Preaching to Multiple Generations

As we explore what it means to be an intergenerational family of God, there are legitimate questions about how to communicate the Gospel.  Unfortunately our recent structures have allowed us the inconvenience of separation; which has ultimately rendered us unable to adequately communicate to various generations.  This problem is only exacerbated when you get multiple generations in the same room.  Here’s an offering of my thoughts on how to best preach in a context where multiple generations are present.

Target1.  Choose a target age group and aim for that.  In other words, think through which of the generations has something in common with both those above and below them.  Preach in a way that will connect with them so that you might potentially connect with everybody.  Don’t stress perfection; but only do what is possible.  In my experience, this target is still a fairly young age group.  I’ve often aimed for high school seniors/college freshman.

2.   Tell lots of stories.  If the story can be followed by everyone and helps to illustrate the scriptures in some way: use it.  Stories will always engage an audience and done properly can interest both the intellect and emotions of our listeners.  In addition, personal stories carry even greater weight.  The vulnerability of sharing your life with the audience is powerful tool which can effectively cross the generational gaps.

3.  Avoid obscure cultural references that will alienate any generation.  This can be hard when we find that perfect illustration/story/reference to illustrate our points. However, our illustrations are meant to illuminate the scriptures to our audience rather than alienate them.  Keeping this in mind will help us avoid the temptation to use something which ultimately will not bear the fruit which it is iWindowLight_1ntended to bear.  In Lectures to My Students, C.H. Spurgeon observes that illustrations are meant to shed light into the Gospel, much like a window is meant to shed light into a room.  To carry Spurgeon’s illustration further, we should avoid using windows that will not let light in.

4.  Be intentional about the application for all generations.  If we are accustomed to preaching to young people our tendency will be to forget the later life stages.  The opposite is also true; potentially causing others to forget the life stage of our youth.  Generally speaking, we must consider where and how each generation lives as we prepare to speak from the Word into their lives.  For example; avoid only drawing applications for marriage and family or student life.

449780dbc6412b05b6a9326a3587c4cc0a9d9c71_large5.  Speak well of all generations and life stages.  It seems that if we’re to be whole communities, we all need to maintain accurate and positive perspectives of other life stages.  We must avoid the temptation to dismiss and/or stereotype an entire generation of people.  They will eventually become discouraged by our lack of concern for them which can also deter from the fruit we intend to bear.

No one said that this is or would be easy.  It’s not something that can be taken lightly and cannot be done perfectly; certainly not all the time.  However, the desired fruit is worth both the risk and the learning curve!

 

Samuel L. Jackson Delivers Boy Meets World Slam Poem

Not only is this brilliant for eighty-eight million reasons, but Samuel L. Jackson’s description of Feeny is reminiscent of all those who spend their lives investing in young people.

What I Love About Discipleship Culture

Studying culture has been a big deal since I bit into the post-modernity conversation way back when.  Ha, post-modernity.  Anyway, I loved sociology in college and even considering getting a Master’s in it; though my current master’s degree is non-existent.  Either way, when the study and observation of culture became important for church leadership, I was instantly intrigued.

2The process of understanding culture and its relevance to ministry is still important; with or without post-modernity (sigh).  This is especially true for youth and young adult ministry leaders.  Every day we live in the trenches of cultural differences; whether its the cultural difference between us and our students, the church and our students, or all three.  Youth ministries is where I learned to see myself as a missionary to a foreign culture and where I was given the foundational training I needed to do cross-cultural ministry.

As is often pointed out by both myself and others; we live in a time when the church remains culturally divided according to generational lines.  We often struggle between these cultures and as youth or young adult pastors, we strive to somehow get them connected.  I recently wrote a piece about this which you can access here.  This is a struggle which every church in the western church must face and/or is facing in some way.

If our churches have even entered the dialogue on this topic, then usually some solutions have been suggested.  Initially, the thought is to force young people into situations where they must simply outright accept the culture of older generations.  This has its cons, but also has some surprising pros.  Another solution is for the church to become more culturally relevant to the younger generations.  This too has its pros and cons.  A third option has also been expressed by taking the younger generation and planting a church that specifically addresses their needs and reflects their culture.  Generally speaking, each of these suggestions have both merit and shortcomings of their own.

Still, the somewhat depressing thought remains that these are our best options.  Either force boomer culture on millennials, force millennial culture on boomers or isolate generations altogether.  And while I’d rather fumble my way through these options than do nothing at all, it seems that many people are only becoming frustrated with the unintended results of these strategies.

However there may yet be a fourth option.  Rather than asking various generations to jump off their respective cultural cliffs, only to catch each other in the air; why can’t we build a bridge between the two? If we can build a third culture that is both shared and positive, the various generations in our congregations can begin to interact over a common middle ground which is understood and accepted by all (This actually serves the needs of multiple cultural groups, not just two seemingly opposite generations).

