Written by Stephen Jones
I believe there were eleven pews on one side, twenty-two total.
They were arranged in two sections with a center aisle and two narrow aisles along the outside walls. Stained-glass windows lined those white-washed block walls and each one was marked on the bottom with a small memorial marker. That marker was engraved with the names of men and women and families whom I’d never met, but I felt sure they must have been beloved by the members of the church in their day.
Fifteen years later, I can still visualize that sanctuary in living color—partially because I spent so many of my formative years in that sacred space, and partially because I’ve been in spaces just like it hundreds of times in the years since I left it.
When I pause and give thought to our core value, “We Prayerfully Value All Generations,” I immediately return, in my mind, to that sacred space. I remember the names on those memorials. I see the stained-glass above their names and wonder if the stories depicted in the glass were intended to somehow reflect that person’s memory.
I think about the senior lady who, at 10 on Sunday mornings, taught the adult Bible study in the sanctuary before our worship service began. I think about the small Sunday-School classrooms with cork bulletin-boards decorated with crayon-drawings and chalkboards long in need of cleaning. I think about the teachers who sat us around tables, told stories from the Bible, and gave us activity pages to finish.
Even though that picture of church is quite different from my experience now, those memories still form who I am as a Christian and as a minister. Even more, I know those kinds of memories are still very common in our movement, even if our current worship services and programs are different. When I reflect on our All Generations core value, I think about how important it is for us to connect our current generation to those generations before us. I think about how so much of the wisdom and experience gained by those men and women, whose names are on those markers, have been lost on a generation that never knew them personally. Unless we become intentional about building bridges between the generations, another great resource will fade away. Its’ vestiges to become relegated to memorial markers on windows and worship furniture, and generations just like me will never even know what we lost.
And the corollary is also true.
Apart from intentional bridges being built, the older, more experienced generation will miss fulfilling their God-given design and purpose within a generation ripe with new opportunities to share the gospel. If those men and women genuinely believe they were created with purpose and designed for a destiny, would they be satisfied to be sidelined during the most significant season of their lives—the season when they’re most aware of their successes and failures, and most concerned with passing on a legacy? Wouldn’t they care to be connected with a group of people in whom they could have life-transforming impact?
That’s our job as leaders in this movement, as the pioneers of this value. Not only do we have to intentionally build bridges between these birth-year generations, but we must also find ways to communicate this value to the different “generations” of our congregations. In other words, when we’re looking at strategies and marketing, we MUST find effective ways to communicate with the large congregation in the city as well as with the small wood-paneled block-church out in the county.
Because the word “generations” really becomes a euphemism for people; and we are made up of all kinds of people.