Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Striving for multi-generational interactions in a non-family integrated church

If you’ve been following my series on the family-integrated church, you know that I love so many aspects of it and would love for ours to be a purely family-integrated church. However, many of us may find ourselves in a church we love that is not family-integrated, so to conclude this series I’m attempting to find ways that we can borrow from the FIC model and become more Biblical in the process.

One of the things I love most about the FIC is the fellowship of believers. Rather than segregating members into classes with cookie cutters of themselves- married with young children, singles, seniors, married with grown children, college and career, etc.- the FIC encourages members of all walks of life to fellowship together as a family. I love this and find it to be more Biblical and more real-life than the contemporary model of segregation. Think about it. We all have a family and the bulk of our life is lived within that larger family life. Imagine if my husband and I decided not to allow our kids to spend time with our parents. Unthinkable, right? We’re so blessed to live in the same neighborhood as my parents, my husband’s parents, and my grandmother. We love that our kids can take the dog for a walk and stop by to visit grandparents. Most of us believe that our parents and grandparents have something wonderful to offer our children. They are wise and experienced, and they love them expecting nothing in return. They are more mature in the faith and age has given them a more clear sense of priorities. My parents have passed on to my children a love for the land and the great outdoors, as well as their love for the Lord and uncompromising dedication to the Word of God. This inter-generational fellowship gives our children a sense of the world beyond themselves, that they play a small part in time and that they will carry the torch their grandparents pass to them. You’re probably thinking, so what’s your point? My point is why don’t we reflect this in the way we do church? Why don’t we value those more seasoned in life and what they have to offer the church? Why don’t we encourage our children to learn from our church family just like we encourage them to learn from our immediate family?

The Bible is full of passages that show us how important other believers are to our own spiritual lives. We are supposed to encourage one another, warn one another, teach one another, pray for one another, and bear one another’s burdens. Specifically, older women are to teach younger women and older men are to disciple younger men. How can we accomplish this in a non-FIC? I think the answer is that most churches are not accomplishing this. In all honesty, I’ve only recently become aware of the importance of these relationships. I’m blessed to have a godly mother who has always been that mature woman in the faith who has poured her life into mine. I never felt I needed anyone else. I have never felt un-shepherded or mentor-less. However, recently I’ve embarked on a new journey in my life of home schooling my children. For the first time that I can remember I've felt sort of alone and abandoned in the wilderness- in search of an instruction manual that doesn’t exist. By God’s grace, I ended up in the blog world and soon found many mentors- Christian women who are experienced homeschoolers willing to share their wisdom and encourage me. God is so good to always provide the guidance we need. I have no doubt that He has been behind my introduction to this wonderful group of women. The point is, we all need someone, lots of someones, especially older and more experienced someones, in our lives to help us grow. We are not individual Lone Rangers on this quest for sanctification and giving glory to God. We are part of a body of believers. We need other believers and they need us. They have something to offer us and we have something to offer others of them. This is not rocket science, but how do we pull it off, especially in a church with segregated Sunday school classes?

Here are some of my thoughts and I would love to hear your thoughts, as well.

1. Cross-generational fellowship. We have a meal at our church on Wednesday nights. This is something very stressful and difficult for the sweet women who prepare the meal (I’m not one of them), but it’s a tremendous blessing to the rest of us. The casual and relaxed atmosphere of a meal (and standing in line for it) often provides opportunities for discussion that the more rigid Sunday morning schedule does not allow for. We also have a fellowship meal after church on Sundays every other month or so. These are often potluck or sometimes catered (in this case it’s subsidized by the church and everyone chips in $2-3/ adult). My mother-in-law started a mother-daughter banquet that we have for the women each year around Mother’s Day. My girls look forward to it all year because it gives them the chance to dress up and have a formal banquet-style meal. (I told you they don’t get out much.) Often times fellowships occur within Sunday school classes which can be a hinderance to getting to know those outside of our classes. Making the extra effort for cross-generational fellowship will pay-off as we form relationships with Christians both older and younger than us.

2. Cross-generational ministry. I’m going to admit to you right now that this is 99% theory in my life, but it’s my goal for our family and I desperately want it to be reality. If you remember, the initial reason behind having deacons to serve in the church was to care for the widows. We’ve come a long way from that, haven’t we? The widow is terribly neglected in the church today. We think because they get social security and Medicare that they’re all taken care of and need nothing from us. This is an example of the state coming in and enabling the church to not take care of its members. You might think you’re glad they do, but remember they tax you to do it and don’t think they don’t keep a nice cut for themselves! Ok, so maybe most widows today are not needy in the sense they were in the NT church. But families have so much to offer to seniors in our church, especially widows. We have some friends who have ministered weekly in a nursing home for more than 20 years. We had the privilege of joining them several times and I was amazed at how much the seniors there loved my children. We didn’t actually DO anything. We just worshiped with them and talked to them. I think sometimes we underestimate what the simple things like this, sharing of ourselves, can mean to someone who spends most of their life alone. The church is the body of Christ, we are to do what we think Christ would do for these saints. Every time I have taken my kids to minister to or visit a senior in our church (and I can count them on one hand), it has been a blessing for all of us. Isn’t it funny how you start out thinking you’re doing something for God and He ends up using the one you’re trying to bless to bless you? The church is supposed to be a family and as such we are supposed to genuinely care for one another.

3. Discipleship. Jesus could have handed each of His disciples a scroll and said, “Here, read this.” But, He didn’t. His style of ministry was relational. Most of what He did was teach them the Scriptures, but He did this in many ways and as He walked with them, ate with them, worked with them, lived with them. In short, He fulfilled the command of Deuteronomy 6 with His disciples. He kept a constant open line of communication with them about the Word. He taught them by quoting and explaining the Scriptures. He taught them through illustrations they could relate to. He taught them by His example or testimony. He taught them through parables or stories that made difficult truths easier to comprehend. He employed many methods, but He was always teaching His disciples. So concerned was He for them that He doesn’t leave them alone when He must return to heaven. He promises them the Helper, the Holy Spirit, that will continue to guide them in His absence. So, Jesus is our example. The Great Commission of Mathew 28 places on us this same responsibility of teaching others. Titus 2 exhorts the older women “to admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, and obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be blasphemed.” The older men are to “exhort the young men to be sober-minded” and to provide for them an example of good works and integrity. If we have age-segregated Sunday school and fellowship (which usually occurs within the SS classes), we have to work doubly hard to bring older and younger women together and older and younger men together. (I wonder if this wasn’t one of the reasons the early church tended to segregate men and women. Families were worshiping together at home, but when they met together with other believers they were trying to encourage one another as the Bible commands.)

An informal way this can be accomplished is through mixed-age Bible studies. We have two women’s Bible studies within our small church and a few of us also go to a local Community Bible Study class, too. In each of these Bible studies, we are placed among Christian women of different ages. I have been in Bible studies as a younger woman with only women my age and the fellowship was very different. We were tempted to compare houses, swap husband stories, and complain about our toddlers and lack of “me time”. Talk among young women often centers around rather shallow topics. I love being in my Bible studies now with women of all ages and walks of life. Each week I’m encouraged by their wisdom, devotion to the Lord, and selfless service. Have you ever noticed that women with young children tend to be more into surviving the chaos of their homes and women with older kids tend to bear the brunt of church ministry? I figure if I rub elbows with these women long enough, they may start to rub off on me. Of course, I’m also getting older. (Not exactly a controlled scientific experiment.) But we’re not experimenting, we’re being Biblical. God tells us we need each other and we need to be in relationships with women older and younger than us. I’ve heard of some churches having more formal mentorship programs. I’m sure there is a variety of methods to accomplish this, but we cannot neglect teaching one another in the church, and remember that this will take place within the context of everyday life. I was blessed to meet a godly older woman on a mission trip to Poland when I was in college and she has been faithful to keep touch with me ever since (15+ years). She traveled from Arkansas to California for my college graduation and to Texas for my wedding. We had a wonderful time with her and her husband this October when we visited them. She’s 90 and still praying for me and encouraging me, mostly by email. God will provide these people in our lives, but we have to be on the look-out and not neglect these wonderful opportunities for friendship.

















Above are Twinkle Toes and Mr. Monk with my dear friend who has been a mentor to me in the faith.

Technology has allowed us to isolate ourselves from one another in a way that is probably detrimental to our better good. In the book Better Off by Eric Brende, an MIT graduate student and his wife move in with a very conservative group of Amish for 18 months in order to determine for themselves whether technology really makes them happy. What they found is that not having the use of technology required them to rely on their neighbors to a degree that brought strong bonds of friendship like they hadn’t known before. I’m not suggesting we abandon technology, although I did turn off our answering machine a few years ago, I’m merely suggesting we attempt to reach out to others and allow ourselves to need others, as well, for the purpose of building strong relationships within our church. Jesus did not try to change the lives of His disciples without investing His life in theirs. We cannot have Biblical discipleship in our churches unless we first provide a means of older and younger men and women to connect in friendship.

Not to pound this point into a pulp, but the hour we spend in Sunday school each week is not going to make or break us. There is nothing wrong with seniors having fellowship with one another or young marrieds spending an hour each week with other people in the same phase of life as they are. What is dangerous is staying exclusively within these segregated groups, almost like clicks, and not seeking out relationships within the rest of the church. Unless you’re just extremely outgoing and on the lookout for opportunities around you, you might benefit from joining a mixed-age Bible study so you can have this weekly time of Titus 2-like encouragement and fellowship. And as you are built-up by “older” women in your life, you can begin to seek out “younger” women to pass the wisdom along to. God has provided us with a model of mentorship. It can be formal or informal, one on one or in a small group, local or long-distance, as long as we’re careful not to neglect this important means of spiritual growth. For it is when the church grows together in maturity, in good works, in love for one another, and in holiness that God is most glorified.

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.