Rev. Melissa Cooper


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Posts tagged christianity
Intergenerational ministry isn't (just) about the kids.

Last week, I spent three days with churches from all over the country as they invested in going deep theologically around the concepts of calling and vocation. It was an incredible experience (and one I will share more about soon!), and I am looking forward to our journey over the next few years as part of the C3 Project with Vibrant Faith

And, like you do, when a room full of people is talking about calling, you have a chance to continue to explore your own calling. (In case you were wondering, that process never stops!) As I thought through the incredibly diverse journey of calling I've been on since my teen years, and especially looking at the last 6 months as I have branched into a brand new iteration of my call, I looked around the room, realizing these were folks that were my ideal constituents.

The people in the room consisted of pastors and church staff, clergy and laity, leadership and congregation. As I looked around, I saw the people I cared about the most - all of them! Representatives of the whole church

You see, becoming an "expert" in intergenerational ministry has been interesting. The study and practice itself has been absolutely fascinating, but what's more interesting is what other people think that means. Some of the most revelatory work I do with churches and leaders simply involves definitions. When I tell people I work in intergenerational culture-building and intergenerational ministry, they usually form a picture in their head of what that means, even before I have spelled out the specifics. 

The positive is that in general, people seem to see value in intergenerational relationships and intergenerational culture-building. However, their understanding of what it means is usually far narrower than my actual scope of work.

Somehow, when we talk about an intergenerational church, intergenerational activities, intergenerational ministry, people only see that as one of two things. 

1) They see it as family ministry. And their definition of "family" is the stereotypical nuclear parents-and-kids image. "Oh, that's great! Can you come teach a parenting class for us?" No, the answer is no. I'm not an expert on family ministry (I know some things, but there are much better folks out there!). I'm not a resource on parenting. Family ministry is a subcategory of intergenerational ministry, not its entirety (future post coming on that relationship!).

2) They see it as doing more things that are "for the kids." Do I spend a lot of time talking about how we better include children in our congregations? You betcha. Is intergenerational ministry about kids? Yep. And teenagers, and babies, and emerging adults, and middle adults, and older adults, and anyone else you can imagine. 

What ends up happening is as an "intergenerational ministry expert," I get put in the kids' or youth ministry box. Now don't get me wrong, these are some of my favorite folks to work with, and they are a lot of the reason I do what I do! However, the best thing I can do for them is to get in the room with the senior pastor. The best thing I can do for them is to cast the full vision of what I'm talking about to the person who is ultimately casting the vision for their community. 

I'm excited to be leading two Intergenerational Leadership cohorts starting this month of ministers working in children's ministry or Christian education in their churches; and I expect a lot of the conversation to center around how they "lead up" to help their senior pastors better understand this importance. 

Because, folks, here's the thing. Intergenerational ministry is essential for kids. And intergenerational ministry is essential for adults. Part of being mature, Christian adults is how we engage the next generations. Our own faith formation is tied up in how we engage the faith formation of younger generations. If we're not participating in the faith formation of others, we will stagnate. We will stall. We will no longer grow. 

So sure, you can engage in intergenerational ministry because families matter. You can engage in intergenerational ministry "for the kids." But in the end, it's about all of us. And if we aren't ensuring this idea, this approach, is about all of us, then we're missing the boat. We're missing a huge part of the body of Christ. 

Intergenerational ministry isn't (just) about kids. And if you're intrigued, I'd love to talk more with you about how I can help broaden your experience and capacities for caring for all God's children, at all ages and stages.

To learn more, visit the coaching, consulting and speaking pages. Or, just go ahead and schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me! I would love to work with your ministry!

When Holy Week doesn't feel Holy

This week, most of my friends are in what some folks call "the clergy Superbowl." While Advent and Christmas are a major undertaking, often that liturgical season is really that: a season. There's lots happening, but over time. And it's often a shared responsibility among many church staff and lay leaders.

Holy Week, though, seems like it most often ends up on the shoulders of clergy. And those shoulders, while strong and broad, are still human. And sometimes, for them, it doesn't feel very Holy. It feels lonely and exhausting.

