From time to time I receive review copies of books from publishers (other than my employer). Such is the case with Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship by Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross (2012: InterVarsity Press). Both professors of Christian education at John Brown University and Concordia University (respectively), this book offers the background, today’s generational realities, practices, ideas, and the biblical, theological and theoretical support of why intergeneration ministry is important for our churches today.
Using James White’s and Allan Harkness’s definitions of “intergenerational,” they state that a faith community that practices intergenerational ministry will use the gifts of every generation in order to create frequent opportunities for generations to come together to minister, worship and serve together. Intergenerational experiences are those that engage two or more generations engaged in mutual activities.
The fourth part of the book is especially helpful as it offers insights and practical recommendations for the process of initiating and nurturing an intergenerational culture within a faith community. Stories are shared of congregations who have embraced intergenerational practices through worship, story sharing, service and missions, small groups and multi-cultural settings.
Our hope is that the phrase intergenerational Christian formation will be increasingly utilized over the next several years. But whether one uses Nelson’s “community of believers,” Westerhoff’s “faith enculturation,” Moran’s “interplay across the generations,” Fowler’s “church as an ecology of faith nurture,” Hellerman’s “strong-group entity,” or intergenerational religious education/experiences (White), intergenerational ministry (Gambone), intergenerational faith Christian formation (Allen and Ross), the emphasis is on the importance of fostering intentionally cross-generational opportunities for the purpose of nurturing Christian learning, growth, and formation. (p. 74)
The authors bring together years of research as well as the work of countless developmental theorists in the fields of faith formation, generational studies, and systems theory. Bringing all these fields together offers the reader a deeper sense of all that is needed to create a true intergenerational community – one that the church has forgotten it had once been fully in the past.
Until recent decades, all generations, including infants, children and teens, worshipped together as a matter of course. Why then have faith communities in the last few decades created alternative worship opportunities for children rather than continuing to welcome then into communal worship? One answer to this questions is that developmental concerns and spiritual concerns came to be seen as essentially synonymous; therefore, ministry leaders began to create more developmentally appropriate worship opportunities for children in in order to bless them spiritually. The problem here is that spiritual development is not fundamentally cognitive development. That is, the way children (and adults) grow in their understanding of math or science is not fundamentally the way they (and we) grow spiritually. Other factors are at work in spiritual development, not all primarily age related. The unique spiritual benefits of all ages worshiping together are lost when segmented populations worship exclusively; among these spiritual benefits are a deep sense of belonging and the blessing of participating in the spiritual journeys of those across the age spectrum. (p. 195)
This book is for clergy, educators and anyone interested in building up the whole Body of Christ together. A framework is offered in which congregations can begin to develop (and achieve) intergenerational experiences, activities and worship.