Leveraging the Rite of Confirmation

In the Lutheran Church, as well as other protestant denominations, confirmation is regarded as a pretty big deal. Though not a sacrament like baptism or communion, the act of affirming ones baptism is viewed as a rite of passage and pretty significant milestone in the lives of middle school/early high school-age students.

The year(s) leading up to “Confirmation Day” is the time when students learn about and contemplate their faith tradition in order to own their beliefs and make holy  promises that were once made on their behalf years ago when they were washed in the waters of baptism as an infant. Our particular program is three years long, spanning 6th, 7th and 8th grade – aligning with middle school in our county.

When a student enters the confirmation program, there’s a good chance their parent(s) went through confirmation, and their parent(s) went through confirmation, and their parent(s) went through confirmation, and so on, and so forth. This ritual is so steeped in tradition that previously disengaged students and families, some for many, many years, will come out of the woodwork to take part.

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In my last congregation, I would #eyeroll when once-absent students and families showed up for confirmation orientation. My general thought was, “If the week-to-week life of the church has meant nothing to them up to this point, why do they even bother with these two years? It’s not like it’s going to make a difference.” I was not positive.

I can’t tell you how or when, but since then, my tune has changed. I know, it’s odd to start out cynical and end up with hope and empathy – outlooks tend to go in the other direction. But after reading time and time again over the past decade about the decline in churches and faith in young adults and at the same time witnessing a consistently strong participation in our confirmation program, I’ve come to realize that these years are too important an opportunity to waste.

As I’ve mentioned, families are already committing to this program. They will commit to coming out every Wednesday evening for two years, or every Sunday morning for three years, or to X-number of retreats over the course of however long so their child can go through this experience. If you’re not leveraging this level of commitment, you’re not only wasting your own time, but you’re doing a big disservice to your families and the students in your care. Before they even enter your program, take some time decide how you’re going to make these years count.

Define Your Take-Aways

What do you want your students to get out of the program? As an ELCA congregation, I need our students to receive all the Lutheran history and small catechism teachings. If I didn’t make sure that was offered, I’d have a lot of angry parents and congregation members wondering what in the world am I doing. Plus, that is all valuable, formative stuff to dissect and understand. But what I want the students to take-away from their time in confirmation looks different from what they need.

With the commitment to confirmation, you have a ability to communicate so much good to your students, as well as their parents. And they’re listening (consistent email is still very effective!)

What are your congregational values? What issues are these students dealing with and how can we provide counsel and space to discuss them? What do your parents need to know about their role in their teen’s faith formation?

My congregation’s mission statement is growing Christ-centered community through life-changing service. We value Christ-centered community as well as serving our neighbor. We are also very intentional about fostering cross-generational relationships, which looks like us finding ways to engage young people in the life of the congregation and equipping families to practice faith in the home. I see confirmation as an opportunity to make sure each of our students experience these values.

Finding ways to thread these values into our confirmation program takes time. And the way your program currently looks may not meet your needs. At my congregation, we believe families worshiping together is very important. However, when confirmation was on Wednesday nights, many families wouldn’t come back on Sunday. Instead of getting upset that they’re not coming to church twice a week, we decided to work with families and their busy schedules. Now confirmation is Sunday mornings, between the early and late worship. Moving to Sunday mornings also opened up a greater pool of adult and high school students to serve in the ministry, increasing the intentional cross-generational relationships. We’re constantly looking for ways to weave our values into the confirmation experience.

Communicate Your Expectations

Once you’ve decided what you want students and families to get out of the program, it’s time to set expectations.

Before confirmation begins in the fall of the 6th grade year, I mail home the expectations in July. Parents then schedule an August at-home visit with a pastor to go over the expectations and take part in a “Blessing for Entry into Confirmation” with the student.

It’s important to put expectations on the program. It may seem like a unnecessary barrier to some, but I repeat, confirmation is not a sacrament. You do not need to be confirmed to worship, to participate in high school youth group, or to be loved by God. Have we had students not participate in confirmation because of our expectations? Not that I’m aware of. We have, however, had a disengaged student decide to commit because the commitments showed that we took this confirmation-thing seriously. And we do!

With expectations, you’ll see many short term-benefits right off the bat. With the right ones, not only can participation strengthen, but so does consistency of participation. I have a feeling some churches without the built-in tradition of confirmation would give an arm and a leg for this kind of buy-in.

