When Crossing Generations Crosses Wires

What is cross-generational ministry? I’m realizing this is an important question for me to not only ask as well as answer, but to keep asking and keep answering with consistency. If I’m not constantly sharing stories and facilitating the conversation about cross-generational ministry at Good Shepherd, some people may be left feeling confused, invisible, and neglected. Obviously, that is the not the goal of cross-generational ministry.

What then is the goal? I think that’s where a lot of the confusion I’m witnessing lies, especially with the staff role of Director, Cross-Generational Ministries. Am I essentially a program director, but instead of just coordinating youth programs, in addition I’m also the children’s, young adult, single adult, family, empty-nester, and senior-adult ministry director? Although I’m here to support each of those ministries as I’m able, saying I have the skill set to wear all those hats would be a lie. I simply do not possess all the gifts, or the time and energy, to serve in that capacity. Thankfully, that is not what cross-generational ministry is.

As Director, Cross-Generational Ministry, the main goal of my role is not to build-up generational silos (though I support and recognize value in generation-specific ministries). In fact, what I believe to be my purpose here is kind of the opposite. According to Marilyn Sharpe of Vibrant Faith Ministries, cross-generational ministries…

  • are rooted in relationships
  • Shower each generation with the gifts, wisdom, and stories of other generations
  • Build understanding
  • Take down the walls between us
  • Are profoundly faithful to what God is up to with all of us.

This rich, faith-forming ministry is done through mentoring, celebrating milestone blessings together, practicing faith in the home as a family, servant experiences open to multiple generations, building relationships at cross-generational SME events as well as intentional youth ministry events, and worshiping together in a space that allows us all to share our unique gifts and version of God’s image with one another. In true cross-generational ministry, none are invisible or neglected because all are important and needed.

When a Plan Comes Together

February 15th marked my one-year anniversary as a Director of Cross-Generational ministry. 2016, and January/February of 2017, was a year of observation, experimentation, and puzzle solving. It’s been incredibly rewarding to view what Good Shepherd already does well here, to try new things with a very willing congregation, and to figure out how all the pieces will eventually (hopefully maybe?) fit together. This time has helped me define what my role will actually look like moving forward (today it’s “like a director of faith formation with a strong focus on intergenerational relationships) as well as what Good Shepherd could look like as a congregation that embraces an intentional cross-generational ministry model. I’m still, and will always be, tweaking language as well as my understanding of the ministry. As of March 8th 2017, with a year under my belt, my interpretation of cross-generational ministry at Good Shepherd looks like two things…

A Cross-Generational Faith Formation Plan

According to Vibrant Faith Ministries, “faith is formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through personal trusted relationships – often in our own homes.” The goal of a cross-generational faith formation plan is to facilitate the building of Christ-centered relationships both in every home and among the many caring adults and youth in our congregation. This does not happen organically. In order to do it, a strategy is needed. Our current plan for cross-generational faith formation consists of four elements.

  • Seasons of the Christian Life Developmental Milestone Blessing Events
  • At-Home Milestone Blessings of the Seasons of Our Lives and Relationships
  • Quarterly Seasons of the Year Intergenerational Events
  • Seasons of the Church Year Family Faith Formation Events

I’ll flesh each of the four out individually in future blogs but I will say that all will have two things in common; A) They will be adapted from blessings out of one of my favorite books, For Everything A Season by the Nilsen family and B) They will all be built around Vibrant Faith’s “Four Keys of Faith Formation” (Caring conversation, Devotion, Rituals and Tradition, and Service), a framework I hope other ministries end up adopting.

While will be developing new programs and resources for this plan, many of our existing events fit very nicely into this plan – we just have to name ’em and claim ’em. For example, our annual Advent Event is a Family Faith Formation Event (with take-home elements to encourage at-home faith practices during Advent) while First Communion and Confirmation fall under Developmental Milestone Blessing Events. And for those unpredictable life milestones that can happen at any time, at any age like the blessing of a new home or pet, we will develop take-home resources to be available for families to grab when the need arises. These events and resources will shift and grow through the years according to the needs and participation of the congregation.

Cross-Generational Integration

How can we integrate the vibrancy of multiple generations into existing ministries? This is one with which we all can get creative and have fun. The three existing ministries I like to start with are worship, missions, and education. The questions I am always asking around these three are…

  • How can we better welcome young children, as well as adults, to worship together?
  • How can we appreciate young children as valued ministry partners and not just cute, applause-worthy performers?
  • How and where can we introduce 5+ caring adults into the lives our young people?
  • How and where can young people serve, and serve alongside, adults?
  • How can we make confirmation feel less like a graduation from the church and raise our expectations of all adult members of the congregation?
  • How can we awaken and foster the gifts and passions of all people?

