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Passing the baton – Church for all generations

“Honour older people as we do our own aged parents, and care for other’s children as one’s own.”
(Ancient Chinese proverb)

“It takes a village to raise a child.” (African proverb)

THE ANCIENT wisdom of China and Africa can sometimes be seen and heard running up and down the aisles on Sunday or sitting in the comfy chair at home group. At best the church reflects a family of faith from infancy to old age.

At worst we’re more like separate tribes. According to Doctoral research student Rev Duncan Macleod, people fall through the cracks between Playgroup, Sunday School, Youth Group, Young Adults, Men’s and Women’s Fellowship and Seniors.

“Those groups are like little tribes where you connect with people you can relate to,” said Mr Macleod.

“That’s fine, but the difficulty comes when people feel they don’t belong to a tribe anymore.

“So what happens when you get too old for youth group?

“You find another tribe to join that may be in another denomination or you drop out altogether.

“The same thing happens when you’re no longer part of the young-marrieds group.

“One of our greatest vulnerabilities is at transition points where people stop relating to the church.

“We do need to have environments where people can find safe space to connect no matter what their tribe.”

Is it possible to build cross generational relationships that bind the church body and still meet the genuine and specific needs of age groups?

Husband and wife team Marie and Len Wilmington serve in North West Queensland with Outback Links.

Now a grandmother, Mrs Wilmington heard the gospel story in Sunday School and was nurtured through Christian Endeavour.

“One of my earliest memories was of Miss Hinton who left her seat just before the sermon every Sunday and Pied Piper style we children all followed her out,” said Mrs Wilmington.

Her teen years were highlighted by the trust of a church that gave young people a regular place on the preaching plan.

A shy girl, Marie volunteered for prayers because she thought everyone would have their eyes closed.

“I still treasure a letter I received from a congregational member after our group had led worship. Being encouraged and trusted were huge plusses to our self esteem and faith.”

The congregation in Cloncurry provided a home base during years of patrol ministry.

“The little ones were loved by the congregation as they learnt to be themselves in the presence of God,” she said.

“During a recent stopover in Mackay I looked with new eyes at the young people who lead worship at Iona West,” said Mrs Wilmington. “I was challenged to thank them.”

Duncan Macleod said as younger generations learn from their elders, previous generations learn from new ones.

“There’s a two way process as people translate the gospel into a new culture.

“They think about that gospel, bring it back and ask, ‘Have you thought about this?’ So there’s a learning process for the whole church.

“When you take the gospel to a new generation there’s always a risk that some things are distorted or missed out.

“People may see Jesus a certain way and miss out on the values that have been very important before.”

So listening becomes a key part of telling the gospel story.

Howard Carroll leads a team of grandfathers in Toowoomba City Church, offering young people centuries of life experience.

“The Grandad’s Ministry is a way to get young people to talk to someone who will listen without causing them to feel guilty,” explained Mr Carroll.

He said young people can hear their own side of the situation as they talk and often come to an answer.

“What we do is just listen and, if asked, give advice from our own life experiences.

“We are not counsellors or mentors but men who will give an ear to let one talk through a problem. We may not even have an answer but having someone to talk and pray with is a blessing.”

In an era when age no longer defines a generation, when a congregation’s pews, lounge chairs, or even computer screens could include Builders, Boomers and generations X, Y and Z a challenge remains from the days of the Old Testament: to recall the great things God has done and look forward to the new things he will do.

According to Duncan Macleod, “There is something to be said for multi-generational, multi-tribe churches.

“But they’re the most difficult churches to run because everything is always being renegotiated: what kind of worship are we going to have, what type of music, what stories to tell, what values do we refer to?

“These communities are most rewarding, but require the highest level of leadership skills.”

It’s a challenge worth taking on.