Every blue moon – often when I am least expecting it – my phone rings.
I smile when I see the name on my caller ID, and I already know what I will hear when I say hello: “Well hi, honey, how are you?”
Sometimes, Mrs. L calls me to congratulate me on something or to share my joy over good news. Sometimes she calls with a prayer request. But we always fall into talking like we really never stopped. She is my mother’s dear friend, but she has always talked to me like I am her dear friend, too. I have no doubt that she loves me.
She is in her eighties. I am thirty-four.
But that isn’t unusual. Growing up, my Christian friendships have been all over the place, age-wise, and rarely in my peer group. The strongest Christian women and men I knew growing up were my mother and my grandmother’s friends; they became my friends, too, and they never condescended to me or treated me as though my age rendered me irrelevant. I made friends with youth group members three or four years younger than me, which seems like an enormous gap when you are in high school but never mattered to any of us. I served on committees with thirty- and forty- and fifty-year-olds.
I can’t stress the degree to which I was blessed by this, or the role that all of these relationships played in my spiritual growth. It means a lot to be around a lot of different people in different life stages, to see the way they worked out their salvation in their own lives, and to learn from their experiences in addition to my own.
I was thinking of this last night when I went to a ministry meeting at the church I currently attend. Our small group only numbers a handful, and we are all quite different: there are two women in advanced years, both with decades of church life and service behind them, our young ministry leader, childless-and-thirties me, and another woman around my age with two children.
And we had a wonderful time. It was my first meeting with them, and I felt so warmly welcomed and a part of the group right off the bat that my previous fears about dipping back into ministry all melted away. Being there made me smile. And it also startled me to realize how long it had been since I had enjoyed inter-generational fellowship and work. I had missed it.
It’s so easy and natural to segregate ourselves in modern churches. At most places I’ve attended, the youth do their own thing and the older members do their own thing and the parents do their own thing and the childless people just…sort of float around. Sure, everyone comes together for particular events or activities, but in general ministry and fellowship follows a like-attracts-like principle. It happens without thinking and, unfortunately, a lot of us miss out that way.
Being intentional is the only way to facilitate thriving inter-generational fellowship, and there are a lot of ways to do it. At my old home church, “youth” (defined as under-18 in this case) were encouraged to serve on the “adult” church committees, both so that they could have a voice in the running of the church and so that they could become acquainted with other adult members they might not normally know. My current church runs deliberately inter-generational Bible studies on particular themes or Scriptural studies. One of the other churches I attended partnered up members of the youth group with “buddies” from the 70+ group, and they shared activities and ministry together.
In 1 Peter 5, the writer instructs believers of all ages to “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (5). Inter-generational study works beneficially in both directions: it’s not just a matter of the younger person learning or being mentored by an older one. An older person can learn and grow from the company of a younger one, too. We all have something to teach and offer. We’re all able to work together.
If you can, keep the inter-generational ministries of your church in prayer and support them where possible. When we’re able to step out of the categories we tend to self-select into, we can find all sorts of blessings that we might have missed out on otherwise.