire to listen to the wisdom and experiences of its elders. That’s one reason why it is so important for churches to find ways to honor older adults and encourage them to tell their stories. Read more
Not all 20 year olds like loud music and not all 70 year olds like a pipe organ. There are 40 year olds who prefer to sing hymns and 60 year olds who enjoy Chris Tomlin. Generalizations about the differences among generations are not always useful.
I read an article last week regarding a study conducted by the University of Illinois about how businesses can create better work relationships among employees of different generations. This was a quote from the article that I think has lots of application for those of us leading in churches: “Assumptions based solely on age can lead to some very faulty conclusions and missteps.”
While the article was about businesses, there were a number of transferable principles. For example, one finding in a review of the research was as follows:
Generational factions also can emerge based on when employees start work with a firm, similar to the lifelong bonds formed by soldiers during boot camp or deployments, the study found. Because those factions can include workers of all ages, the study says age-based solutions to unite those workers with colleagues are ill conceived.
This made me pause and consider the timing of when people start attending a certain church. There are those older adults who have been there for 40-plus years, but also those older adults who have come in the past 5 or 10 years along with those younger adults who have come to church in the past 5 or 10 years. Regardless of age the feelings and impressions held by those members who have been there for 40 years may be different than those who have been attending for 5.
The article concludes like this: “It’s human nature that workers interact with their cohorts, seeking out their own,” she said. “Figuring out ways to bring them together will allow companies to tap into all of those knowledge silos and reach full potential.”
Isn’t this exactly what we want to have happen in the church? Check out the entire article and then let me know what you think.
How can we keep from making generalizations that tend to polarize?
Peggy Horine never dreamed that her willingness to pray for a high school student from her church would one day result in her flying across the country to attend this young girl’s wedding. The relationship between these two women began when Peggy picked up a picture of Sara at a church gathering and called her to express she was praying for her. Peggy recalls, “We bonded instantly. She was so happy to have me in her life and in turn she made me feel like I was truly making a difference.”
There is no question that intergenerational relationships within the Church are valuable and yet so are relationships with our peers. Some churches build their ministries to reach specific age groups while others emphasize the need for all ages to intermingle. Dave McElheran, older adult ministries pastor at Cedar Mills Bible Church in Portland, OR, has found that a balanced ministry includes both. He says, “As people in the same season of life begin to meaningfully connect with one another they are more prepared to engage in relationships that cross generational lines.”
Ambassadors is the age-specific ministry for older adults at Cedar Mills. Monthly luncheons, book clubs and prayer groups are just a few of the ways older adults connect with their peers and begin to see the needs of those around them. These ministries give people a sense of identity and belonging.
But Dave says there are some drawbacks to specific age targeted programs. “You can become ingrown and exclusionary. Finding connection with those who are in a similar life stage is a great starting point but it should not be where people stop.”
When Peggy and her husband first started attending the church, they were looking for a place to meet friends and found themselves involved in a Suppers 8 group with other people who were 50-plus in age. This led them to participate in an Ambassadors luncheon where the pictures of high school students were displayed. “This luncheon was the starting point of my relationship with Sara. From that experience, God began to open my eyes to the needs of young people in our society. I’ve now become involved as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster children and my husband and I regularly give our time to ministries that support and encourage disadvantaged young people.” Peggy laughs, “Today we do more things with young people then with those our own age.”
According to Dave, for intergenerational relationships to happen the church has to be intentional. One successful event has been an annual miniature golf night in which 2 teenagers are matched with 1 older adult to form a team. Dave says, “We put a lot of care into how we pair the people up as we want to create the best environment we can for on-going relationships to occur.” The night of the event the teams have a meal together and are given various questions to use to get to know each other. 75% of the teams maintain at least an acquaintance relationship and about 25% develop a lasting relationship that continues on and goes deeper.
Intergenerational events provide a great way for breaking down negative stereotypes. High school students find out that older adults are real people and actually like to have fun. In turn, older adults learn that not all young people are irresponsible and reckless.
Dave admits that intergenerational ministry can be hard to do. “Most people are more comfortable with their peers and it takes work to encourage both the young and the old to open their lives to each other. But it’s worth it.” When you hear a story like that of Sara and Peggy, you know it’s worth it.
In the New Testament era, what Timothy received from his mother and grandmother as recorded by the apostle Paul in II Timothy 1:5, is one of the greatest blessings that can occur through intergenerational relationships. Paul writes, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” This may be one of the most important goals of intergenerational ministry–to leave a legacy of faith for the next generation. In a society where the retirement years are often seen as a time for ‘self’ – some retirees are turning this idea upside down and investing themselves in the future generation.
Ronnie Green, an adult lay leader at First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA did not set out to intentionally do something intergenerational, he simply wanted to use the second half of his life in service to God. At the age of 55, Ronnie went on his first mission trip and now nearly 10 years later, he’s been on over 10 trips. His work has taken him to Africa, Alaska, Guatemala, and Mexico-not to mention the various ministries he has been involved with in the states. Ronnie has come in contact with many young people throughout these years of ministry and has had a tremendous impact on their futures.
On a mission trip to Zambia, Africa Ronnie asked an 8 or 9 year old African boy if he could talk to him and his friends about Jesus. At first the boy said ‘no’ but then said, “if you’ll climb up in a tree with us old man then we will listen to you.” Zambia does not have very many older adults and the novelty of this white-haired man seemed to make these young people more open and receptive. Ronnie says with a laugh, “At my age, I wouldn’t climb up a tree for just anybody! But for the chance to share the gospel with these children I was more than willing. I have found that if you just make yourself available to God, then He will take care of all the excuses you have about why you can’t serve Him, even the excuse that you’re too old.”
This was never more evident than when Ronnie was working at a youth retreat in the states and an overweight girl felt like she could not participate in one of the races. “All her life, she had been told that she could not run. I told her, ‘Even though I’m 64, I’ll run this race if you will run it with me. And she did.” God continues to stir in his heart a passion for young people. With a lump in his throat Ronnie recalls a freshman boy asking him a simple question during the last days of a youth camp where Ronnie was a sponsor, “Mr. Ronnie, can we go pray together?” Ronnie says, “We found a quiet place to pray and I will never forget feeling this teenager’s tears fall on my hands as we opened ourselves to God.”
Many churches are discovering the exact thing that Ronnie is experiencing – intergenerational ministry is a rewarding, God-honoring work. And as the generations interact with one another, people are finding ways to fulfill what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 78:4, 5b-7, “…we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done…He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.”
How are you helping older adults invest in future generations?
(This is an excerpt from my Leadership Network Paper, Breaking Down the Age Barriers. You can download the entire paper at leadnet.org).