It was my oldest son’s 16th birthday, and I was having all kinds of emotions about it. Not only was Brody another year older—and another foot taller, it seemed—but he was getting his driver’s license that week. He had his first girlfriend. His shoulders were starting to look like full-grown man shoulders, and he had started shaving. He was growing at lightning speed, and my mom-heart couldn’t keep up.
It was also a Sunday morning. As we sat in church waiting for the worship service to begin, Brody passed a nudge down the pew through his siblings to get my attention. He was pointing at something in the bulletin. I scanned the pages of my own bulletin, and I knew it when I saw it: we were baptizing a little boy named Brody during the service. I gave my Brody a nod and a smile as my mind started whirling with memories of his baptism 15 years earlier.
We planned Brody’s baptism for when he was 8 months old so my family could all be there. My parents came, as did my three sisters with their families. One of my sisters, an ordained pastor, would baptize Brody, and another sister would sing a special song I had found. It was going to be a very special day for our family. And then the stomach flu hit. One by one, the cousins (and in-laws) all got sick.
By the time Sunday morning rolled around, there weren’t very many family members who could make it to the service. But as my husband and I stood in front of the church and made our promises and then listened to the promises of the congregation, I realized Brody’s blood family might not have all been there, but his family by the blood of Christ was, and it felt like every one of them stood in line after the service waiting to welcome Brody into their church family.
As I thought about that weekend, I thought about all the relationships Brody enjoyed with the people who stood in that line. Images flooded my mind. Images of dropping Brody off in the nursery, of his Sunday school teachers and his Cadet leaders. Images of people buying Brody’s pizzas for school fundraisers, of congregation members watching him in the school play, helping him with his animals at the county fair, cheering for him at football games, bringing meals for him and his dad when his little brothers and sister were born. These were also the same people who stood in line to congratulate him when he made profession of faith. Each of those relationships has affected his outlook on life and what it means to live out his faith.
Our Promises Are the ‘Why’
Families are, by definition, intergenerational. And as the church, we are the intergenerational family of God—all ages, in one place, doing life together. Most churches are quite diligent to make sure people of all ages have a place within their congregation. Just think about all the programs churches put together for children, youth, and adults. We want people to feel like they have a place in the church. We want them to stay with us, be a part of God’s family, grow in their faith, and bless others.
But there’s intergenerational ministry and there’s an intergenerational mindset. Both need to be present for the church to thrive.
Intergenerational ministry is about the programs and procedures we implement in our churches to help every generation grow in faith and service. An intergenerational mindset is a way of doing life with other generations that just comes naturally and happens with or without an event or program.
As I sat in church watching the baptism of another Brody, I saw an intergenerational mindset being promised to this little boy through the congregation’s baptism promises:
“We promise to love, encourage, and support these brothers and sisters by teaching the gospel of God’s love, by being an example of Christian faith and character, and by giving the strong support of God’s family in fellowship, prayer, and service.”
Those promises are the “why” behind each church program we organize and each event we put together. More importantly, they’re the “why” behind each story of care and support that happens outside of our programs.
A Place to Belong
On the Sunday morning of baby Brody’s baptism and my Brody’s 16th birthday, I stood up with my church family, people of all generations, and promised to love, encourage, and support someone else’s little Brody and his family. As I looked around the room, the tears came as I saw many of the same faces who had promised to love my Brody now promising to love this new little Brody as they had promised to so many other of God’s children over the years.
What a picture of belonging! And these people were not just doing lip service. They were promising to get to know these families in personal and supportive ways. I doubt they refer to it as having an intergenerational mindset—they just call it love. But it is very clear to me that Brody’s church family knows him. And my Brody knows them, too. He is at home in this building, with these people. He feels safe. He feels accepted. He knows he belongs and he knows he is loved.
It hit me that I had spent the past 16 years watching God work out his promises to Brody within and through this beautiful family we call our church, and it wouldn’t end now that he was 16. This family of God will continue to shape who Brody is and how he views the church for the rest of his life. People of all generations have poured themselves into his life, and he will be stronger in his faith and his commitment to Christ because of it.
An Intergenerational Mindset
There are beautiful stories of generations doing life together all over our denomination. The question I believe every church should be asking is this: Are these relationships happening because of an intergenerational program, or because our congregation operates out of an intergenerational mindset? Are we living out of the baptism promises we make, or are we just going through the motions of programs and events?
Both the ministry and mindset are needed. Programs and events are what bring generations together and give opportunity for relationships to start and grow. But the mindset is what sustains the relationships between the events and what encourages care and support outside the church building.
Later that week, Brody passed his driver’s test, and he didn’t leave home forever. He went on his first official date with his girlfriend, and he came home afterward. That is what we want for our kids. We want them to be part of a family where they feel they belong so they come back home even when they have the freedom to leave. Thank you, Pease Christian Reformed Church, for giving my Brody a place to belong.