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Theological Principles Behind Intergenerational Youth Ministry
It’s Not Rocket Science
By David Fraze
0 0 2
Last f all I was conducting a Parenteen Seminar 1 in the Houston area. T he parents, youth ministry volunteers and community prof essionals who participated in the seminar generated great dialogue and insights. Being in NASA country, I was thrilled to have an actual NASA team member in the crowd. I strategically waited until the end of the seminar, when the need f or authentic parental and adult engagement of the abandoned teenage culture was being discussed, to use the phrase, “It’s not rocket science.” T he laugh was cheap but the point clear. In the midst of a society that tends to isolate kids f rom adults, God calls kingdom f ollowers to a dif f erent path. T hroughout scripture, God paints a picture of kids being raised by parents working hand in hand with the broader adult community. 2
Support from the Old T estament
As we think about Scriptural patterns f or educating children, it’s logical to start with the Old Testament. T he book of Deuteronomy, anchored on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, gave the people of Israel cues as to what is expected of them in the spiritual f ormation of their biological children as well as the children of their community.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV).
Most of us have probably read, sang, contemplated, and written this section of scripture. A deeper examination of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 reveals two principles that support intergenerational philosophy and programming f or youth ministry. Principle #1: Parents and the surrounding community of adults are expected to exemplify what it means to be fully-devoted followers of God. T his expectation of total devotion is indicated in several portions of the Deuteronomy 6 passage. First, to declare “The LORD our God, the LORD is one ...” is no small matter. It is a covenant agreement in which the people of Israel agree to f ollow the “one and only God” with absolute loyalty and obedience. 3 T his pledge of allegiance, of ten read aloud, starting with the words “Hear, O Israel,” is a “summons to those who would be Israel in any age” 4 to align themselves with the work and will of the LORD. Following the pattern of the Near Eastern ruler/subject relationship (also known as the suzerain/vassal relationship), the Israelites (the subjects) are agreeing to give three parts of themselves to the Lord: their undivided loyalty (their heart), their physical assets and talents (their might), and their own lives if necessary (their soul). In other words, Israel is entering into a legal, covenant agreement through reciting these words. 5 So serious was this commitment to f ollow the LORD, the term “with all your soul ” sparked a martyrdom tradition in Judaism. 6 An example of such devotion is witnessed in the lif e of King Josiah. It was written of King Josiah, and no other king in the biblical record, that he served the LORD “with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his might” (2 Kings 23:25). What is the connection between wholehearted devotion and a theology of intergenerational youth ministry? Research shows, whether f or good or bad, that children f ollow the spiritual lead set by their parents and surrounding adult community. 7 T he results of less than wholehearted devotion f rom parents, community members and, to be f air, children are highlighted in the Old Testament book of Judges. Recalling the f ailure of the generation who originally received the Deuteronomy 6 admonition, Judges 2:10-11a records: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil…” At a very f undamental level, the positive example of Deuteronomy 6 and the negative example of Judges 2 remind us of the impact of modeling in our intergenerational relationships. Principle #2: Adults, starting with parents, are commanded to be active participants in their childrens’ spiritual formation. Several portions of the Deuteronomy 6 passage indicate parental and community
involvement in a child’s spiritual f ormation. First, “Impress them on your children” is a phrase that indicates the parents’ responsibility and agreement to teach their children about the LORD. At the time that Moses authored this passage, the spiritual f ormation of children included the use of both f ormal and inf ormal opportunities to teach and centered on the telling of f amily, tribal and national historical narratives of the Exodus and the experience of living in covenant relationship with the LORD. 8 Second, the words “...talk ... walk ... lie down ...get up…tie ...write” are action verbs that indicate constant process. T he phrase “on your f orehead” indicates the LORD’s desire that, through f ormal teaching and the witness of right living in the lives of parents and the surrounding adult community, God’s ways remain “between the eyes” of children. 9 Deuteronomy 6:4-9 specif ically mentions the responsibility of parents in the spiritual f ormation of children. So what level of responsibility does the overall community have in the process? Historically in Israel, f amilies carried out their f ormational responsibility in the context of the broad community. Supplementing the education received in the home was a sequence of f estivals and observances that provided instructional opportunities f or the whole Israelite community. 10 Read the f ollowing verses and imagine the impact such an occasion would have had on the children in attendance.
“At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the peoplemen, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns-so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:10-13
I believe Eugene Peterson casts an appropriate vision f or the ongoing interf ace between f amily and community in kids’ spiritual f ormation in his paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only! Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (The Message)
Support in the Life, T eachings and Experience of Jesus.
Jesus’ experience and teachings mirror and of ten intensif y the principles of intergenerational ministry already highlighted f rom Deuteronomy 6:4-9. 11
Jesus lived life as a fully devoted follower of God . Jesus demonstrated the signif icance of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 by quoting f rom it when asked by the Pharisees to identif y the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:35-40). 12 Akin to the “with all your soul” dedication of Deuteronomy 6, Jesus demonstrated his obedience to God unto death (Philippians 2:8). Jesus requires the same f ull, cross-bearing devotion f rom those who make the commitment to f ollow him (Luke 14:26-27). Jesus’ spiritual formation was impacted by his parents and surrounding adult community. T his impact is seen in the various temple dialogues, his temple experience as a twelve year-old, his “lost experience,” and his submission to his parents’ will (Luke 2:21-52). Jesus’ knowledge of the law and ability to read Hebrew indicates that Jesus may have been a participant in the local school system established by the high priest in the f irst century. 13 T his would be a f urther indication of the community’s involvement in Jesus’ education. Jesus spoke of adults as active participants in a child’s spiritual formation. Jesus strongly opposed 14 the disciples who were attempting to keep children away f rom him (Mark 10:13-14). Jesus welcomed children into his crowded schedule and urged others to do the same in his name (Matthew 18:5). T he use of the term “in my name” in Matthew 18:5 highlights Jesus’ desire that his disciples accept children because that is exactly what he would do. 15 So passionate was Jesus, he said of those who cause children to sin that it would be best f or them if they would jump into the sea with a large millstone tied around their neck (Matthew 18:6).
Support in Pauline Literature
T he Apostle Paul, highly educated in the Jewish education traditions (Acts 22:3-5) and the New Testament’s most prolif ic writer, demonstrates similar connections to the principles highlighted f rom Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Paul was a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Paul’s wholehearted devotion to God is seen bef ore and af ter his conversion. He demonstrated his devotion to Christ by remaining f aithf ul through tremendous persecution and knowledge of his own impending martyrdom (2 Corinthians 11:22-30; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul called his hearers to live and model a fully devoted life in Christ . Paul speaks of his ef f orts to deepen his relationship with Christ as a race to be won. T his is the level of devotion, demonstrated in his own lif e, Paul expects “mature” believers to posses (Philippians 3:12-21). 16 For Paul, modeling demonstrates the harmony between doctrine and lif estyle choices. Harmony (i.e., practicing what one is preaching) assures that the watching “younger” audience understands the source of all moral behavior centers on Christ and not societal standards of conduct. 17 Paul’s own life and faith journey was shaped by adults. An examination of the scriptures highlighting Paul’s religious and cultural upbringing demonstrates the impact Paul’s parents and community had on his spiritual f ormation. 18 T he impact of Paul’s parents and surrounding adult community is implicit in Paul’s def ense bef ore Agrippa (Acts 26:2-23). Here Paul highlights his extensive religious training and experience that led up to his conversion to Christianity (Acts 26:4f f ). Furthermore, Paul claims his training and experience has been evident to the Jewish community f rom his childhood (Acts 26:4). Paul spoke of parents and adults as active participants in a child’s spiritual formation . Paul’s admonition to f athers in Ephesians 6:4 that they raise their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” indicates his expectation that f athers be major players in their children’s spiritual f ormation. It is clear that Paul wants the older Christians and those in authority to teach younger Christians (either by age or
experience) what it means to f ollow Christ in word and action (Titus 2:1-15). His emphasis on f amilial and f amilial-like relationships in the body of Christ is evident when he describes the respect and honor he expects each believer to give across generational lines (1Timothy 5:1-2). 19 As in Deuteronomy 6, passages such as Titus 2:1-15 and I Timothy 5:1-21 indicate a continual process that makes the most out of both f ormal and inf ormal opportunities f or intergenerational interaction. 20
A New Way of Life T ogether
During the break at my Houston seminar, the NASA scientist and I discussed the various f actors inf luencing the societal abandonment of young people by today’s adult culture. As in so many conversations that I’ve had with youth workers across the country on this topic, our discussion kept coming back to the same conclusion-parents and other adults need to recapture the thoughtf ul and intentional engagement with teenagers described in Scripture. I haven’t seen the NASA scientist in several months, but I am sure he’s taking his role as parent and adult community member seriously. He and I-and countless others nationwide-have realized that it’s really not rocket science.
