Developing an Intergenerational Heart
Many, or most of you, it seems were at the Good Friday service this year. If you weren’t, then what you missed is Creekside Middle School and Sr. High Students leading our church through an experiential journey of the final hours of Jesus life, and it was amazing. I can honestly say I’ve not heard people rave about how important or meaningful a service was to them like that in a very long time. I received nearly unanimous and overwhelming positive feedback.
I’ve been asked a lot of questions since along the line of: “how’d you put that together” or “how did that all happen like that?” So I thought I would take a moment to let you know about some important movement of the Spirit that was responsible for unleashing our students on this year’s Good Friday service.
Developing an Intergenerational Heart
A few months ago our staff attended a seminar on intergenerational ministry led by Steve Burger the director of Adult, Children, and Family, and Intergenerational Ministry for the Covenant. We came away with a lot of information and ideas, but one thing that was particularly helpful to us was a simple rubric that we could use for evaluating the intergenerationality of our ministries. Like many congregations our staff is interested in, and compelled by the idea of doing healthy intergenerational ministry. We want to pass our church to the next generation, we want to bring our kids up in the knowledge and love of Christ, we want the people of God to play a central role in the identity of all those who come to Creekside and we realize that we live a fuller kind of congregational life when young and old are able to worship, play, pray, learn, and serve together.
Intergenerational ministry is an awesome idea, but when it gets down to brass tacks during planning time we struggle as a group to come up with effective and realistic intergenerational ideas. Often times we end up defaulting to the status quo because that’s all we feel we have time for and that’s what we know will “work.” The rubric that Steve Burger brought has helped us push that boundary in a new way as we plan, it is a simple set of questions that we can bring into our staff meetings and worship planning discussions:
Who is present? Who is engaged? Who has a voice?
Having a voice in something is the ultimate picture of involvement and ownership. If we can not only have our students and children present and engaged in our congregational life, but let them have a voice, let them take ownership, than we are truly taking steps towards healthy intergenerational ministry. If our students have a voice, it means they are taking ownership in their faith, taking interest in Christ’s bride, it means we are passing on what has been given to us, it means that discipleship is happening, life in Christ is becoming part of our students identity and story.
The Good Friday service has been a pet project of mine for the last few years. I knew that this year, with the resources of our building, we would have more options open to us than in years previous. But when I started trying to piece the service together, I found myself struggling to land on a satisfactory idea.
During a youth group planning session the set of questions “Who is present? Who is engaged? Who has a voice?” led to a new and important question specifically concerning Lent: How could we get the Middle School and High Schools students not just to be present at Lent stuff, or to be engaged in Lent stuff, how could we give them a voice in the way our congregation experiences the season of Lent? That question led to an obvious answer: we let them take it over. We decided that we could take Good Friday service, the culmination of the angst and anticipation of the Lenten season and give it to the youth group, let them design it, run it, create it. With a little direction, some help, and some resources, we could give them not just a voice, but the primary voice.
So we did. Instead of having normal Youth Group, we spent the entirety of Lent planning the Good Friday service. First I outlined the basic events in the Biblical account of the last 24-48 hours of Jesus life. We helped the students divide into groups and choose a set of events that they would own. In the end we gave them very simple but broad boundaries, and then unleashed their creativity. Each team of students would have 1) a Biblical event to teach/help the congregation experience, 2) a space in which they could claim as their own to prep for the service, 3) the time frame of the service itself, and 4) whatever resources I could reasonably provide them in terms of supplies, logistics, etc. After that, it was all up to them.
With an adult leader in each group to help along the way we broke the task down into steps by allowing for the first two weeks of youth group to be simply Bible Study. We wanted the students to get their head around the characters, the setting, the different Gospel accounts, etc. The next two weeks (roughly) were time to come up with ideas, how to tell the story, what was the format etc. In the final weeks we helped move the students toward finalizing the project, doing the setup, rehearsing, getting costumes, etc.
The results were amazing. Each group prepared a “station” that the congregation was invited to participate in. We had students doing real life, engaged, and rigorous self-directed Bible study: Middle Schoolers clamoring around a white board writing down the details of Peter’s Denial from the various gospel accounts, figuring out names, asking (and answering) questions, cross-referencing the Old and New Testament, adding depth and context to their Biblical understanding. Each group approached and presented their event in an entirely different way. Some of the stations ended up being performed plays, while others were more “self-directed.” In some stations participants found themselves to be actors in the play, in others they found themselves sitting in Jesus shoes.
The service was creative, Biblical, experiential, and entirely done by Middle School and High School students. We not only had an awesome Good Friday service that was formative, emotional, and steeped in the Biblical story, but our students had a voice in our congregation’s life and practice at one of the most important and impactful times of our yearly church life.
One Toe in the Water
In all, we feel that this was just a dipping of our toe into developing a culture of intergenerational inclusion at our church. We hope that opportunities will continue to surface, and that our congregation will develop a passion and vision to create more ways to live, learn, and worship Jesus together as a body that includes members of all ages. We hope that there will be more present, more engaged, and more who have a voice, and that these new present and engaged voices will lead to a more intergenerational identity for Creekside and for God’s Church as a whole.