The Growing Faith conference is happening next Saturday, September 15. Why go? Well, can I tell you a story?
It was Sunday and it was hot—the summer heat hadn’t dropped below sticky overnight and was steadily rising. All our church services had gathered together for a combined worship event, all the age demographics usually divided by preferred timeslots joined as one. There was no Sunday school. We’d done this before, but never in our small church building. Slow fans wafted steamy air above the crowded pews. My husband was overseas. I was alone with my three boys, each competing to fit on my lap.
To be all-age-friendly, every part of the service was bite sized—many Bible readings, prayers, several interactive activities, and multiple mini-sermons. Intentions were good, but the result was endless. During the first hymn my youngest went grey and clamped his ears. Halfway through the first sermon he stood on my lap and announced, ’I hate these words. I hate these words coming out of his mouth’. Even if we weren’t trapped in the centre of the pew, there were no empty corners or cry room to escape to. My older boys writhed across me like burnt bubbling plastic, hot and bored to the point of visible anguish.
Afterwards came lunch. Tables were bedecked with a generous spread—lush salads, bronzed sausages, and mountains of homemade sushi. But my boys were utterly spent. The youngest ran berserk out every available door and needed constant chasing. My older boys love sushi but wouldn’t queue for food without me. It was too busy for anyone to see I needed help.
Home we went. I made a cup of tea and had a weep and a laugh. Despite knowing that church is not about my personal comfort, I felt oddly betrayed that my own church had been so alienating. Yet all my church family had done was invite me to share a time of worship and prepare me lunch!
We all have our church horror stories. Not all are as trivial in hindsight. Even with the best of intentions it is so hard to love everybody well, see everyone fed, and foster everyone gifts. We are different. Our gifts are different. Our needs are different. Yet we made to be together, and together, like the life-giving fusion of blood, bone and sinew, not lifeless brick atop lifeless brick.
How do we do this? Eugene Peterson writes how we want our churches to be shiny vehicles of gospel crusade, but instead God gives us messy battlefront infirmaries. We want church to be a slick provider of religious goods and services but instead God plants us within a gaggle of awkward, ordinary people. Yet it is planted as one, mess and all, that God grows us into living outposts of the new creation.
These past few years the philosophy of intergenerational ministry has captured my church’s imagination. We don’t want to always segregate ages within our church life; we want to be integrated as one big family. We are asking questions. How can our older women and men shepherd our young if their paths never cross in our services or ministries? How do we foster true friendship and support across generations within our flock? How do we help our children see church not as a waiting room before Sunday school but a feast in which they are both a beloved guest and a generous host?
We desire to be the body we are—all generations serving each other and being served. We are examining and reshaping our ministries and ministry spaces through this vision. Yes, often our attempts are a comedy of errors, but we persist. Growing up does require wobbly steps.
We need help. The Growing Faith Conference is for us. It is a one-day event for everyone: children, youth, and every age of adult. It exists to energise and equip us to pursue intergenerational discipleship in our churches. My whole family went last year. We were given a smorgasbord of God’s word, practical workshops, cake, coffee and lunch. We went home tired but overflowing.
Harriet Connor, author of Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life, travelled from the Central Coast to enjoy Growing Faith’s 2017 offering. ‘I came by myself to the Growing Faith Conference last year. But hearing about and experiencing intergenerational ministry—the whole family of God worshipping and serving together—inspired me so much that this year I plan to bring my whole family, as well as some of the ministry leaders from our church.’
A feast of wisdom awaits us. Registrations are now open. Come join in!