Friday, October 20, 2006

Family-Centered, Intergenerational, God-Exalting Worship

Though I am a graduate of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has become my seminary of choice. What would lead a graduate to betray his alma matter? It has to do with the the fact that SBTS has now confirmed that I am NOT crazy. For several years I have been thinking about the value of family-centered, intergenerational, God-exalting worship. This is a peculiar thought given that I am a youth pastor. The very nature of my calling and profession, in most cases, demands generational segregation. Everyone knows that you can't reach teenagers by having them hang out with senior adults (or so we are told)! Typically, when I tell both lay persons and fellow youth pastors that my approach to student ministry is different, I am greeted with raised eye-brows, furled brows, and once I explain how my philosophy of ministry is different, a general look of confusion.

SBTS is taking a new approach in equipping students for local church ministry by developing a family-centered vision for church ministry (http://www.towersonline.net/printer.php?grp=news&id=375). The goal is to "integrate local church ministries in a way that builds healthier families and churches".

Most local Western churches are blind to what has become increasingly obvious to me. Generational segregation leads to relational fragmentation and a skewed perspective on faith, the Church and the Kingdom of God. And in a world where generations are increasingly polarized in their values and worldviews, the Church is only contributing to the deconstruction of the family in the way we excessively promote gender and age segregated ministry.

This may not seem obvious at first, but the segregation of generations within the church often inadvertantly teaches individuals that the perspective, knowledge and experience one generation has regarding the God of Scripture is irrelevant, and in some extreme cases, inferior, to the life and faith experience of those in distant generations. Many mega-churches are becoming more and more isolated in the worship and education opportunities offered to church members, sequestering children to the children's worship wing, youth to the hip youth worship room, and adult members to the sanctuary. The intention, supposedly, is to expose these different generations to the same Gospel, but to do so in a language and environment more conducive and accessible to the particular target audience. The are two problems with this approach: 1) it can be argued that this approach is far from biblical; and 2) this consumeristic approach to ministry often undermines the health the future vitality of Jesus' Bride (the Church).

It is quite clear that Scripturally there is solid precedent for the inclusion of all ages in worship (and perhaps in other church gatherings as well, such as Sunday school, small groups, discipleship classes, choir, etc). When the Israelites celebrated Passover, they brought their children with them. Why? So that their children would ask, "What does this ceremony mean to you?" (Exodus 12:26; 13). The inquiry of the child leads to an opportunity to speak of their faith. I see this principle on almost a daily basis with my two-year old daughter Emeline. She is very inquisitive, always wanting to know why her Daddy and Mommy do the things that we do. Her childish questions provide many open doors for us to share why we value Jesus, prayer, biblical values and more. It is very clear from Psalm 78 that there is an important value on the older generation telling younger generations about the wondrous works and power of God so that "the next generation might know them (the commands of God), the children yet unborn" (78:6). In the New Testament we learn that Jesus went with his parents to worship. 1John 2:12-14, in John's instruction to the Church, we see a picture of intergenerational worship as the Apostle offers instruction to little children, fathers, young men, and children (and it is assumed that women were present as well). Finally, Jesus rebuked his disciples for their attempts to keep children from him as parents pushed their little ones into Jesus presence (Matt 19:13-15). In short, there is a place and purpose for children and youth in our corporate worship gatherings.

How does the neglect of cross-generational interaction and relationships impact the future health of the Church? For one, the psalmist declares (Ps 78) that without older generations telling the coming generation of the "glorious deeds of the LORD and his might, the wonders he has done" (78:4), that the children unborn will not know of God (78:6), and that the generation born may yet become "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast" (78:8). Lack of intergenerational relational encounters leads to fewer conversions and potential apostasy. We understand this to be true experientially. Most confessing believers attribute the influence of an older person who loved Jesus with them coming to faith in Christ themselves.

I am sure that the hip, relevant mega-church with a gifted youth communicator and a packed audience of postmodern teenagers might object and say that a student worship service can, in fact, serve the purpose of speaking about God's glory and lead teenagers to confess Jesus, and in one sense, they would be right. You can have a completely segregated, student-targeted worship service running simulataneously with "big" church (where the adults go) on your multi-million dollar campus and see success in having students confess Jesus. But the question is: Will their faith endure? Will these students who are completley cut off from the overall life of the Church persevere in their faith? Will their confession prove to be genuine?

There are several reasons to believe that their faith will falter. Current research indicates that church-going, Jesus-confessing students are leaving the church at an alarming rate once they enter college. We have more youth pastors and more resources to reach young people than ever before, but yet we are seeing fewer and fewer conversions. A recent study by the United Church of Australia indicated that students who attended Sunday school or segregated worship services that ran simultaneously with regular worship services (i.e., they never attended the regular gathering of the whole church) were far less likely to attend church as an adult. Why? Because they were taught that unless worship caters specifically to their preferences and speaks their language, then it isn't important.

Furthermore, if a young person is never regularly exposed to the persevering, mature, godly faith of believers from older generations, where will their living examples of Christian faith come from? Who will encourage them when they are discouraged? Who will walk with them through valley's of darkness and suffering? Will they find any encouragement from believers who have not walked through the valley of cancer, miscarriage, divorce or unemployment? Believers within their generation who are steadfast in their walk with Jesus and have a wealth of experience and intimacy with God will be scarce; but they are often plentiful in the generations that have gone before us. Our children need these living saints to encourage, foster, protect and nurture the faith of younger generations. The more we segregate generations in the Church, the more brittle the faith of younger generations will become.

So I must conclude by saying "thank you" to SBTS and their efforts to educate young evangelicals about the need for family-based ministry in our churches. May God be pleased to bring about sweeping reform and transformation in His church here on American soil and abroad.

4 Comments:

At 11:54 PM , Blogger r a i n e r said...

Great post! I was also excited to see what SBTS is doing since the whole idea of family integrated worship I learned from reformed presbyterians teaching from Scripture in my days in Lville. How do you implement this currently at Concord? Is it your quarterly sunday evening meetings? Do you think having the title "minister to students" and that as your main focus makes integration more difficult? Wax eloquent wisdom my way!

 
At 8:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Rainer... Great Post! I appreciated your mention of apostasy. ;-) We can't forget that one. The next question is, when will you come on over and join my side of the debate about the New Covenant and Covenant Succession? That will make "family" centered worship even more consistent with the Bible! =)

 
At 10:19 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

Rainer,

I wouldn't say that these ideas are "implemented" at CBC right now, but I think we are making positive steps in that direction. There is a focus on intergenerational relationships within our structure on Sunday evenings at Connection, and we don't have a separate youth service on Sunday mornings during our main worship gathering.

I'd like to see less segregation during our main discipleship/bible study opportunities on Sunday mornings, and in the future I'd like to see age-integrated small groups meeting on a bi-weekly basis (at a minimum). Ideally there would be a multitude of Titus 2 relationships taking place in the congregation as well, which isn't happening with any regularity at Concord.

I don't think that having student pastors is a bad thing. They serve a good purpose in the church. However, by nature they make the ideas posted in the blog more difficult to achieve, particularly when the student pastor holds to the contemporary view of student ministry. I think most student ministries do a below average job in integrating students into the overall life of the local church.

 
At 2:13 PM , Blogger Drew Scott said...

@,
I've got a friend from college who has started a church a few years ago on this model - they don't do anything that divides the families up. Rather, the church serves as a catalyst for the families to train and teach the kids on site and off. The more I learned, the more radical (and beneficial) it seemed to me. Thought you may want to check it out at matthewmcdill.com.

Of note are his entries on "Church and Family" in the entry index.

Looking forward to Sunday.

 

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