Some of these questions have been answered in the past year. Many were answered before my arrival a year ago. As we continue to answer these questions at Good Shepherd, I’ll share our “wins” in future posts. Please share your ideas and how you’re answering these questions in your contexts in the comments below.

As of today, this is what I believe cross-generational ministry looks like at Good Shepherd. Sometimes it will look like programs. It will always looks like people. It won’t look like getting rid of all age-specific ministries. It will look like more young people with faith that “sticks” into adulthood as well as more adults with childlike faith who know the names and stories of young people. It will look like the image of God, which is uniquely present in each and every one of us. Come, take a peek.

Approaching Faith Formation like Kung Fu (Panda)

I spent this past weekend snowed-in inside my apartment, significantly whittling down both my Netflix and Amazon Prime queues. Out of all the movies I watched, the one that has stuck with me the most has been Kung Fu Panda 3. Although I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the franchise, I decided to sit through the 2016 animated feature-length film due to it’s overwhelmingly fresh Rotten Tomatoes score and my desire to watch something charming and uplifting to dissipate the sense of doom with which Ex Machina left me.

Much of the reason why Kung Fu Panda 3 struck a chord with me was that the movie’s central themes echo what I’ve been reading as of late, a youth ministry book titled Woo by Morgan Schmidt. While Schmidt writes about “awakening teenagers’ desire to follow in the way of Jesus”, the Kung Fu Panda’s journey is one of awakening a village of pandas’ desire to follow in the way of Kung Fu. And how does one awaken the desire of a panda, you may be wondering? Schmidt might suggest approaching them like teenagers.

The plot of the movie centers on Po, the titular bear, who, with the help of his birth father, visits his ancestors in a secret panda-only village to help him “find” his true self. After spending some time connecting with his fellow panda, Po learns that Kai, a powerful ox from the spirit realm, is headed to the village to take him down. Realizing he won’t be able to take on Kai by himself, Po must train his new, less-than-skilled panda friends in Kung Fu if the village is to stand a chance. On top of that, Po isn’t much of a teacher.

Likewise, many humans get into the important business of youth faith formation with little or no experience. Often, the only templates of “formed faith” available to them is either unattainable Jesus-like perfection, the church down the street that does everything right, or the golden predecessor and their program. The kind of pressure and anxiety this builds in budding youth ministers is probably not unlike how Po felt when he was tasked with turning his bumbling, dumpling-eating, rather lazy panda friends into kung fu masters, a near impossible task.

Thankfully, Po has a highly skilled mentor, Master Shifu, who openly shared his wisdom. When Po would whine to Shifu “There’s no way I’m ever gonna be like you”, Shifu would respond “I’m not trying to turn you into me; I’m trying to turn you into you.” And this, my friends, is what I believe Morgan Schmidt would say is the goal of youth ministry. Instead of trying to make every student into carbon copy mini-Jesus clones, how can we help young people become their whole selves, using their own gifts and desires to bear God’s image to the world in a way only they can? The people who came to Jesus for help, such as the blind man and the hemorrhaging woman, did not follow him to become more religious but to become more whole in their own way. Paying attention to each student’s uniqueness must be intentional and cannot be taught from a youth ministry curriculum. Po models this intentionality well.

When Po arrived at the panda village, he was intentional about first learning the names of the pandas, then sharing a meal with them and learning about what each of their passions were. Many of the pandas were very good at cooking, rolling down hills and stuffing their faces with dumplings. Some of the younger pandas enjoyed fireworks and playing jianzi. One panda, Mei Mei, voiced by Kate Hudson, was a skilled ribbon dancer. It took a while for Po to listen and learn, but doing so helped him understand the community and each of the panda’s talents, which was very helpful when the time came to train them in Kung Fu to prepare for Kai’s inevitable arrival.

Anticipating the imminent showdown, one of the pandas exclaimed to his teacher “We can be just like you!” “You don’t have to be,” Po responded. “I have to turn you into you… Your real strength comes from being the best you you can be. So, who are you? What are you good at? What do you love? What makes you you?

