To Stratify Well

In a listing of Church staff members, I recently noticed how a large congregation captures our dilemma perfectly–how can we, the Church, continue to minister to all members of every age and diversity while at the same time affirming and supporting the fact that there is “one body and one Spirit…one faith, one Baptism…one Lord of all…”? The stationery of this mega-church included this list of staff persons: senior pastor, associate pastor, assistant pastor, director of children’s ministries, director of youth, director of young adults, director of families, director of older adults, director of music, director of servant ministries, parish nurse, director of facilities…director of parking, director of kitchen duties, director of athletics, director of women’s ministries, director of men’s ministries, director of really, really old people, director of other directors (Okay, so I added a few categories on the list, just to make the point!)

And the point is: that we are in danger of stratifying our ministry areas to such a degree that we are taking people of different ages out of “ministry range” of each other!

I am all for congregations being intentional about meeting the specific needs of all of God’s people. But I am not in favor of dissecting and disconnecting children, youth, and adults from each other in the process. The Church continues to be the only place that brings people of all ages and gifts together to support, build, and care for each other…so that all people can care and serve others throughout the world. The Church is at Her best when people of all ages are gathered around Word and Sacrament to be built-up in the faith and empowered by the Spirit to go and make a difference in the world, in the name of the healing Christ!

And this even sounds scriptural! Professional church-workers are called to “equip all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build-up the Body of Christ…and so we all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God…” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Perhaps one way to get at this is to continue to ask: are we (congregational leaders) more focused on program or on people? Perhaps we need to encourage each other to first see every person–infant, teenager, young dad, grandma–as an individual with many gifts and many needs. Perhaps we need to be very intentional about continuing to connect the needs of individuals with the gifts of other individuals. As we add staff people with “specialized” ministry gifts, the key is to make certain that these staff people are not “locked in” to only their age-specified areas of focus. For example, have the music director lead a children’s message, allow the senior pastor to experience the youth retreat, have the parish nurse visit the pre-school room, encourage the youth worker to make hospital calls on Grandma Schultz. These connections obviously depend on the individual gifts of each staff person, but be brave, stretch each other, and model the Oneness that is ours in Christ Jesus!

Staff persons with specific “tasks” to do also need to be very intentional about sharing with each other through regular staff-times and building on each others’ gifts and limitations. I actually know a youth minister who enjoys working with us old folks…let her go for it!

I continue to be amazed and encouraged by studies that affirm that the most healthy relationships develop when people of different ages are involved together in common tasks. Families who eat together develop closer relationships, youth and adults who do Servant Events together are better equipped for other ministries, choirs who bring together people of all ages to make music to the Lord tend to develop closer relationships among each other…and on and on and on. I was always tempted to invite little kids and grandparents to come up for a “Children’s and Older Folks” message at worship, in order to model that different ages need each other. And besides, the kids could help us old folks get off the floor after the message was over! (Perhaps that’s why I am no longer serving in a congregation!)

Do not get me wrong: congregations need to continue to reach out with specific ministries to children, youth, and adults. We need youth retreats, adult Bible studies, women’s groups…but not at the expense of providing all age groups with opportunities to rub ministry shoulders with each other! It is encouraging to see more Servant Events happening for youth and adults; for national youth gatherings inviting older adults to gather at the same time, for congregations to model family time in the home around specific resources, for the Lutheran Summer Music Program partnering with the Association for Lutheran Older Adults to do their events together…and on and on and on!

Let’s keep ministering with people of all ages…both individually and in groups. Let’s also keep mixing and matching people of different age groups so stories and be told, lessons can be learned, and forgiveness can be experienced. It is not my idea to be ONE in the Lord…ONEness is a gift that has been given to us in faith. ONE stands for:

O – OPPORTUNITIES! Be creative in developing exciting opportunities for people of all ages to do things together. Hooray for church picnics, family Bible studies, youth and adult service projects…and do not forget worship services that continue to bring all age groups together around the Word and Sacrament;

N – KNOWLEDGE! Oops, I mean NEEDS! Continue to involve people of all ages in leadership roles, seek out the best ways to meet the individual needs of all age groups. And also realize that all people have similar needs to be met and that these needs can be met through developing relationships with people of other ages. As we think of the needs of people, let’s also see the gifts that the people around us have to share with each other.

E – EASTER! And it’s really all about Easter, isn’t it? The death and Resurrection of our Lord has already made us ONE in faith and one in living! We do not bring people together, but Christ Jesus has already brought us together in our Baptism. We ARE one, without doing anything about it! And because we are one of the Lord, we reach out in joy to share this oneness with others.

Enjoy the ONE ministry with which the Lord has blessed us! And enjoy your specific role in this ministry. Celebrate the relationships that we create as we bring people of all ages within ministry range of each other!

We are ONE in the Lord! We are ONE in the Spirit! We need each other! And I’m glad!

P.S. Hey, a final idea: How about encouraging congregations to Call as a new staff person a “Minister of Generational Ministries”? Well, come to think of it, that is what we all are Called to be anyway Go for it!

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