Being multigenerational is a gift.
My son, like many young children, is often obsessed with age. This is a small sampling of the kinds of questions he asks when we are driving around town: How many days old am I? How many seconds have I been alive? Who is the oldest person you know? How old is grandad? You get the picture. This can go on for quite a while. Age can be a fascinating thing for someone who is 5. It can also be a divisive issue for those involved in business and ministry. How can multiple generations live, work, and play with one another as an authentic community of Christ followers?
Saints of all ages have something to offer to the worshipping life of the community. More seasoned saints may have wisdom to impart upon those who are younger. Younger saints may have vision and energy that may be a breath of fresh air for a community. We must value the voice of every believer. I believe the Spirit has something to say to us through others, if we listen. All generations are valuable, necessary, and biblical. Scripture is full of references to the Lord working through both young and old to accomplish his purposes. Take a look at Deuteronomy 4:9. In urging Israel to remain obedient and to not return to the sins of the past, God instructs the community by saying, “Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” Those who have walked in the faith before us have an obligation to point the community towards Christ and to ensure that we know and remember the truth.
In the same way, the young can point the community in ways that other generations may miss. Look at the story of Samuel and Eli in 1 Samuel 3. The Lord spoke to Samuel, and after some guidance, God communicated an important message about Israel’s future through the obedience of a boy. Each generation must rely on the ones before it and behind it to get a wider glimpse of what God may be doing. The truth is that we need each other, and no age is more important or should carry more weight than the other. Here are a few things to consider:
- We must die to preference. Our culture is one that demands individualization. I can custom order almost anything nowadays. If it isn’t exactly how I want it, most stores will accommodate. While this may not be inherently evil, it can be problematic when it comes to church life. We are part of community, a living breathing body. Our preferences will likely not be completely met, but that is alright. My idea of a “perfect” meal may be different from yours, but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Yet if preference drives everything I do, I will never be satisfied. I will enter the home of someone who has prepared a meal and quietly say to myself, “this is not what I would prefer to eat right now.” Dying to preference is not easy or pleasant, but it is the path to unity. We must always look at the big picture of the vision of the community and work for what is best for all.
- We must learn from one another. I had a guitar instructor who placed a high importance on listening to a piece of music multiple times before ever picking up the instrument. If I wanted to learn something, he insisted that I learn the art and discipline of listening. What makes this song unique? Beautiful? Challenging? When I open my ears and heart to what the music is saying, I can begin to understand what the artist may be trying to communicate. The same is true in our church community. We must listen and learn from one another, valuing the unique perspective that each person possesses. When we respect and value each voice, we become a more robust expression of Christ in the world.
- We must walk in love (Eph. 5). Whether we realize it or not, but our neighbors are watching. They see how we treat one another. So if you are a twenty-something, your friends will notice if you value and respect those older than you, especially those in your church family. And if you are further along in years, your peers will also see what it looks like to guide and support those coming behind you. We demonstrate to the world what community is to be, and we do this best as a family. That certainly means we won’t get it right all the time, but our goal is always to proceed and act out of love.
Heaven is a diverse place and the church should be as well. If I were visiting churches, I would be a little concerned if the church was full of only 18 year olds just as I would be equally concerned if the church was devoid of anyone under 65. Surrounding context and neighborhood certainly has something to do with that, but since our church is one where so many ages are represented, we should celebrate that diversity in age and fully embrace the gift that it is. Look around this weekend at a worship service and see the beauty of a multigenerational family.