Message by Samuel Longmire
“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.”
A couple years ago when I was a sophomore at Lancaster Bible College, I was eating lunch in the dining commons each day, and I began to notice something: I noticed that—besides just students coming to eat lunch and hang out with friends, there was also always a handful of older folks spread out along the perimeter of the commons in the booths having lunch with students, usually with just one or two at a time—talking, listening, praying with them. And I began to wonder, “Who are these people?”, because I didn’t recognize any of them as professors. Well, it turns out that the school had done something very wise: They had allowed a group of local retired ministry leaders to form who wanted—not to be adjunct professors, not to be on staff, not even to be paid—but who simply wanted to show up at the college and personally invest in the lives of students in whatever ways they could, day in and day out.
eventually I ended up meeting one of them—a man named Jim—and Jim went out of
his way to talk with me and hear my story, and
we started meeting together over lunch on a regular basis. And the relationship
that formed between me and Jim— because of his deep love for God and contagious
passion for the gospel—ended up being one of the most impactful, encouraging,
and motivating experiences for me throughout my college years. Jim was the one
who I began to trust and become vulnerable with about sin in my life. He was
also the one who demonstrated to me what it
really means to live by faith, persuading me and other students to get off
campus and go with him into the city to talk with people about Jesus and pray
for them, and even build relationships with families from other cultures who
had never heard the gospel— things we never would have done had it not been for
Jim’s intentional involvement in our lives. But more than anything else, Jim
was the one who motivated me to seek and walk with God—not because of some
specific thing he said that stuck with me, but because of the overall testimony
of his life: a testimony that pointed straight to God—to God’s works, God’s majesty, God’s goodness, God’s
righteousness—all the things that are written right here in Psalm 145: they
overflowed out of Jim and onto me—simply because he went out of his way to form
a relationship. Otherwise none of those things would have happened.
And that’s what I want to make clear: that Jim’s effect on me—which beautifully fulfilled this intergenerational ministry that we see in Psalm 145—did not happen from a distance—from the stage or the front of the classroom; but it happened from closeness: from across the table at lunch. It didn’t happen through a structured program, but through simple relationship building; not because of impressiveness or flashiness, but because of authenticity; not because Jim was trendy and knew how to use his phone like a millennial so he could connect with us, but simply because he cared. It was that intentional, personal, caring ministry of Jim that made all the difference in my life.
And my experience of that—combined with the similar testimonies of others—has led me to this basic conclusion: that intergenerational ministry is most effective within intentional, personal relationships.
Intergenerational ministry is most effective—most powerful—most fruitful— within intentional, personal relationships.
Our Scripture assumes this, right? By saying in verse 4, “One generational shall commend Your works to another”, it implies that those two generations are in relationship together. They have to be! Because the older generation can’t be passing on the reality of God’s glory—and the younger generation can’t be receiving that— unless there is overlapping, shared life among them. If they’re at a distance from each other, it just won’t work! There have to be substantial, genuine relationships between generations. Now, by God’s design that’s naturally built in to families. But we know that God doesn’t exclusively work through parent-child relationships, and many parents may not be following Jesus. So our focus here today is on the broader church community, and how it functions.
So let’s think
about that: In our churches, for young people and older people to have
substantial relationships with each other—is that dynamic normal; is it
occasional; or is it nonexistent? And regardless of where our individual church
cultures fall right now on that spectrum, I think we can all agree that it’d be
ideal if that was normal! That would be awesome!
However, there are a couple cultural challenges that can easily keep us from taking full ownership of this intergenerational ministry that we’ve been called to. I’m going to list just two of them, and then share some possible solutions. But first, the challenges:
One challenge is that it’s easy for us today to rely on our programs to accomplish all the work of ministry. Now, having a young adult program is great! Young adults absolutely need to have friendships with each other that are built on the faith, that can go deep, and that can last long. But, do you see that only getting a group of young adults together—maybe with one or two other people to run it—isn’t quite the fulfillment of intergenerational ministry, because that group is mostly (if not exclusively, depending on who the leader is) comprised of only one generation: the young adults. So that’s great for certain purposes…but it’s not quite Psalm 145.
Another challenge is that it’s easy for the different age groups within our churches to relate almost exclusively with themselves, so that everyone just kind of coasts in their own separate worlds. So, the seniors have their senior Bible study, the empty nesters have their small group, the young adults have their get-togethers, and the main extent of overlap between generations is handshakes and greetings for a couple minutes on Sunday mornings. Well, all those things are great too for their own purposes, but they’re still not Psalm 145.
So what does Psalm 145’s intergenerational ministry require? What I believe is needed is for substantial relationships between the 1) young and 2) the middle-aged and older to become more normal in our churches, and less the occasional phenomenon.
Because if we can
do that—provided that there are middle-aged and older adults in our churches who 1) deeply love the Lord
and 2) genuinely want to extend and share God’s greatness and goodness with
others—provided that we have such people, then by bringing them closer to young
adults, I believe that the Holy Spirit will in so many ways work to take care
of the rest! Because such people—in intentionally closer proximity with young
adults—will inevitably end up sharing more of who God is with them—by the
testimony of their lives, and by naturally bringing up the ways that they have
seen God work. That can become more normal; there just needs to be
intentionality—on our part as church leaders, and on the part of both the young
and the middle-aged and older members
in our churches who come to realize that they have that opportunity.
So the biggest question that remains is, “What specific things can we do to help bridge this relational gap between generations?”. And I won’t pretend to have all the answers to that question; I do not! But there are some ideas that have been floating in my mind, a couple of which I’ve seen work in other churches. And so I’m just going to briefly share them with you to help jump-start our collective brainstorming.
One of them is marriage mentoring. For young people in our churches who are getting married and hopefully going through some kind of premarital counseling, why not make part of that process be that after their wedding, they are paired with an older, godly couple in the church who is available for them and who regularly meets with them throughout their first year of marriage to see how things are going, and to help them navigate any surprises or challenges that they run into along the way. That’s an amazing opportunity for the older couple to share how God worked in their marriage and to pass that along.
Another possibility might be to make church small groups be the place where intergenerational discipleship naturally happens. If you already have small groups meeting in people’s homes for fellowship and Bible study, but they’re separated by age groups or don’t include young adults, maybe it’s be worth pursuing that—to have intentionally mixed ages so that testimonies of God can easily move from generation to generation. And if you don’t have small groups at all, maybe they’re worth considering.
And of course, discipleship without official structure is always on the table! You may be able to think right now of some individuals in your church who, just by nature of their character and life story, have great potential for influencing younger lives; that just might not be on their radar. They might be busy with other things and haven’t even stopped to consider it. So what would it look like to get those individuals together and cast some vision to them—not to be young adult directors, not to create a program, but to simply be intentional about each pursuing one or two young adults in your church (or even outside your church in their workplaces or neighborhoods), initiating longer conversations with them, inviting them over for dinner, and seeing where it goes?
Because it could go unexpectedly far. Jim did that very thing for me, and a relationship formed that changed me; now for the rest of my life he’ll be one of my main role models to help me follow Jesus. It’s so simple, but so powerful!
And in all of this there is always the risk of trying and not having things work out. There is always the chance of putting yourself out there and being rejected. But we must intentionally pursue these relationships nonetheless. Because God in Christ has done the very same thing for us.