I had a dream a few nights ago. (No, it wasn’t some inner Freudian wish to give a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech to the masses!) In my dream “senior saints” were actively involved with the teenagers in the church. Some older ladies were showing some of the girls how to quilt. Some of the World War II vets were telling true war stories to the young men who had developed their own battle plans on the latest version of “Call of Duty” video game. The various generations were praying together, laughing together, and sharing their own experiences of what it’s like to live for Christ in their own generation. The most amazing aspect of this dream was that there seemed to be a genuine appreciation for each other’s music. The teens were gaining an appreciation for the majesty and dignity of the older hymns - and the seniors were learning to listen to the energy and passion of the newer contemporary Christian worship choruses.
Then I woke up.
If the truth be told, this “vision” is more real than I could ever imagine. Maybe it’s time to put the brakes on the ever-developing Generation Gap. Maybe; just maybe – we’ve got it wrong in the church.
So, how does a traditional church (one that is characterized by generationally-segregated programming) turn its focus toward intergenerational ministry? Friends, I am convinced that it starts with mentoring. Church leaders should do all they can to encourage the older, godly adults in church to actively and intentionally seek out younger people to mentor. Perhaps the church leaders could be involved in the selection process. Some adults may not have any experience being around young people and may struggle identifying younger people who could use a mentor. It would be wise for church leaders to identify needy young people – maybe those without strong, churched families of their own. But, in actuality - every young person could probably benefit from an older godly mentor.
The main point here needs to be emphasized. Effective mentoring begins with the potential mentor. Encourage and motivate older adults to take the initiative to make the contacts with potential protégé’s. It’s the older generation that needs to give back (to minister to younger people as an investment in the future) - and it’s the older generation that has the heritage, the wisdom, the maturity, and, perhaps, the resources (at least of time, insight, and discernment) necessary to serve as true mentors. So, this starts with the adults – and make sure that your adult mentors are people who genuinely love the Lord and who are actively living for Him. This is an ideal way for churches to practically engage their older adults in significant ministry as the older folks move into their later years. I tell youth workers all the time, “We get to old to play tackle football, but we don’t get too old to minister to kids.”
So, encourage your adults to make their first informal, non-threatening conversations with younger people in the church foyer. Adults should introduce themselves and make an initial first connection. As the relationship develops the adults should begin to ask simple questions that indicate an interest in the young person’s life. Questions like: “How’s school going?”, “What did you do in youth group today?”, or “How was the school concert last weekend?” The key here is to show interest in their lives. That’s how to begin a growing, personal relationship. Some young people may resist, but my experience has been that the majority of younger people will appreciate any healthy attention shown to them from significant adults.
At some point, encourage the mentors to find some time to pray together with the person they are trying to mentor. I really believe that God will use these brief times of prayer to help this relationship grow into something truly special for each person.
One of the highest hurdles facing a mentoring ministry is the process of carving out enough time to develop a true relationship. I have talked to several adults who feel as if they do not have the time to implement something like this into their schedules. Yet, my take on it is this, “Mentoring is NOT necessarily a commitment of extra time – it is ‘doing what you already do’, just doing it with younger people.” That’s another reason why I love church-based mentoring. These simple, but significant conversations and connections can and should happen at church. You are already there, so why not reach out and attempt to develop a growing and positive relationship with younger people? Maybe my dream will come true.
I cannot take the time in this brief article to outline all of the ideas of how mentoring connections could work. More information is available in my book Mentoring the Next Generation: A Strategy for Connecting the Generations (published by Regular Baptist Press, ISBN: 0-87227-997-9.) That book is now available from Vision For Youth for only $5 per copy. Just send a note to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, VFY does not take credit cards.
Vision For Youth is also hosting a National Mentoring Summit on March 5, 2011 in Clarks Summit, PA for all church leaders interested in developing a church-based mentoring ministry and more specific instructions will be presented then. Watch for more details on this new training seminar from VFY.