The Beauty of the Church: Intergenerational Relationships in Our Children’s Lives
Our oldest child was not quite three and our middle child was a newborn when my husband was called to be the Youth and Family Pastor of a church-plant in Waco, Texas. As a big city girl accustomed to mega-churches, I had not exactly envisioned moving to a smaller town to join a church that met in a school with only a handful of other families as the ideal ministry opportunity.
But God, in his goodness, knew what was best for our family. He used our time in our Waco church and later the Oklahoma church we planted to replace my felt needs with a greater love for the local church filled with people who were not all like me. For my kids, who literally grew up in these two church plants with no youth group or even other kids their ages, God instilled in them a love for the church comprised of all aged people who they knew to be their brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:5).
It wasn’t until a return trip to Waco after moving to Oklahoma that I realized the impact that intergenerational relationships were having on my kids. Of course, I knew how my children adored the teenagers and college students who had played with them. I knew how intent they were on finding the “candy lady” after church, and the ease in which they participated in small group gatherings and church-wide fellowships. But it was during the visit back when I noticed the utter giddiness of my then ten-year-old as he was hugging and high fiving adults and teens alike whom we had not seen in so long.
After arriving back home he told me it was one of our best trips ever. “Really?” I thought. “We’ve been to Disneyworld, Yellowstone, and all sorts of other cool places and you are telling me going back to Waco was your favorite trip?” (Mind you, I’m talking pre-Chip and Joanna-Waco before it became a sought-after destination!)
Further reflecting on his sentiment, I realized what he couldn’t articulate. His joy stemmed from being among covenant families who had known him all his life. Families who had stood on his baptism day vowing to help us raise him as a covenant child. Families who loved us and him. The very essence of this reality filled him with confidence. Among these people he had nothing to prove, which was a relief from the constant one-upmanship among his peers. With these people he was safe to be himself. Through our church body, God had created a foundational support system for my child, which made the trip truly a homecoming for him.
Fast-forward five more years to when our oldest left for college in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Other than her roommate, who happened to be a childhood friend from our Waco church, she knew no one. But on her second day, the now-adult daughter of one of those core Waco covenant families who lived in Fayetteville at that time reached out and initiated picking my daughter up for church so she wouldn’t have to go alone. At church the next day she introduced my daughter to a family who in turn invited my daughter to dinner. Through that woman, my daughter continued meeting other families in the church that she has now called home and served in for five years. As a mom I could not have hoped for more, but I believe the intergenerational relationships she enjoyed while growing up is what led her to seek out mentors and families to eat with and babysit for when she went to college.
Fast forward with me once again, this time to last fall – a time every parent was worried about their new college freshmen transitioning to college and making connections amid Covid restrictions. But week one of college that same boy who loved his childhood Waco church body and as a teen developed kinships with some older men in our Oklahoma church did what was only natural to him — he sought out a church body. A year later, he is an active member of that church, attending an intergenerational Bible study, and meeting regularly with elders in the church.
Now I know my family’s church-planting situations are unique and not every church setting is as conducive to building intergenerational relationships. But whatever your situation, I believe you can do these three things as a parent to help cultivate intergenerational relationships for your kids.
- Participate together in worship
When kids are separated from the rest of the body, they miss the full experience of being connected to one another and seeing the important role each of us play. Furthermore, when we don’t train them to value the whole body, young adults go off to college not knowing their place in the church and too often, don’t stay.
- Model intergenerational relationships for your children.
Spend time yourself with church members in different life stages, and not just those you are most similar. Invite church members of various ages over to your house, including the children and teens. While worshipping with the whole body is vitally important, longer conversations don’t usually happen unless a relationship is already established. When people spend time with one another in a home, individuals become familiar, and commonalities are discovered. This can also be an opportunity for your teen to increase his confidence and communication skills with adults, and an opportunity to serve by helping with younger kids.
- Encourage mentoring relationships for your teen.
As parents we need other adults to come alongside us in raising our children. Our children need the voices of other adults reaffirming the truth they hear from you. These adult relationships will more likely lead to young adults seeking out intergenerational relationships after they leave home.
I am not suggesting that intergenerational relationships discount the value of peer relationships. Personally, I would have loved for my children to experience a youth group in our own church. But I also would not undo God’s provision for them. In fact, from what I’ve observed, more than youth group involvement, the two sustaining factors in kids continuing in church once they leave home are the centrality of the gospel preached and an understanding and love for the full body of the church. For when we grow to understand the vitality of being connected to the church body for the teaching of God’s word, fellowship, prayer, and witness as God intended (Acts2:42), the church becomes essential in our lives.
This summer my daughter, our oldest, was married. Some of those same families who stood at my children’s baptisms in Waco made the trip to Oklahoma for the wedding. Some of the families from the Fayetteville church who invested in my daughter as a young adult did too. And from our Oklahoma church, young moms, and older women friends of mine prepared for our family and out-of-town guests a lovely day-after brunch.
“…How beautiful the radiant Bride
who waits for her Groom
with His light in her eyes…
How beautiful the feet that bring
the sound of good news
and the love of the King.
How beautiful the hands that serve
the wine and the bread
and the sons of the earth.
how beautiful is the body of Christ.” (Twila Paris)