With that exchange follows a great, kind of beautiful montage. By Po, the rolling pandas are coached into attack patterns. The pandas who stuff their faces with dumplings are taught to shoot them out of their mouth with machine-gun rapidity. The children practiced kicking and juggling their firecrackers like hacky sacks and even Mei Mei’s ribbon talents translated to fierce nunchuk skills! I won’t spoil the outcome of final battle with Kai in case you haven’t seen it, but had Po taught the pandas faith formation and Jesus rather than Kung Fu, the village would’ve looked like the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

God’s ultimate desire for humanity is that we be completely ourselves, so we can most fully show our neighbors what God is like, claims Schmidt. In other words, because we are all made in God’s image, we each have something unique about God in us to share with the world. If we are expecting our youth to be someone they’re not, that’s not good news. If we took the time to get to know each of our students and encourage them in their good desires and gifts to follow Jesus in a way that’s unique to them, the Church may have an awakening of its own.

Three Kids and a Lemonade Stand

“What your church does for kids will make adults better Christians”

This quote, heard at The Orange Tour in Charlotte two weeks ago, has stuck with me. As Director of Cross-Generational Ministry, I get to share stories of young people doing ministry that inspire and shape people of all ages. Traditionally, the church has viewed young people as missions to be ministered to. Instead of viewing them as such, what if we viewed young people as partners in ministry, ones we could not only teach but learn from as well? This week, I heard about a really cool thing some of our congregation’s kids did on a recent Sunday afternoon. I decided I needed to interview one of them to learn more about it! So, please enjoy this conversation I had with Lillian and remember, she’s not the future of the church… she is (and all of our young people are) the church!

andrewlillianinterview

Andrew: Hi Lillian! Tell me, what did you do a week ago last Sunday?

Lillian: I did a lemonade stand for Mnene parish with my good friends Avery and Alexa Levine at my house. We also had Nilla Wafers and Chips Ahoy.

A: How did you come up with the idea of a lemonade stand?

L: I wanted to do this because I wanted to help Mnene Parish have a lot of food so they can survive.

A: How did you first hear about Mnene and what made you want to support them?

L: I heard about them (at Good Shepherd) when I first came here. When I hear people are in need, I start working on what is my plan to help get them more food and whatever they need.

A: What did people say when they came to your lemonade stand and you told them where the money was going?

L: People started saying “That’s great that you’re doing that. I think that’s a great idea!” And I said “Thank You”, no matter how much they were able to give.

lilliannancy

A: How much did you raise?

L: We raised $101!

A: Holy cow, that’s awesome! Did that surprise you? How much did you think you were going to raise?

L: Yea, I thought I was going to raise $71.

A: Do you have plans for any more fundraisers?

L: Yea, I wanna have a hot chocolate stand when it’s cold.

A: Do you think you’ll ever visit Mnene?

L: Yea, when I’m older. I wanna see Freeman.

A: Who’s Freeman?

L: Freeman’s the kid who we support in Mnene parish. He’s in one of the pictures in church… you may have seen him. He’s one of the younger kids in the pic. We write to Freeman and he writes back.

A: Lillian, that’s amazing. Thank you for your time and for supporting Mnene!

L: Thank you!

A BIG thank you to Lillian and her parents Cara and Todd for allowing us to share this story! For more information on Mnene Parish, please visit: www.glschurch.org/mnene

Let’s Stop Calling Everything “Cross-Gen!”

I’ve learned to be careful with the label “cross-generational” when it comes to ministry programs. I’m a little over seven months into my call as Director, Cross+Generational ministry at Good Shepherd, Raleigh and only last week did I begin putting together what will be the cross-generational ministry team. The team will be planning and executing two cross-generational events this year; one in late October and the second in early January. Aside from steering these two events, shifting the focus of our student mentoring program and cheering on ministry leaders as they begin to breakdown generational barriers in their existing ministries, we’re not really claiming a whole lot as “cross-generational” for now. Sure, the many generations of Good Shepherd come together often to serve, worship, and fellowship, but unless we’re intentional, those can be as far from cross+generational as generation-segregated ministries. With no direction to do otherwise, teens will serve with other teens, young adults will worship with other young adults, and the senior adults will fellowship with other senior adults. So when is ministry “cross-generational” and when is it something else? I believe it’s important to understand the differences and to not misuse or overuse “cross-generational” when labeling ministries. When done well, cross-generational programs and ministry plant the seeds for deep relationships, a fuller Church, and a multidimensional faith, rooted in the congregation and home. When misused or executed poorly, “cross-generational” risks becoming another watered-down buzzword or worse, a once-trendy fad. What follows is my understanding of what makes something cross-generational, and what doesn’t, in the context of a one-day servant event with a closing worship in three separate yet parallel universes.