When I think of an icon of Holy Week, while Jesus is on the list, my modern image is that of Pastor. The pastor who just led a Lenten study, and now is planning a minimum of four services this week, during a time when many schools are on Spring Break, so many of her or his lay leadership may have chosen to take vacation, and during which time the age level leadership is also focused on Spring Break activities or, more likely, hunting colorful eggs and bunnies (I'll never completely understand churches having Easter Egg hunts, but that's for another post ...).

This week is a lot. It's a lot because it's just simply a lot of planning and leading. It's a lot because it's a week where we go through every liturgical emotion we have. And it's a lot because there's pressure to interpret and preach some of the most significant, yet controversial, parts of the Christian tradition in ways that both convict and inspire. 

It's a lot, y'all.

This week, if you're a pastor or church leader who is carrying much of this on your shoulders, I refer to Nadia's tweet above for a great reminder. It's not all on you, and it's not all about you. The truth of Jesus doesn't change based on your liturgy or preaching. Chances are, you've got this.

And if you are a church staff member or lay leadership, ask your pastor how you can be helpful this week. Be there early, stay a little late. Share the load, together.

And if you're a lay member in the pews this week, participate. The greatest appreciation you can show for the work your pastor has put in this week is to truly experience what Holy Week has to offer, from the celebration and exaltation of Palm Sunday, to the camaraderie and servanthood of Maundy Thursday, to the heart-wrenching pain of Good Friday, to the depths of despair on Holy Saturday, and finally to the new alleluias we discover on Easter Sunday. It's an incredible journey, and chances are, your pastor has prepared some incredible ways to experience it. 

Whoever you are, wherever you are, I pray you have a blessed Holy Week, and that it might be a truly Holy experience for you. 

Where is the "We" in worship?

One of the blessings of my ministry life has been that, while we always have a church home, my work allows me to be a part of lots of congregations. I worship in many contexts, both on Sundays and other times of the week. I see many styles of worship, many preachers, many music leaders, many congregational cultures. 

There are some trends that seem to sweep throughout many churches and across many contexts, and there are other practices that are unique to each congregation. I especially love the unique practices churches take on as a way of expressing community in their contexts.

One thing that has become a trend across contexts, though, is something that troubles me. 

Over and over, especially in contemporary worship music, I keep seeing the same words pop up: "I" and "me." 

Now, I am fully supportive of personal journeys of faith. I love hearing personal professions of faith. I spend a lot of time working with young people on articulating their faith for themselves, and owning their own spiritual lives. 

And yet, in Sunday morning worship, there's an opportunity to do something different. Once a week, I get a chance to come together to express faith with the gathered body, not just by myself. And over and over again, I am invited to sing songs that express an individual and personal faith. Songs that I could sing alone just as easily as with a church community. 

And then, last week, I sat in a room full of a few hundred clergy and laity, where we celebrated the complete Great Thanksgiving. One of my favorite parts is the time of invitation, confession and pardon:

Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
   who earnestly repent of their sin
   and seek to live in peace with one another.
Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.
Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
   we have broken your law,
   we have rebelled against your love,
   we have not loved our neighbors,
   and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
      through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Leader to people:
Hear the good news:
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;
    that proves God's love toward us.
   In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
People to leader:
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
Leader and people:
Glory to God. Amen.

Throughout this liturgy, a room full of church leaders confessed collective and institutional sin and neglect of those whom Christ has called us to love. Throughout this liturgy, a room full of church leaders repented for that sin and neglect of the Gospel. Through this liturgy, a room full of church leaders were reminded that Christ loves us no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Throughout this liturgy, a room full of church leaders offered forgiveness to one another. And all of this was done collectively, not individually. 

I'm not saying there's no place for individual faith, or no place at all for individual experience in worship. But when all the language throughout a congregational service is personal, we're missing the point of congregational worship. 

How would your worship look different if you changed the "I's" to "We's"? How would it feel different to say litanies collectively rather than individually? What would it change about your congregation's understanding of community to move to collective language when you gather for worship?

And finally, what artists are out there writing congregational worship music rather than individual prayers or praise? I'd love to hear it, and I'd love to sing it with a gathered community.