“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4, NIV)
In my last devotional, I wrote about how God had reminded me that in the busyness of life, I need to remember to share my faith in Jesus with my kids. My goal with these Monday devotionals is simply to share what God puts on my heart and says to me in the hope that it will encourage you to listen to what God is saying to you. I think more people hear from God more often than they realize, and if I can model or share how God speaks to me, perhaps it will help you learn to better recognize His still small voice in your own heart and mind. Occasionally, one of you shares with me what God is saying to you, or how He is working in your life. I love hearing those stories! Please keep them coming!
I also hoped the devotional last week would encourage parents (and grandparents) to be more proactive in teaching their own children (and grandchildren) about the Lord, and modeling a genuine faith in and relationship with Jesus for their own kids (and grandkids). I know there are many kids out there who don’t have Christian parents or grandparents. They are incredibly important. But, in our zeal to reach them, let’s not forget about the kids God has given us–they matter, too. God reminded me of the importance of investing in my own kids last Monday, and I passed it on to you because it’s what I do with these devotional emails.
That said, this week will be a little different because I want to follow up on last week’s topic. Last week was for parents. This week is for the church. For 30 years (maybe more), the prevailing thought among churches has been divide and conquer. We’ve assumed the most effective way to reach the next generation is to isolate them and create programming in which every second is designed specifically for them. But in the past few years, we’ve begun to realize the drawbacks of that model as more and more teens walk away not just from church, but from God, when they hit adulthood. And, alarmingly, a huge percentage of these young adults are not coming back to God or the church at all, even when they start having their own kids.
Some churches reacted to this by canceling all youth and children’s programming in favor of a fully family-integrated approach. I’m not convinced that’s the right approach, either. Why do we tend to run to the far end of the spectrum on almost every issue? The best way is likely not going to be at either pole, but somewhere in the middle.
The problem with an isolation approach is that you end up with a youth/children’s ministry that is siloed, separated from the rest of the church. The church isn’t a family to them. You end up with a group of kids only loosely connected with the larger church whose building they use for their programming. When the kids become adults, they often lose interest and walk away because they’re not really part of the church. And let’s be honest, our goal isn’t to pack out our programming with high attendance (no matter what age we’re aiming for, whether children’s ministry, youth ministry, Sunday worship, or senior adults). Our goal is to lead kids (really, people of all ages) in a growing relationship with Jesus that will last their lifetime.
The problem with a fully family-integrated approach is that it also ends up isolating people (not just kids). It leaves out those who don’t have a traditional nuclear family, which just happens to be the majority of our society. The very approach targeting integration ends up as just another form of isolation.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think what we need to figure out is not isolation or family-integration, but rather a church family approach to reaching the next generation. My desire is to see the church become a spiritual family. I want everyone (seniors, middle-aged, young adults, teens, and children) to have a place where they belong. I want every generation to know that they have a family–whether or not their parents are Christians–they have a family that loves them, cares for them, prays for them, and is there for them. They are welcome, they belong, there is a place they can call home. The church needs to be a surrogate family for those whose earthly families don’t follow Jesus or are not safe families. I want to see teens and children be loved by seniors who aren’t their biological grandparents but are their spiritual grandparents (of course, it would be great if their biological grandparents also loved them and helped them along in their faith journey).
Psalm 145:4 isn’t just for parents teaching their own kids (although it does cover that, too). It’s also for each generation within God’s family, the church, to pass their faith on to the generations below them with love, prayer, encouragement, admonishment, teaching, and leading by example. I’m fully in favor of age-appropriate programming and church-family-integration.