Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship, by Holly C. Allen and Christine L. Ross. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012. 330 pp. $22.00.
In a society that is continually segmented, fragmented, and fractured, churches often seems to follow suit by creating separate events for every age group. Allen and Ross believe the bride of Christ has been separated for far too long and call for her to function as a unity, and not just in disparate groups. They present a well-formed argument for returning to a model in which each generation values the others in the church.
The book is divided into four primary sections, the first three being more academic and the final section anecdotal. The first section explains where the church is currently located in terms of generational relationships and provides background of how it reached this point. This is followed by an exposition of biblical, theological, and theoretical support for intergenerational Christian formation. Allen and Ross reclaim the social sciences in their third section by exploring generational theory and gerontology as means of supporting integration. The final section is largely collections of stories from congregations that have embraced intergenerationality in a blend of case study and commentary.
The influence of American culture, and especially the educational system and idea of pensions, has shaped the way the church divides the generations. Although they point to life-stage needs and the compartmentalization at the hands of the church growth movement, the authors implore that segregation be the exception rather than the rule. Although they clarify not every activity of the church must include all ages, they are “proposing that frequent and regular cross-generational opportunities for worship, learning, outreach, service and fellowship offer distinctive spiritual benefits and blessings” (47).
Although Scripture is never prescriptive that a church must include all generations, it is implied and demonstrated throughout both Testaments. “Throughout Scripture there is a pervasive sense that all generations were typically present for worship, for celebration, for feasting, for praise, for encouragement, for reading of Scripture, in times of danger, and for support and service” (84). Creation also testifies that generations were made for living in community. The work of Erik Erikson especially resonates with this “interaction of generations, which he calls mutuality” (87). Developmental psychology, social learning theory, ecological systems theory, sociocultural learning theory, and situative-sociocultural theory all testify to the importance of age integration. Most importantly though, the way Christ ministered reflects an intergenerational focus. Jesus could have been in a classroom instructing his followers but rather he “became flesh and lived among these men, providing opportunity for them to learn, to develop, to become” (112).
An exposition of generational characteristics leads the reader to conclude that in order for members of each generation to fulfill their purpose they must work in tandem with the other generations. “Generational theory itself suggests that this time period in American history . . . is the right time for intentionally intergenerational churches to thrive and to offer a powerful witness of Christ’s message and mission to the surrounding society” (155). Current research of the authors and others presented in chapter 12 affirm this conclusion.
The anecdotal chapters examine intergenerationality in the church at large, in worship services, and in specific classes of church. What comes through in each of these chapters is not a legalistic formula but a desire for an attitude where each generation is of significance to one another. The appendices provide practical tools to foster such an attitude within a congregation. The first provides ideas for application in one’s own context, the second provides a comprehensive list of external resources, and the third provides a list of Scripture that allude to intergenerationality (although it is by no means exhaustive and some of the citations are exegetical stretches).
Unlike other works that claim to be intergenerational but promote only the inclusion of children, this work truly is concerned about each generation. While children are an important component of the work, they are given a less prominent place as the discussion is about including all generations together. The heart of the book is that no matter the current structure of a church’s ministry, the arguments should spur conversation and not condemnation. It is also noteworthy that although infant baptism is mentioned, at no point do the authors allow themselves to speak only to those holding to paedobaptism.
This fine work will likely become a standard in this field for years to come. The layperson may find the technical jargon in the opening three sections difficult to understand, and the academic will find the anecdotal, feel-good stories of the latter section lacking substance. This work then is best used by the practitioner as an introductory text to the issues of including all generations in the church as a family.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX