While reading through the accounts of Jesus’ birth, I noticed something that has always been there but didn’t pop out before. Besides the angels who appear in the story, the rest of the characters are average, ordinary people. They include a teenager, a carpenter, a priest performing his priestly functions, innkeepers, two senior saints, and farmhands.
I’ve noticed that average, ordinary part before and it preaches. Outside of King Herod, none of the characters were wealthy, famous, or socially important.
But that’s not what struck me this time.
Perhaps it’s because I turned 50 years old in 2019, but what caught my eye this time was the intergenerational demographics of the Christmas story.
- Mary and Joseph: a teenage girl and a young adult male
- Elizabeth and Zechariah: a married couple who “were both very old”
Doesn’t it seem backwards that God would entrust his Son to a young couple and give the wildcat-to-be John the Baptist to elderly parents?
When Jesus is brought to the temple as a 40-day-old baby, he is greeted by …
- Simeon: a devout, senior saint
- Anna: a prophetess who was at least 84 years-old
When it comes to God’s habit of using people regardless of age, the Christmas story is not the exception but the norm.
- Abraham and Sarah are blessed with Isaac when they are well past childbearing age
- Joseph is used as a young man to navigate a deadly famine
- Moses takes on the task of a lifetime in the latter portion of his life
- David is both a young giant killer and an elderly king who sets his son up for success
- Ruth is an attractive young lady who becomes a part of Jesus’ family tree
- Paul’s nephew saves the apostle’s life
- Jesus welcomed and blessed little children
- Then there’s Methuselah. He probably did a few things during his 900 plus years
This attitude characterized the early church.
The apostle Paul writes several times about the need for intergenerational relationships and mentoring. He tells Timothy to not let anyone look down on him because he is young, but to set an example for all believers (1 Timothy 4:12). In the very next chapter he writes,
“1 Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. 3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1 Timothy 5:1-4).
To another young pastor, Paul gives similar instructions:
“2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. 6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:2-6).
If it’s true that God remains the same through the ages, it shouldn’t be surprising that he works in and through both young and old. In fact, one of the responsibilities of Christ-followers is to bring God “glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:21, emphasis mine).
Which raises an interesting question: If God is intergenerational, why isn’t his church?
To be fair, much of my experience has been limited to the American expressions of Christianity. In many places around the world, our fellow brothers and sisters are much more comfortable with wide age ranges and value the contributions of young as well as older saints.
For one, our American churches swim in the larger American culture and our American culture has long been youth-oriented. Everybody wants to stay young but with the earning power and wisdom that comes from growing older.
But this isn’t a problem of being too focused on young people. In fact, many churches would benefit by being more focused on young people. They are not intergenerational by choice. They choose to be older by resisting change.
This struggle is evident even in churches that talk about intergenerational ministry. Often what is referred as intergenerational can usually be translated as “doing something for the kids.”
True intergenerational ministry that brings together the strengths, contributions, and perspectives of all generations may be one of the keys to reviving the church in modern America.
We are starting to see signs that our culture is blurring the lines between generations. Grandparents are becoming primary caregivers to their grandkids. Younger generations are seeking out mentoring relationship with older, more experienced coworkers and friends.
What does an intergenerational church feel like? In many respects, it feels like a family. In an age, when many families are broken or absent, an intergenerational church has great appeal. It has the potential to become not only a home away from home, but a new home altogether.
Will it raise difficulties and challenges? Absolutely. Working with any age group will do that. But in the words of Andy Stanley, will it be a conflict to resolve or a tension to be managed? A conflict assumes there is a right or wrong solution and that the right option must be found. Tensions that need to be managed, on the other hand, are how relationships are formed and maturity is developed.
Just something to think about!
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Experience and Background
- 25+ years of senior leadership experience
- masters in business administration (mba)
- presenter at the WFX National Conference
- former president, Church Planters of the Rockies
- helped start 2 for-profit tech companies
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