These women got right to the heart of the matter. I loved the Don Whitney quote that Mary Mohler shared: “When Jesus said to make disciples, the disciples understood that to mean that they should make out of others what Jesus had made out of them.”
And Jennie Allen said, “Our generation has somehow missed the importance of the older generation pouring into them.”
Both of these statements are really powerful but I want to hone in on the generational concept here. In many ways, our culture spends more time making fun of older people that it does honoring them and trying to learn from them. As church leaders, how can we respond to that and shift people's mindset? A majority of churches across America are multi-generational yet most focus on connecting people with others who are in a similar stage of life. What if they also created opportunities for younger believers to connect with older ones who have massive amounts of life experience and wisdom to share?
Here are a few thoughts for taking your church from multi-generational to inter-generational and taking advantage of a natural discipleship opportunity:
- Establish a mentoring program that connects the younger generation with the older—men with men and women with women.
A recent realization (and not exactly an easy one!) for me was the fact that I am seen by many as being older and wiser. Thus, I am gaining the opportunity to speak into the lives of some men in their 20's and early 30's. Discipleship isn't just knowledge; it's also about gaining perspective. Perspective only comes through life experience. Often times the only thing I have in common with the young men I mentor is that our lives are changing dramatically and rapidly. However, this is still a terrific starting point for conversation about how you grow, learn and trust God more in the midst of all the change.
- Encourage older couples to “adopt” a college student to invest in.
I live a stone's throw from the United States Air Force Academy. They have a "Sponsorship" program whereby families like mine can basically adopt a Cadet who is often living far away from home and dealing with some pretty daunting challenges in a very non traditional college environment. My wife and I sponsored a Cadet and found it to be a huge blessing. The often overwhelming experience of college can open a young person's mind to wisdom and input that they may not have previously been open to. Furthermore, our Cadet also had the opportunity to build into our two sons which was a real growth opportunity for everyone. We all consider him a part of our family today. If your church is near a college campus, you have a powerful opportunity here!
- Arrange for young families to “adopt” an older member to care for.
While no one expects the young family to take over paying the medical expenses or arrange transportation around town, simply spending some time each week or month with older members who are not as mobile as others can do wonders—especially for older members who aren't living close to family or no longer have any family members alive to help care for them. This helps develop a strong sense of other-centeredness for the younger folks in addition to a discipleship opportunity for those being served.
I realize this isn't for everyone, but it can be an environment that fosters discipleship and community for each person involved. Leverage the information you already have in your church management system to identify those who might benefit from inter-generational discipleship. This could boost interest from several segments within your church community and perhaps provide some additional ways to bridge to those outside your church.
Does your church make discipleship of younger believers—and older believers—a priority? How do you connect people in an intergenerational fashion?