Rev. Melissa Cooper

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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!

We're in this together.

My Methodist Studies experience in seminary was, as far as I know, unique. My professor liked experiential learning. He had us in the archives handling primary resources every chance he could. And then there were the bands. 

Part of Methodist history is the tradition of band meetings - they're kind of like the original small groups. And so our professor of Methodist history had us also meet in bands each class period. (That alone was interesting because it's not often a room full of graduate students asks the question "How is it with your soul?")

But here is where things got really interesting. At the end of the semester, he told us, our grade for the class would be the average grade of our band

Wait, what? 

This is not the kind of thing you tell a room full of young adults who have chosen to attend a world-class university. Group projects are one thing; this was a whole different ballgame. He couldn't be serious.

It turns out, he was serious.

Throughout that semester, we were assigned to meet at the beginning of each class session with our bands, to ask "How is it with your soul?" and to collaborate on all our classwork. While our papers and projects were individual, you never saw anyone turn anything in that had not been looked over by at least a couple of bandmates. 

In the end, we knew everything we did was riding on not only our success, but the success of our bandmates. 

And this is what our professor told us. "My job is to prepare you to lead churches, to be pastors and ministry leaders. And in the church, you don't get to stand out on your own. You succeed together, or you fail together."

You succeed together, or you fail together. He broke the truth of the church down into such simple terms, and an object lesson I'm sure none of us ever forgot. 

One could take this lesson and apply it to any level of the church, whether locally or denominationally, or even universally. We succeed together, or we fail together. There is no in between.

And yet, we keep doing church as though there is. As though we have the "right" way of doing things, or the "best" model. I reject that idea. I reject the idea that just because it works in one place, it will work somewhere else. I reject the idea that if one person figures something out, the logical next step is for all of us to do that thing. That's just not how the world works, or how the church should engage the world.

And yet, it's how we've build the Christian Industrial Complex. Selling one size fits all curriculum, looking up to "successful" churches to show us the way, following "successful" pastors' leads.

Don't hear me wrong - many churches do wonderful things that we can learn from, but we need to see ourselves as unique communities that, while we may learn from others, we each bring our own unique gifts, individually and communally. And they way we succeed together (rather than fail together) is to bring those gifts to the table and allow them to be used in all their uniqueness.

Connection is a core value of my ministry and the way I approach working with churches. Sometimes we have to stop asking "How do we do the right thing?" and change it to "How do we partner with the people who are already doing the right thing?"

And one of the ways we do that is to collaborate and share life with others in ministry. When we want to learn a new thing, or take a new tack, we need to engage that process with others. The most impactful part of the seminary experience was not just the education in the classroom, but also the education in between those class times, when we gathered together at bars or in coffee shops to share life and discuss what was happening in our own journeys. 

So how are you doing life with someone this week? How are you succeeding together? How are you seeking out opportunities to live into the essentially connectional nature of ministry?


In the meantime, if you're interested in an opportunity to do vision ministry together with others, check out my Intergenerational Leadership cohorts through Vibrant Faith. It's an opportunity to grow in your intergenerational approach to ministry, and to do it in a group of others taking the same approach in their own context. I hope you'll join us!