Parallel Universe #1

A blanket invitation is made to the congregation, encouraging them to meet together at a local park to engage in various beautification projects. People of all ages show up and gather for a pastor-led blessing before they break off into self-selected groups. One group picks up trash, one cleans up the trails, and another hands out water cool drink and treats to visitors. Although there is a little bit of generational mixing in the groups, conversation occurs mostly between family members, folks in pre-existing relationships, and acquaintances of similar age/walk of life. As the volunteers wrap up, they meet at the park entrance for closing worship. The youth minister leads some songs, the pastor shares a message, and the assisting minister joins the pastor in distributing the Eucharist. After the blessing, everyone hops in his or her car and heads home. This was a successful, well-executed congregational event.

Parallel Universe #2

Families of all ages and make-ups are invited, many personally, to spend an afternoon at a local park to engage in various beautification projects. Mothers bring their teenage sons. Fathers bring their young daughters. Empty nesters show up. Some of them arrive with just their spouse and some come with grand kids. Everyone gathers for a pastor-led blessing and is given a few questions to ponder as well as things to look for, including how God is at work in the park. Soon they divide into pre-assigned groups and get to work. Families stay together but work alongside other family units from all walks of life. When the work winds down, the volunteers congregate at the park entrance over a light snack. The youth minister leads some songs, the pastor shares a message, and the assisting minister joins the pastor in distributing the Eucharist. At the end of the worship, the volunteers bless the park and are handed a pouch of seeds with a related devotional to take home and do as a family. This was a successful, well-executed family event.

Parallel Universe #3

The high school youth group, the men’s ministry, and the women’s ministry host a joint servant event in a local park to engage in various beautification projects together. Select adults agree to lead projects according to their skill/interest such as landscaping and trail restoration while each youth pick a project based on a skill they’d like to acquire or blossoming interest. Once everyone has chosen their project, everyone gathers into small groups based on the separate projects to meet one another and engage in caring conversation. After blessing each other, they get to work. Young Susie really wants to learn how to operate a chainsaw. It just so happens that Mr. Phil knows how and will happily instruct and supervise her. The job may not get done exactly the way or within the time frame Mr. Phil would prefer, but he understands that mission is about more than just getting work done. After a while, it’s obvious that the adults aren’t the only ones doing the instructing. The teens are including the adults in their Snapchat stories of the afternoon and showing them how to share a hashtag as they post photos on Facebook and Instagram. When the time for working comes to an end, everyone gathers for worship (and, let’s say, ice cream!) The youth teach songs, an adult leads prayer, everyone shares stories of God at work, and both youth and adults serve communion to one another by name. At the end, everyone heads home. Participants reconnect through the photos shared on social media, become Facebook friends, and greet each other by name next week in worship. This was a successful, well-executed cross-generational event.

intergenerational-cool-stuff

To be cross+generational is to intentionally facilitate the building of relationships between people of all ages through Jesus Christ. To be cross-generational means to recognize that everyone, young and old, has gifts to share as well as the ability to minister and be ministered to. If we truly live into Martin Luther’s doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers, the idea that every Christian has equal potential to minister for God, then we need to be taking advantage of these opportunities for mutual ministry. When generations serve together, how can each of us serve as well as be served? When generations worship together, how can we be a minister but also be ministered to? Everyone needs the opportunity to lead as well as the opportunity to participate. This is why I’ve removed the word “chaperone” from my youth ministry vocabulary in favor of “adult participant.” Chaperones stand on the sideline, stepping in only when trouble starts brewing. If ministry programming exist to foster faith-forming relationships, adult participants are to engage, wrestle, and grow alongside the students, expecting God to speak at anytime, through anyone. When this paradigm shifts occurs, we can begin confidently calling lots of things “cross-generational.” When that happens, we’re no longer talking about programs – we’re talking about ministry.

How to Cross-Gen: Easing Into It

On Palm Sunday, GSLC hosted their first “official” cross generational event since my arrival in February. I say “official” because GSLC kind of already rules at this whole cross-gen thing, case and point: worship. Worship here communicates that people of all ages are valued, mutual-ministry partners. I love that. But since it’s tough to build relationships in the worship setting, intentionally cross generational programs are an important supplement. Here’s how we went about doing our first “official” event.

It was something that needed to be done.

We stuffed Easter eggs. GSLC hosted a Easter egg hunt on Holy Saturday and needed hundreds of candy-filled eggs to scatter over the grounds. Normally, the task of stuffing would have been done one of two ways. 1) Quietly, by one or two people. Though this method is effective, when something like this just happens, this takes away from congregational ownership and awareness of the main event. 2) We could have decided to get the youth to do it. However, this method can communicate that young people are only to be trusted with menial tasks, tasks that adults have neither the time nor interest in doing. If we are asking them to serve in this way, we need to make sure they are being asked to serve in other meaningful ways as well.