If you’re curious, here are our expectations for each student, committed to by each family:

  • Worship regularly.
  • Participate regularly in Middle School Ministry (MSM), Sunday mornings during the program year. A regular MSM includes 10 minutes of gathering time, a 15-minute lesson, and 30 minutes in small group. During Lent we visit other faith traditions.
  • Serve at Coffeehouse once a year with your small group. Coffeehouse volunteers serve dinner for adults with developmental disabilities, generally on the last Friday of each month.
  • Attend Confirmation Camp, following either your 6th or 7th grade year.
  • Enter into a mentor-mentee relationship. All 8th grade students enrolled in confirmation will be assigned a mentor, based on similar interests, with whom they will meet three times to work toward a shared goal, benefiting the congregation.
  • Schedule a conversation with a pastor prior to your Affirmation of Baptism (we treat each student to a smoothie/hot chocolate out at a coffee shop.)

It’s big commitment, but it’s doable. There is no separate middle school youth group, so parents don’t feel like they’re driving to church all the time. We have a Wednesday evening youth choir that meets weekly for those who want to sing and have another evening to be together. We want the confirmation expectation, and youth offerings in general, to be manageable enough that students have the capacity to serve and participate elsewhere in the life of the church.

Make it Worth it

Without a separate middle school youth group, I was told to make sure confirmation was “fun.” Although I make sure we have snacks and some elements of curated fun every Sunday, I believe what confirmation really needed to be was meaningful and worthwhile.

As I mentioned earlier, our confirmation program is three years long and includes the element of small groups. For three years, students meet weekly in their small group with an adult small group leader as well as a high school small group leader. The groups walk together for the entire three year program. The high school leader begins as a 10th grader and ends as graduating 12th grader, when their students are confirmed.

Can you imagine the depth of those Christ-centered relationships after three years together? Even if a student who came out of the woodwork for confirmation left the church after being confirmed, I believe the relationships they built in their small group would leave a lifelong impact. By the end of the three years, discussions around faith and the small catechism get to a level that just cannot be reached through classroom-style information transfer. If confirmation looks and feels just like school, is it worth it?

Define your take-aways, define your expectations, and make confirmation worthwhile. If you’re anything like me, your cynicism will melt away and you’ll find yourself appreciating the tradition, thankful for all the students God has entrusted to your care, and grateful for the parents you get to walk alongside, if only for a season.

How to Cross-Gen: “Youth Sunday”

Youth Sunday – The one Sunday a year when youth takeover an entire Sunday morning worship (planning, singing, ushering, preaching, etc), to share about a recent experience such as a mission trip or multi-day conference.

In cross-generational congregations, it is often said that every Sunday is “Youth Sunday.” As with the adults in the congregation, young people are always just as free and encouraged to serve in worship through musical leadership, communion and worship assistance, ushering, acolyting, and even preaching. We operate this way simply because youth are not the future of the Church, they are the church, too.

Giving young people the opportunity to lead in worship all year round is one of the most important ministries we can facilitate, but with out designated “Youth” Sundays, when do students who’ve participated in life-changing shared-experiences tell the stories traditionally reserved for the youth Sunday platform?

How else will the congregation hear about the connections a student made with someone they served on a mission trip?

How else will the congregation hear about the pivotal messages spoken to a student’s heart at a youth conference?

Although youth Sundays provide opportunities for the few, more-confident young people to speak publicly about their experiences, they allow congregations to hear only a fraction of the many rich stories from the event and give only a select sample of students the opportunity for faith storytelling. Blowing up youth Sundays allowed our congregation to come up with new and creative ways to get more of these stories by more students than ever before.

After our return from the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Good Shepherd designated the entire Sunday school hour, 9:30am-10:30am, on Reformation Sunday to Houston stories. All Sunday school classes, 4th grade and up, gathered together in the Fellowship Hall, around round tables, to hear from our high school students and adult participants.

Before the participants began sharing, an excerpt from the book InterGenerate on “things to keep in mind when making space for faith storytelling” was read aloud to the group. This did a few things. It reminded the listeners to listen, not to respond but to understand. It also gave the storytellers permission to share their stories even if the story feels ordinary. “They don’t need to be about dramatic life-changing events in order to have value.”

