April 12, 2018

The Intersection of “Knowing” and Intergenerational Relationships

Cameron Tarrh

If you were asked the question of what you think is the most important aspect for a children’s ministry to have, what would you say?  If you are a family with kids and have ever “church shopped,” what kinds of things did you look for regarding a church’s kids ministry? If you are a children’s ministry worker, what is the first thing you think about when you hear the words “children’s ministry?” More often than not, the answer that we would give to all or most of the above questions would be an answer that revolves around programming.

More Than Programming

There are many churches today which operate out of a “programming” type of model. What I mean when I say this is that many churches develop and implement programs for people for the purpose of helping them grow spiritually and drawing people to their churches. Most of the time, these programs are structured around gaining knowledge about the Bible. While knowledge and programming definitely have their place in the church, we should not lose focus on things that are more important than gaining knowledge and having programs. Children can learn vast amounts of knowledge about the Bible and have fun with various programs, but something additional is needed if we want our kids to truly know the Lord.

Inter-generational Ministry

As a children’s pastor, one of the things I have been convicted about recently is the need for inter-generational relationships. When we walk into churches today, what we are likely to find (depending on the size of the church) is segregated age groups. But this makes sense if you think about it, right? With the exception of our workplaces, everything Americans do on a daily basis is segregated by age groups. Kids are divided into different grades, sports programs, and activities depending on their age; senior citizens have clubs and groups just for them, and the list goes on. The thinking sometimes is that children are divided by classes in schools, so why not help them learn the same way in the church? While it is good to have kids involved in things with other kids, keeping them separated from other generations all the time can have negative consequences. In their book, Intergenerational Christian Formation, Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross write that,

“…ministering by age cohorts can yield unintended consequences: generational fragmentation, silo mentality and an involuntary ignorance of all others not in one’s own age group.”¹

By continually separating kids from other age groups in the church, we run the potential of preventing their spiritual development. Walking with others in different generations brings a deeper dimension to our faith that is absent when we are constantly around others our own age. There is a place and time to be with others like us, but when we interact with those who are older or younger than us, it challenges us in ways in which being around others similar to us will not. Older generations have a treasure chest of wisdom and faith to pass down to younger generations and younger generations have vitality and strength to serve the older generations. We need one another.

We Learn to Hear and Trust

This is what is says in Psalm 78:5-8:

He established a rule in Jacob;
he set up a law in Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
to make his deeds known to their descendants,
so that the next generation, children yet to be born,
might know about them.
They will grow up and tell their descendants about them.
Then they will place their confidence in God.
They will not forget the works of God,
and they will obey his commands.” (NET, underlining mine)

Ministering through inter-generational relationships creates a cycle for telling one generation after another about all of the things the Lord has done – both throughout history and also in each other’s lives. One generation ministering to another lends itself towards us learning to trust and obey.

The Right Way to “Know”

In his book, Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error, Dru Johnson discusses what is needed for individuals to “know” God in a true biblical sense. He says that,

…the Scriptures insist over and again that walking by faith means: 1) recognizing the docents through whom God speaks and listening to them alone, 2) embodying the actions they prescribe, and 3) looking at what they are showing us. When the people of God do all three to the extent required, then it is considered knowing. When we transgress any of these three, it is considered error (or, erroneous knowing).”²

If we want kids to grow up knowing the Lord, it will take much more than churches providing program after program after program. The attaining of knowledge does not equal what it means to “know” in a biblical way. As Johnson says above, true knowing happens not when we intake lots of information, but when we really listen, watch, and follow those who we look to as our guides, leaders, and examples through whom God uses to shape us. This is why the best children’s ministry is one in which it is accompanied by older generations pouring into the children of their church to reinforce and demonstrate the knowledge that children are soaking up about Jesus.

¹ Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012), 30.

² Dru Johnson, Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error (Cambridge: James Clark & Co, 2013), 3, accessed April 12, 2018, eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash