The Importance of Intergenerational Discipleship
As society returns to its pre-pandemic state, intergenerational relationships are being pushed to the forefront of conversations regarding personal growth and community development. In the church world, these intergenerational relationships are also creating new pathways for organic discipleship.
Intergenerational discipleship, the transmission of spiritual wisdom and guidance from one generation to another, is not a new concept but is re-emerging in churches and communities and has the potential to impact spiritual development for young and old alike.
Although church used to be an intergenerational concept, for most modern-day churches this is far from how service times are structured. In fact, activities both inside and outside of the church are usually designed to function in an age-segregated model. While this ages-and-stages approach to learning serves the purpose of presenting information in a comprehensible way to children of different developmental stages, the idea of intergenerational discipleship aims to reunite older and younger individuals and intertwine these generations for the purpose of increased spiritual development.
The benefits of such a community are regularly seen throughout scripture including in the stories of Paul and Timothy, Naomi and Ruth, and Elijah and Elisha. In each of these examples, both parties mutually benefited from the gifts of the other. When the gifts from both young and old come together, it fosters a rich diversity of ideas and perspectives and creates an opportunity to explore different aspects of faith. Those who are seniors in the faith may gain new insight into passages of Scripture that they have not before considered. Conversely, young people can harvest a deeper understanding of spiritual truths as they draw on the experiences of those who have walked a longer journey of faith.
Yet aside from the many benefits it brings, this discipleship model fulfills what Senior Adult Ministries Director Bob Cook says is a biblical mandate. “Psalms 78:4 clearly tells us that those who follow the Lord have a responsibility to convey biblical truths to the generations that follow,” he says.
Elly Marroquin, the Director of Discipleship and Christian Education, echoes Cook’s remarks. “If we do not create intergenerational relationships, we will lose wisdom gained by those who are veterans of the faith. We must be diligent in keeping alive the testimonies of the goodness of God,” she says.
Intergenerational discipleship can take on many different forms and can happen in a variety of ways. Cook points out that technological tools available make it easy to keep multigenerational relationships alive. “It is crucial that senior adults take time to learn enough technology so they can communicate with the younger generation,” he states. “It is hard to grab their attention at times but if we can use technology to enhance our relationship, it conveys to the younger generation that we care enough about them to learn difficult things just to connect with them.”
The General Council of the Assemblies of God’s Discipleship department has created a resource to help churches bridge the gaps between children, youth, and adult discipleship. The Bible Engagement Project, though not specifically designed for the purpose of creating intergenerational relationships, cultivates a unique pathway to birthing multigenerational discipleship within congregations. Because entire congregations are engaging the same topic each week, there is a unity that is brought to the church that creates a foundation of cohesiveness. Having this small amount of common ground provides an open window for conversation that may have not otherwise existed.
As interpersonal exchanges increase across generational lines, the environment for organic intergenerational relationship ripens. If done with intentionality, these conversations and relationships can lead to opportunities for discipleship encounters. “These distinct moments of cross-generational fellowship,” says General Superintendent Doug Clay, “can uniquely influence the future of one’s faith.” As generations within the body of Christ grow together, they also grow closer to God.