Sit With Me?
Does your sanctuary have an unofficial “reserved” section of seats for youth when they come to worship? How about for young adults? If there is, could that be symbolic of how young people exist in your congregation? You know, all the youth or young adults don't have to sit together.
Most people know I am not a fan of children’s church or youth church. You know, the additional, separate worship experiences some churches will create. While I see the value of focused time to help young people develop their faith in an environment geared to their needs, I think building intergenerational communities is the better way to go. This doesn’t mean that time to connect with peers and those of the same age isn’t important. It does mean that any time intentionally splitting an age group from the larger body will affect the sense of belonging by the group split off. Segregation in any form on a consistent basis weakens the whole.
I take the approach found in 2 Kings 2:1-14. This is the story of Elijah and Elisha; two men who have formed a deep loving, meaningful relationship over the course of time. Elijah is not crazy about God’s idea of him connecting with and mentoring Elisha, yet Elijah does. Elijah seeks out a young person, and serves as a mentor by occupying the same time, space, and mind of Elisha. Upon Elijah’s translation (being taken to heaven), Elisha assumes the role as the spiritual leader of the community.
Imagine if Elijah and Elisha had no relationship because the young only interacted with the young and the seasoned sages only made friends with other seasoned sages. There would have been a gap, a missed connection, a lack of leadership in transition. We would find a different story, and yes, a different church. Thankfully, Elijah (even begrudgingly!) did mentor Elisha, and formed a connection. Athens First, a North Georgia congregation in the college town of Athens, GA, has found this to be a helpful model of ministry.
They have a ministry called the Elijah Project. Each fall, students receive a prayer advocate. The prayer advocate commits to praying for the student the entire school year, sending notes of encouragement, and if desired, providing small gifts throughout the year. The advocates remain anonymous until a year end celebration.
The Elijah Project reminds us of the power of relationships. Healthy, Christ-centered relationships are not formed in isolation, rather they are created in community. Think about some other famous intergenerational relationships found in scripture – Mordecai and Esther, Ruth and Naomi, and Paul and Timothy.
Rodger Nishioka illustrates this point in his TED Talk, “The Power of One."
Kara Powell’s research in Sticky Faith suggests that seven unrelated adults are needed for one youth to receive the faith of the elders. Both of these are examples of why all the young people don’t need to sit together all the time.
In my personal faith journey, there are several folks I count as sages of the faith. Herbert “Herb” Coleman II, is a recruiter for Perkins School of Theology, and one of my first youth pastors. He has been a constant spiritual guide and source of support. Constance “Connie” Smith, a pastor in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, was my very first youth leader. Connie is a model of a Christian mentor. She continues to hold the fire to my feet therefore bringing out the best in me. I have a lunch buddy, Phillip “Phil” McCollum. He gives me a glimpse of what it means to be a Christian husband, father, and grandfather. And, there are many more.
There is no question my life is richer because of Herb, Connie and Phil. And, I think their lives are better because of my presence and youthfulness. Examples like that bring Sticky Faith to life. So the next time you see a young person in worship, will you go sit with them?
Website Overview Link: http://athensfirstumc.org/elijahproject/