The final “thing” the author wrote, that I shared, was that “storytellers need varying supports.” Standing alone at the pulpit on a youth Sunday just won’t work for every student, many of whom have great stories begging to be told. So here’s what our time together in cross-generational community looked like, framed by the solid points Karen DoBoer made in Intergenerate.

Not everyone feels comfortable telling their story

Especially in front of a congregation. With public speaking being American’s number one fear,  I can’t imagine many adults, let alone students, who would feel comfortable in this situation. And on top of that, talking about a subject as personal as faith takes unbelievable vulnerability.

Of the twenty-eight youth and adults from Good Shepherd who went to the Youth Gathering, around half participated in the storytelling event. Though some were unable to attend, I assume there were at least a few no-shows who were uncomfortable even with the idea of speaking at the cross-gen event. And that’s OK. But we did have fourteen youth and adults share their stories in a warm, intimate setting. That’s a big win.


Some may prefer to write [their story] down and read it or be interviewed while seated

During our time together, we seated 1-2 Youth Gathering participants at tables with 6-7 others. We served breakfast-y snacks, juice, and coffee which always make for a more relaxed environment. Additionally, we laid out smooth stones on the table that were sent home at the end of our session. Having a smooth stone to hold in ones hand while sharing, as well as sitting in small groups, definitely helped our students and adults in their storytelling.

Holding a visual aid or other link to the story can be helpful

In preparation for this event, a PowerPoint slideshow was created to help kick-off stories at tables. The PowerPoint had four slides for visual aid, each with a question as well as a collage of photos submitted by the group. The first question asked was “What did a typical day look like?” When it projected on the screen along with the various photos, memories were immediately sparked.


“We drank SO much Starbucks…”

“We rode the light rail every day! It was packed…”

“There was a lot of sitting around. We played A LOT of cards…”

This slide was a great icebreaker. The three questions that followed had the Youth Gathering participants share about the evening mass gatherings, the impact the Youth Gathering had on Houston and the impact the Youth Gathering had on them as individuals. Having a visual aid was a worth the work putting it together.

Frameworks such as a template for storytelling and time limit may also be appreciated.

The participants were given six minutes to respond to each of the four questions – not too much time, but enough to not feel rushed. If they felt they had responded adequately to a question before the six minutes was up, the table could ask questions. Because we only had an hour together and all of tables could’ve kept talking beyond the six minutes, I kept a close watch on my timer, making sure to called time so we could move on with the next questions.

Making space for cross-generational faith storytelling has mutually-beneficial advantages beyond what a traditional youth Sunday can offer. Listeners hear rich stories of faith that otherwise may not have been heard, students practice sharing their faith in a welcome environment, and adult Youth Gathering participants share their witness to investing in the lives of young people. Connections are made, relationships and community are grown.

How do you make space for faith storytelling in your congregation? How do you make every Sunday “youth” Sunday?

Welcoming Children with Baby Steps

According to Olivia B. Updegrove in the new book InterGenerate, “Most churches do not have an intentional process for welcoming children and preparing them to engage in worship”. When I read this Thursday, I gave myself a little pat on the back because just a week ago, Good Shepherd facilitated an wonderful event that did just that in our “Blessing for Welcoming Children into Worship.” The pride I felt quickly became challenged as I read on, “Without important conversations for the entire worshiping community, a child may never feel welcomed as an active participant in Sunday morning worship.” This sentence alone gave me the kick-in-the-butt I needed to ramp up my storytelling. We are making so many important intentional cross-generational tweaks to our already strong existing ministries, but if these stories are not passionately shared with the uninitiated, the vision of a vibrant cross-generational congregation could end up dead in the water.

Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to feel like a “leader” in the cross-generational ministry movement and to write openly about the topic (hence the break). I’ve even felt self-conscious about my title, Director of Cross-Generational Ministry. I’ve hesitated to participate in cross-generational ministry conferences, feeling like I’d be judged when it’s revealed that I don’t actually know all the answers. InterGenerate affirmed my validity when Cory Seibel wrote that most pastors and directors leading cross-generational efforts feel like Abraham who “obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Heb 11:8) When I read that, I knew I was not alone and probably needed my community of cross-generational leaders more than ever. I need to contribute to the community and I need to share stories with my congregation. Therefore, I write.

kris allsbury

On Sunday, October 7, Good Shepherd introduced our new “Milestone Blessing” for our two/three-year-olds and families. Between our two Sunday morning worship services, we hosted the “Blessing for Welcoming Children into Worship” which consisted of story time with one of our OWLs (Older, Wiser Lutherans) and a roaming & rhyming blessing through our worship space. Following the Christ candle, our young worshipers journeyed from the narthex to the pews, into the Haven, past the choir loft, pulpit, offering baskets, altar and finally to the baptismal font. With each stop accompanied a short poem about that specific area.

