Listening to the Voices of Every Generation

See a video about the Gutscher family puppets at KidsCorner.com/kids-in-action.

David was a young man when he fought Goliath. Anna and Simeon were senior citizens when they prophesied about the baby Jesus to all who would listen. In fact, the Bible is filled with stories of men and women of all ages and from unexpected places who are used by God as part of God’s big plan.

The Christian Reformed Church believes that God continues to use all of us in unique ways. As a denomination, we also recognize that we haven’t always acted in ways that value the leadership and gifts of all of our members. That’s why the new denomination-wide ministry plan, called Our Journey 2025, emphasizes the importance of listening to and utilizing the voices of all of our members, no matter their age.

As one of its four goals, or milestones, Our Journey 2025 encourages us to be “congregations and communities that listen to the voices of every generation, shaping us for ministry together.”

Here are a few examples of how some congregations, ministries, and families are living out this “milestone.”

Children’s Voices

Over the course of 2020, the Gutscher family home transformed into a green-screen stage, editing studio, and mission opportunity.

The three Gutscher children—Megan,15; Anna, 13; and Andrew, 8—loved volunteering for the  children's ministry at New Hope Church Assemblies of God in Rocky Ford, Colo. As with many churches around the world in 2020, COVID-19 put most of their regular children’s programming on hold.

“That’s when we thought of puppets!” Andrew said.

The family has been recording puppet shows from their living room and sharing the videos on YouTube for their church and community to view.

“It’s a family effort to make the puppets,” Megan said. “Mom does the sewing, and Dad makes the arms.”

The family used podcasts and Bible lessons found on Kids Corner, a children’s website produced by ReFrame Ministries, to help craft their stories. The puppets are based on the lizard characters from an audio drama the Gutscher children grew up listening to on Kids Corner.

“It’s fun to show the stories that we have been listening to for so long,” Megan said. “It’s fun just to show them Kids Corner.”

After putting on a few short virtual puppet shows for their church, the Gutschers hosted an outreach event for their community. They strung together four individual shows from their YouTube channel to make a full-length movie, and a local theater owner offered to show the film free of charge.

“I like reaching kids,” Anna said. “I’ve always wanted to tell kids about God, and it’s a good way to do it without having to talk in front of people.”

The Gutschers were featured on an episode of Kids Corner’s “Kids in Action” video series. Each of these videos is hosted by children and features stories of different kids and their families who are sharing God’s Word in a unique way. You can find the videos at KidsCorner.com/kids-in-action

Listening to Young Adult Voices

“There is a massive exodus of young adults from the church,” said Steven Kooy, campus minister at Geneva House Campus Ministry at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “(There’s) a great hunger from churches to know more about how they can prepare their teenagers for young adulthood and how to reach out to young adults.”

With an innovation grant from Resonate Global Mission and financial support from Classis Quinte, Geneva House was able to develop a new tool for churches to engage in this work. The training program, called Beyond Investment, is available for free to all Christian Reformed congregations.

Victoria Sharpe is a member of Generation Z—the generation born between 1996 and 2010—and was the curriculum’s primary author. The first step in its development, she said, was listening to her peers.

“Listening is always the very first thing we should do in any situation, and especially when we’re in unfamiliar territory,” Sharpe said.

A recent graduate of Queen’s University, Sharpe served as a leader of Geneva House while she was a student. She wants to see members of her generation know and follow Christ—and she hopes Beyond Investment will help.

To develop the program, Sharpe read books, articles, and studies from Canada and the United States. She also surveyed teenagers and young adults in Ontario, listening to their personal experiences with faith and church—why they chose to stay in a faith community or, in many cases, why they decided to leave.

“I think a lot of the data we studied and received from the individual responses is that Gen Z feels like they are underestimated and undervalued as a cohort,” said Sharpe. “We’re willing to put in the work to find answers and explore faith and make sense of the world. We just need some help.”

In her research, she heard that Generation Z longed to be taken seriously by churches. She urges the church to “equip, equip, equip in every single area of Gen Z’s life.”

Listening to teenagers and young adults is critical for engaging that work.

“(Young adults) aren’t the leaders of tomorrow; they are leaders right now,” said Kooy, who works side by side with passionate student leaders like Sharpe. “We need to be listening to them—and not just (ask), ‘What’s your input?’ but listen to them and ask, “How can we help you lead?”

Listening to High School and Senior Voices

It’s been 20 years since Arthur Schoonveld retired from full-time ministry as a CRC pastor. Still, he’s finding opportunities to share his own reflections on God’s Word with hundreds of thousands of people.

In December 2020, his biblical reflections were published in ReFrame’s Today devotional, distributed in congregations, prisons, and hospitals as well as reaching 268,000 online readers.

Schoonveld’s readers included a class of high school students at Avail Academy in Minneapolis, Minn. Their art teacher challenged them to read the daily passages and then search for reminders of the biblical truths they had read as they went through their day.

The students were asked to photograph what they saw and write reflections about how the devotions and their everyday lives intersected. The result was a set of beautiful photos and reflections like the one above from Josiah Loge.

The photos and reflections went to all of Today’s online readers, offering a new way to reflect on their morning devotions all day.

“Our goal is to share God’s love and strengthen the faith of people from all different backgrounds and at all stages of life,” said Jeff Bulthuis, managing editor of Today. “We are especially excited when these conversations happen among young people.”

Resources to Help

As these stories show, there are many ways congregations can work toward the Our Journey 2025 milestone of being “congregations and communities that listen to the voices of every generation, shaping us for ministry together.”

The ministries of the CRCNA have many resources available to help your church toward this milestone. Learn more at crcna.org/OurJourney.

About the Authors

Brian Clark, Back to God Ministries International

Cassie Westrate, Resonate Global Mission

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