Instead of taking one of these classic approaches, we decided to dump a bunch of eggs and candy on tables in the narthex between morning worships and let everybody have at it. It was insanely easy, effective, and fun!

hannatodd

So, next time you’re in a situation where something needs to get done, instead of going with one of the two classic approaches, why not try and make it cross-gen?

We didn’t label it “cross generational.”

We advertised the event as “Easter egg stuffing.” We didn’t attach an age group to it, but we also didn’t call it cross generational. It was simply a congregational event. I don’t want “cross generational” to become a trendy buzzword or passing fad here. I want it to become who we are, what we are slowly easing into.

Stuffing eggs was the means. Relationships were, and always should be, the end.

If the purpose of being cross generational is to build the body of Christ through relationships between generations, we have to be intentionally building relationships within our programs. We did this at the egg stuffing by sneaking conversation starters in about fifty of the eggs. Questions ranged from “What do you think was going through Jesus’ mind as he road the donkey into Jerusalem?” to “What’s your favorite Easter tradition?” As people stuffed together, they introduced themselves, conversed, and laughed. Relationships were strengthened and as a added bonus, we stuffed some eggs.

What is something your congregation does that could easily be made cross-gen? What are some cross-gen event success stories you’ve witnessed?

 

Pointing to Cross-Gen at GSLC

“I love my church”, she stated boldly as I slurped my mushroom chowder from the other side of the table.

Intrigued by this unsolicited proclamation, I responded curiously, “What do you love about Good Shepherd?”

Sarabeth put down her game of Pokemon to which she was previously glued and scanned the Fellowship Hall, teeming with the typical soup-hungry, Lent-practicing Wednesday evening crowd. She then answered…

(Her) godparents;

Friends so close, she considers them family;

Fellow Heartsong singers;

“MR. TIM!” [Followed by a warm greeting from “MR. TIM!”]

 

No programs.

No aspects of the building like the gym or the youth lounge.

Just people.

 

Church is not a building. Church is the people who gather in Christ’s name and Sarabeth knows this. As Church, we have the unique opportunity to gather with, know, and learn from people of all generations. These connections are important because they help us to see and utilize the unique gifts of all members of Christ’s body. They enables us to hear stories that are not our own. They challenge us to see Christ in new ways.

Vegetable-Soup (1)

As Church, let us be not like minestrone that has settled, oils and ingredients separated from one another, just kind of sitting there, untouched and cold. Let the Spirit keep stirring the soup, mixing it up and letting the ingredients dance together as we facilitate (yes, sometimes through programs), encourage and deepen cross-generational connections like those between Sarabeth and the caring adults in her life. Like mushroom chowder, that sounds appetizing to me.

Shearing the Sheep

In 2015, residents of Canberra, Australia discovered a sheep that had wandered from it’s flock over six years ago, resulting in a coat of wool weighing over ninety pounds, two times the body weight of the poor sheep. Fearing the sheep would not be able to live much longer in this condition, a team of five sheared the fleece off “Chris”, who could barely walk before the intervention. Officials were amazed Chris had survived this long in the wild and awarded his fleece the Guinness World Record for most wool ever sheared.

Unsheared-sheep

In mid 19th century, when the church assumed responsibility for the faith formation of children in the form of Sunday school, the proverbial sheep began to wander from the flock of the home. In the latter part of the 20th century, the professionalization of youth ministry began to silo off young people, straying the sheep further from the flock of the home as well as the greater congregational body. Looking at congregations today, many resemble less a tight-knit flock and more several separate wooly sheep, off in their own pastures of children’s church, youth worship, singles and parent groups, and senior ministries. Sure they may survive a while and perhaps even look great as far as sheer numbers are concerned, but studies of the dwindling church have confirmed that this model of isolation is ultimately hurting much more than it’s helping.

Read anything by David Anderson of Vibrant Faith Ministries, Rich Melheim of Faith Inkubators, Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute, or Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary (seriously, please do) and you will learn that most adults living mature and authentic faith lives can name five or more trusted, influential Christian adults who cared for and affirmed them early on in their journey. If we as church continue to count on just one Sunday school teacher or youth director to be responsible for the faith development of all our students (yes, they are ours, claimed at baptism), we are doing a disservice to everyone. Instead of one adult being in charge of 20+ kids, what if 20 adults in your congregation knew the name of and were invested in the life of one child? Well, that would involve bringing the sheep back into the flock. And that will take time, intentionality and creativity.

As Good Shepherd Lutheran Church enters into this journey of bringing it’s flock back together, I will share the stories here. In your setting, where do you see cross+generational relationships forming? Where do you see potential?