Sit up close to all can see why we gather together as God’s family.
Whether you stand or sit or sprawl in your pew,
we need you here so we can see God’s image in you!

“We thank you Lord Jesus for the communion table.
When we desire is when we are able to take part in this feast, with juice and/or bread.
Share in this meal, our souls will be fed. 

Do you remember this place? You’ve been here before.
We’ve wound up at the beginning at the end of our tour.
Washed and welcomed in these baptismal font waters,

God has made us each God’s own sons and daughters.

After the last reading, each child was handed the poems in a laminated picture book attached to a Velcro collar and was instructed to strap in to one of their favorite stuff animal, making it their new worship buddy. Finally, parents dipped their finger in the font, marking the sign of the cross on their child’s forehead saying these words printed on the back page of the booklet – “Child of God, may God bless you as we worship and grow in this community together. Amen” – a blessing that bears repeating each and every week.

If you’d like me to send you the PowerPoint of the booklet or a write-up of the blessing, I’m happy to share. If you’re part of the Good Shepherd community, thank you for listening to my stories. As we partner together in cross-generational ministry, I have a feeling that soon you’ll have your own story to share, too!

When Less is Much, Much More

This fall, our middle and high school youth ministry made the move from hosting youth group almost weekly to gathering only on the first and third Sunday evenings of each month. A couple factors made switching logical (our Sunday school and youth choirs will continue to provide weekly offerings plus the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering “Getting Ready” curriculum really makes sense as a bi-monthly lesson plan for our high school students.) But beyond those reasons, the decision to meet less, or half as often, was largely motivated by the potential cross-generational benefits of doing so.

Cross-generational ministry prioritizes relationships over programming – one person of a certain generation giving, receiving, or doing ministry with a person of another generation – recognizing the profound impact these relationships have on faith formation. Although programs can absolutely be a means for this, cross-generational relationships can form in any intentional environment, including the home between parent and child. For this reason, most cross-generational ministry work is not in creating new programs, rather observing and tweaking existing ministries to create space for cross-generational relationships to be nurtured and grow.


So, what cross-generational opportunities arise when a youth group only meets twice a month? One, we anticipated. The other was a delightful surprise.

1. More adult volunteers will be able to commit to regular participation

When cross-generational relationships become a ministry goal, consistency in caring adult participation is key. To build relationships, you need to show up, and keep showing up, which can be a tough ask of adults when the commitment is a weekly one. Sure, you will find adults who are able, but I imagine you’ll find more adults, perhaps new adults who are still warming up to this youth ministry thing, if they’re only expected to show up twice a month. And more AAA (authentic, available, and affirming) adults is a good thing considering there is no way any one adult can connect with every kid in their youth ministry, let alone build a genuine relationship. I thought this was a good enough justification for the change, until I was made aware of a far great one after the change was made.

2. Families can have Sunday dinner together again.

A couple weeks ago, after the twice-a-month schedule had been communicated, I received an email from the parent of one of our 8th grade students. She explained that even though her son would be saddened to learn that youth group would not be meeting every week, she was looking forward to the change. “I am excited that there are only two meetings per month. I used to make a big family dinner with dessert every Sunday. Now I can back to that on the nights when there is no youth meeting!” This response flooded me, especially when I relayed it to my wife, with emotion – both shared excitement for this family but also the feeling that church programming had been getting in the way of families doing ministry together. If Sunday nights are one of the few, or only, evenings of the week a family can sit (and slow) down and share a meal, how can the church not gift them with that holy time together? Twice a month, now we can say, “yes, if able, go ahead and make a big dinner with dessert. Pray together. Share in caring conversation. Serve each other. Let that be youth group for the week.” It will be the richest, most important cross-generational ministry the Church can champion.


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!


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.


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

Can We 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.


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!


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?