DiscipleshipTitle-300x224Mike Breen and the people at 3dm have done a tremendous amount of work around building discipleship cultures.  As I have been exposed to their work and ideas I have come to the realization that a shared, discipleship culture is potentially the answer to our generational-culture divide.  Mutually adopting a discipleship culture means sharing language, values, expectations and norms in a way that draws people together into a new vision of community.  This may be one of the few strategies that has genuine potential to give Christ-followers of various generations a way to relate to each other.  Furthermore, we may find ourselves connected around the lifestyle of following Jesus; which is probably the best part yet.

Cross-Generational Competency

Old and YoungAs a pastor to young people, I live in two worlds. These worlds exist next to each other in the church much like two parallel universes.  Amazingly, they at times occupy the same space while remaining completely independent.   I stand, almost like a bridge, in between them, doing my best to pull them together.  These two worlds are the younger generation and the older generation(s). 

It is because of this tension that youth and young adult pastors have become competent in relating to all generations; a skill which has become unfortunately rare in the church.  Typically, we are fluid in both languages, able to speak to the values and/or expectations of multiple generations.  This dynamic creates a situation in the church where youth pastors are uniquely qualified to stand in the generational gap and attempt, even in unsuccessfully, to bring the two together.

When we use the phrase “generational gap”, we must keep in mind that we might as well say “cultural gap”.  Cross-generational competency is essentially cross-cultural competency.  The problem isn’t that we’ve created a system where youth pastors are doing this cross-generational/cross-cultural work.  The problem is that we’ve created a system where only one (or a limited few) are able to it.   We have corporately designed, funded and maintained a system of segregation in the western church which in the long term has isolated us from one another.  Thus while the youth pastor is being forced into this skill set, most of the time without their knowledge, the rest of the congregation is being sheltered.  Consequently, Busters, Boomers and even many Xers are lacking the ability to relate to young people on even the most basic level; let alone in discipling relationships.  

Unfortunately, many churches probably find themselves suffering from fear, if not outright laziness in this regard. Generally speaking, we are unable to relate, though in many cases we are simply unwilling to put in the required effort.  Other times, we seek to relate only on the unbending terms of one generation; usually the older, which controls all of the church’s power and money.  

If the majority of people in our churches are ever to achieve cross generational competency, we will have to at some point learn how to understand each other.  Though it is not unusual for youth pastors to see their ministry as a mission field, and themselves consequently as missionaries, it is unlikely that the majority of our communities are using this same lens.  When it comes to gaining cross-cultural competencies, it hopefully comes as no surprise that we have more to learn from missionaries that we do from pastors.  Of course this assumes that either the general congregant either understands what this entails, or that we as leaders will take the time to instruct them.  Either way, the “missionary” language could possibly lead to fruitful discussions where both generations take at least as much time to listen as they do to speak.  

We’re Not Called to Have a Youth Ministry

Our churches are not called to have a youth ministry, but to be a youth ministry.

While I’m not one of those folks who’s ready to abolish youth ministry across the board, I do share some of their basic premises.  In many cases Youth Ministries have become disconnected from the Body of Christ in a way that has fostered, at least in my estimation, some unhealthy circumstances in western evangelical circles.  

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The reaction to this however, usually includes an amalgamation of youth into the larger church in a way that overlooks the fundamental cultural differences which exist between generations; said differences being why youth ministry exists in the first place.  I am in favor of rethinking our ministries to students and how we can connect them to other generations.  I’m totally in favor of rediscovering what it means for the church to be family, rather than just subsets.  What I am not in favor of though, is moving forward in any of these endeavors without addressing the original problem; the generational cultural gap.

To suggest that our churches should be a youth ministry rather than just have one, is merely to suggest that the discipleship and maturation of young people must be owned corporately by the larger church.  Youth ministry should still be a “thing” in our culture, though it will inevitably look different if we take this seriously.  For many churches this probably means different things as different people have varying levels of cross-cultural and/or cross-generational competencies.   

Here are three things that I’m willing to offer as guiding truths in this discussion:

  1. We must be guided by a genuine concern for their discipleship and spiritual well being, rather than just a concern for our institution(s). Ask yourself this question- do you want your students either failing spiritually or thriving spiritually apart from the Body?  How we answer that question could be very telling.  
  2. However, we are also naturally and correctly concerned for the institution.  So we need to remember and communicate that when students are maturing, this adds to the maturity of the Body.  If our young people are not growing as an integrated part of the church, there are natural consequences for the overall spiritual vitality of our communities.  
  3. No matter what level our competencies, the church (we) must learn to engage across these generational and cultural lines.  At some point we need to not only put in effort, but we must do so with the intention of creating something that will meet the needs of all generations.