Intergenerational Worship: Unique but Unified

Intergenerational ministry and specifically intergenerational worship finds its roots throughout the Bible. The themes of unity and being a part of the Body of Christ saturate the whole of scripture, which is at the heart of what it means to be intergenerational. I believe an intergenerational model of worship is truly the only biblical approach. Scripture may not address musical style, specific clothes to wear for worship, or what your worship space should look like specifically, but it does address our need to be generationally diverse, unified, and value all ages and abilities as part of the Body of Christ.

Scripture is infused with words that are compatible with an intergenerational mindset. Words such as: unity, one, humility, Body of Christ, one generation to another, together, one mind, one heart and others saturate scripture and speak of the importance of all ages together, unified.

My favorite passage of scripture that guides my own mind-set related to intergenerational worship comes from 1 Corinthians 12. I’m particularly moved by the syntax of the CEV translation as Paul writes about the Body of Christ.

14 Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 15 Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? 16 Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? 17 If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. 18 But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19 A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20 It takes many parts to make a single body. 21 That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. 22 In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest….

24 put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 27 Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-22; 24-27 (CEV)

We were made to live in unity, but are uniquely made. Consider that for a moment. Each of us, with our God-given unique talents and gifts, were made to offer those gifts for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. No one is excluded! All have a place. One of the primary goals of intergenerational worship ministry is to find a place for each person who has felt the call of God to serve. This means all ages, all ability levels, together. The stronger helping the weak and the weak learning from the strong.

COMING LATE SUMMER 2022
MY NEW BOOK
CULTIVATING INTERGENERATIONAL WORSHIP

The Future is Now

In their book, Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, Powell and Clark found that students crave affirmation and relationships with adults in their community of faith.[i]  It makes them feel valued. They want to get connected to the church, to serve, to invest in others. Powell and Clark go on to say that students who invest in younger kids are more likely to be connected and committed to their local church.[ii] Students want to feel valued and appreciated for what they can bring to the community of faith.[iii]

            Church Leader: what are you doing to integrate these students into the leadership of your church? For the worship leader specifically: How will you not only train future worship leaders, but how will you allow them to serve the body of Christ? Yes, it’s great to have graded choirs and youth choirs, but some of the more talented students in your ministry should be playing piano, guitar, or other musical instruments for another group in your church. The student with the great voice could sing on one of your worship service praise teams. The student who has a heart for working with children’s worship or children’s choir may be just the ministry he or she needs to stay connected to the church, or the students who are interested in audio/visual ministry could serve in various ways all over the church. What opportunities are you creating for this to happen in your church, leader? How will you ensure this happens?

            You must seek creative ways to use your students every chance you can because if they don’t get connected during their youth, it’s likely they’ll never get plugged in as an adult. They crave relationships with adults who value what talents and ideas they bring to the table. They need validation and affirmation along the way. They are the future of the church and we must find ways for them to learn, grow, serve, and invest in others themselves.

            Here a just a few ways you as a leader can invest and allow students and children the opportunity to grow and serve in the intergenerational church:

  1. Develop student accompanists
  2. Allow them to sing in the Sunday morning choir
  3. Use students on praise teams or solos
  4. Allow students to play their instruments in an instrumental ensembles or praise band
  5. Allow students to serve in children’s worship, drama, or children’s choir ministry
  6. Train and equip students for audio/visual ministry
  7. Allow students and children to have a voice in the worship ministry

            Children and students must have the opportunity to develop their skills as they learn what it means to lead in worship. You never know who God is calling to not only vocational ministry, but who He’s calling to serve the church after you are gone. Truthfully, isn’t it worth it to invest in even a few students if someone gets plugged in for life? If not, the church of tomorrow will be severely lacking musicians.

            No matter what size church you have or what your style of musical worship is, find many outlets for your students to serve. It just makes sense to provide opportunities for the greatest number of students to participate. Certainly, extremely talented musicians should have greater responsibility as needed, but don’t forget the moderate level musician in your church. We need all kinds in the body of Christ, and that extends also to music ministry also. We must foster an environment that seeks to honor the giftedness of all and provides avenues for them to serve.

            I get it; the pressure, worship leader, is undoubtedly high in your church to produce a quality worship experience each week. Taking a “training” approach to music ministry takes guts and a solid plan. The beginning product might not be awesome, but keep plugging away, training, investing, and praying for God to move and the quality will continue to rise if you raise the bar high and encourage along the way.

            I tell people often I’ve had key people in my life that invested in me. They saw something in me that needed to be utilized for the building of the Kingdom. I think of them often and remind them of their specific encouragement and risk they took letting me accompany or sing when I didn’t even think I was ready. Because of their investment in me, I’m able to invest in our next generations.

Who are investing in?


[i] Powell and Clark, 98-99.

[ii] Ibid, 98

[iii] For further reading, I commend to you the great book, Growing Young, by Powell, Mulder, and Griffin (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2016). These authors highlight the fact that a warm community is essential for keeping young people connected to a local community of faith.

Using Context as Gutter Guards

No matter what size, location, or style your church is, you must consider your church’s history, culture, and context. While we should always hold fast to the biblical foundations of worship, we cannot forget that each church is a unique body. Don’t try to blindly emulate another church without considering who God has fashioned your body of believers to be.

Many leaders desire to make changes because they are convinced the Lord has given them the vision to enact change or to avoid continued numerical decline, but fail to consider the full picture of the church’s history and current situation philosophically. Some leaders attempt to make changes too fast and make quick shifts in philosophy of ministry out of panic or desperation. Too often the results create more division and disunity. This is especially prevalent in worship music. I’ve seen worship leaders fired because they couldn’t sing contemporary music well enough or the pastor wanted to get rid of the choir because they are convinced a choir cannot grow a church so they unilaterally disband it because it’s not culturally relevant.

Friends, the music in your church should reflect who you are and what God has brought to your church. If you have a thriving choir of all ages, use it as a model for worship leadership. Having a praise band only with multiple generations on the team can also communicate that all ages are valued. In regards to your congregational song, there should be a mix of familiar songs and new; songs which meet the stringent criteria of being theologically rich and musically appropriate for your context. Sure, incremental changes are always necessary as time moves on, but don’t make sweeping changes without communicating a unified vision.

Churches, like ships, cannot make a 180 degree turn quickly. Most leaders desire to reach young families in their community, so they make assumptions about the types of music they like or the types of programming they want without considering the effect on other generations in their church. In fact many decisions are made to invest in younger generations without considering how older generations could be part of the solution before they make the changes. With evangelism and bringing in families as a primary motivator, many church leaders become myopic in their perspective and miss the chance to bring all ages together to share the vision in unity. Remember Acts 2? The Lord added daily to the number being saved in the early church not because they were hip and current, but because of their UNITY.

            When my sons were young, I used to take them bowling. Because I knew they’d likely throw gutter balls each time, I made sure the gutter guards were up each time they bowled. Not providing the gutter guards would’ve meant they would’ve felt defeated whenever they bowled. The goal of the gutter guards is to give their ball the chance to hit some pins so they feel a sense of accomplishment each time.

            Consider this analogy: the gutter guards are the biblical foundations and context of your own church. As a leader it’s your responsibility to protect your flock from the errancy of the bowling ball headed toward the gutter. Your goal is for your church to always knock down pins. These pins represent your UNIFIED goals and the vision to which God has called your particular church. There’s a lot of latitude in the middle and sides of each bowling lane, which means you should always be moving forward and side to side as your church grows, but always consider any movements forward through the filter of who God has called you to be authentically. Once you know who you are, the “gutter guards” keep you from striking outside of the biblical foundations and context of your own congregation.