Okay everybody. I might as well be up front and say that I am obsessed with the idea of intergenerational worship. So if I sound a bit intense or even close minded, please forgive my charisma and know that one day it will grow more mature and maybe even mellow.

By "intergenerational worship," I mean corporate worship that is planned with all generations in mind.

For me, the bottom line is this: If we're having a gathering of the whole church and a specific population of the church isn't welcome, or is only welcome for part of it, or is only welcome if they behave in a way that is unlike the way they are in every other setting, then, well, I see a big red flag.

I guess what seems to be required is a decision about what a worship service is, and --at the risk of sounding consumeristic--can provide for the Body of Christ. Sometimes, serving some needs excludes the meeting of others. It seems to me that for
intergenerational worship to work, other structures must be in place to meet needs that might have formerly been met by a worship service.

The first concern many people have is that the developmental needs of children are different than those of adults. Another one is that parents need a break. Many have come to look forward to dropping off their children and having a special adult time of spiritual enrichment. And then of course there's the silence issue. Many adults find God in the quiet places. And if children are around--especially very young children--it's not going to be silent.

Although all these concerns are good things to think about, and indeed real needs of real people. But to bring them up as a way to advocate for children to be excluded from worship (even if they're doing some incredibly developmentally appropriate things while adults finish worshiping) is really missing the point.

It's a little bit too much like "separate but equal" not too long ago--all sorts of irrelevant arguments were (and still are) made in those cases to justify excluding particular groups--including the "developmentally appropriate" one.

Many of us no doubt grew up going to at least part of the worship service at church. And many of our parents were there the entire time because there were no children's programs. So, we were included--sort of. We still remember the songs the congregation sang and maybe even the kinds of things that people said from up front.

Unfortunately, we probably also remember having to sit still, consoling ourselves with crayons or a novel, maybe even getting taken out for harsh discipline or (in my case) pinched right then and there for making a peep! No parent I know believes in nor wants to go down that road.

Today, the Holy Spirit is clearly at work to help churches value and respect children in a more holistic way. Children's ministries are not working--both staff and volunteers are burned out and the percentage of children they serve who don't return to church as adults keeps growing. At the same time, more and more parents aren't willing to trudge through, using systems of rewards and punishment to be with children throughout a service that was designed for adults. I feel confident that God will teach us creative ways to be together as the church--ways that will help us genuinely pass down our faith from one generation to another.

After all, worship is caught, not taught. And what could be more at the core of our faith than learning how to worship--not only all the time, whatever we're doing--but also intentionally and in community.

The use of short and repetitive liturgy, movement, sensory experiences, and storytelling are just a few of the many intergenerational activities that can help us be together for worship.

And there's a bonus...adults benefit from what helps children learn.

Anyone else have these feelings? Anyone having strong feelings about these ideas? How would you feel if your congregation started planning services with all generations in mind (and didn't have any sort of childcare while it's happening)?

Thanks for listening, and thanks in advance for humoring me with your responses.
posted by Molly at 1:16:00 PM | 15 comments
I'm very interested to hear everyone's thoughts on this month's topic of children's ministry, so I thought I'd share a few of mine in hopes to get things rolling.
Let me preface by saying that I am not a children's pastor and I have very limited experience in children's ministry. I am interested in this topic because 1) I'm a youth pastor, so I'm next in line to speak into these kids' lives, 2) I have small children and I care deeply about what they are being taught and 3) one of my best friends is a children's pastor. For those reasons, I allow myself to spend hours upon hours wondering, analyzing, questioning and proposing (if only to myself) changes that could be made.
I think I began by asking myself, what is it that I want my children to learn? The length of my list was overwhelming, but after I narrowed things down, I realized that my list basically consisted of all the things that I'm trying to learn for myself, i.e. wisdom, character, integrity, awareness, stewardship, etc.
Then I asked, how can we best teach them these things? I was suddenly struck by the realization that my children already possess many of the characteristics that I am trying to re-install in myself: curiosity, wonder, awarness, enthusiasm, love of life, compassion, sensitivity, gentleness, creativity, generosity, imagination, etc. Certainly these things take time to mature, but the seeds are already there and growing.
So, perhaps rather than trying to teach children, we would do better to nurture what is already inate in them. Perhaps we could learn to see the value of those characteristics, thereby teaching the children to also value them. Maybe we need only to present them with things that are good, beautiful, noble, lovely, brilliant and true, and then allow them to respond.
I am sorry to say that I don't have many practical ideas for how to go about this. I haven't been able to see first-hand any really creative, effective children's ministries. I like the idea of presenting the Bible as the narrative of one story rather than hundreds of individual unrelated stories or verses. Grasping the narrative of the Bible has proved far more beneficial to me than knowing facts and dates and being able to quote memory verses which was the emphasis of the children's ministry of my childhood.Something that I do with my own children is simply read a passage from the Bible and allow them to tell me how it speaks to them without my prodding or leading. Sometimes they say nothing at all, and I think that's okay. Other days they say things that are completely off the wall. Sometimes they get exactly what I think they should get. But I want them to trust their own ability to comprehend and interpret and not feel that they have to rely on outside interpretation to understand.
Those are a few of my thoughts at the moment. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's ideas.
posted by kara at 12:52:00 PM | 8 comments