Action Points for Youth Workers
Spend time evaluating the theological principles supporting intergenerational youth ministry philosophy and programming within your ministry context. Using the simple scale below, record your answers to the f ollowing questions and then discuss them as a team.
1: Strongly Disagree, 2: Disagree, 3: Not Sure, 4: Agree, 5: Strongly Agree ____ Our youth ministry teaches that declaring Jesus as Lord is a total life commitment that is evident in both word and action. ____ The parents and adult sponsors assisting in our youth ministry are expected to be devoted followers of Jesus (i.e., they practice what they preach). ____ Our youth ministry publically acknowledges and encourages the role and responsibility of parents in the spiritual formation of teenagers. ____ Our youth ministry publicly acknowledges and encourages the role and responsibility of other adult community members in the spiritual formation of teenagers. ____ Our youth ministry offers worship opportunities and other rituals designed to engage both adult and child audiences. ____ TOTAL SCORE
Spend time discussing and praying over the results of this evaluation. What ideas do you have to make progress in these areas? What practical steps can you implement in your ministry?
1. For more about Parenteen, visit www.parenteen.com. ↩
2. For additional reading beyond that presented in this article, see Walter Brueggemann, “Passion and Perspective: Two Dimensions of Education in the Bible,” Theology Today 42, no. 2 (July 1985), 172180, C Ellis Nelson, “Ref orming Childish Religion,” Journal of Family Ministry 19, no. 3 (Fall 2005), 14-23 and C Ellis Nelson, “Spiritual Formation: a Family Matter,” Journal of Family Ministry 20, no.3 (Fall 2006), 13-27. I also suggest listening to Dr. Chap Clark’s audio resource, “[intlink id=“436” type=“post”]Do Not Hinder T hem: T he Imperative We Can No Longer Ignore[/intlink]”. ↩ 3. T he use of the word “love” in scripture indicates much more than an emotive response. It indicates a person’s willingness to f ollow the one he/she loves with loyalty and obedience. ↩ 4. S. Dean McBride, “Yoke of the Kingdom: An Exposition of Deuteronomy 6:4-5,” Interpretation 27, no. 3 (July 1973), 273-306. ↩ 5. Moshe Weinf eld, Deuteronomy 1-11, Vol. 5 of The Anchor Bible series (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 351-354. ↩ 6. Ibid., 352. ↩ 7. See Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxf ord University Press, 2005). ↩ 8. Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., s.v. “Education, in the Biblical Period.” ↩ 9. Weinf eld, 335. See also, Constituting the Community: Studies of the Polity of Ancient Israel in Honor of S. Dean McBride Jr., 277. ↩ 10. The Anchor Bible Dictionary , s.v. “Education (Israel).” ↩ 11. T he f ollowing verses by no means represent an exhaustive list of ref erences. ↩ 12. By placing Deuteronomy 6:5 beside Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself ,” Jesus demonstrates how loving one’s neighbor is made possible and highlights a person’s devotion to God. See David L. Turner, Matthew in the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 537 f or a f ull discussion. ↩ 13. Victor H. Matthews, Manners and Customs in the Bible , rev. ed. (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 228-229. ↩ 14. T he Greek word used f or “indignant” (Mark 10:13) indicates a physical reaction and violent irritation. See H. G. Liddel, R. Scott and H. S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxf ord: Clarendon Press, 1940), 5-6. ↩ 15. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1992), 461. ↩ 16. T here are many passages in which Paul calls his hearers to wholehearted devotion. T his example does not represent an exhaustive list. ↩ 17. William Hendriksen, Commentary on I & II Timothy and Titus (London: T he Banner of Truth Trust, 1959), 362-363. ↩ 18. See James D. G. Dunn, ed., The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 21-22. ↩ 19. John Stott, specif ically ref erencing I Timothy 5:1-2, draws a number of powerf ul conclusions f or church leaders, “T he local church is rightly called ‘the church f amily,’ in which there are f athers and mothers, and brothers and sisters, not to mention aunts and uncles, grandparents and children. Leaders should not be insensitive and treat everybody alike. No, they must behave towards their elders with respect, af f ection and gentleness, their own generation with equality, the opposite sex with self control and purity, and all ages of both sexes with that love which binds together members of the same f amily.” John R. W. Stott, The Message of I Timothy & Titus: God’s Good News for the World, the Bible Speaks Today series (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 126. ↩ 20. T homas C. Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus , of the Interpretation series (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 114-118. ↩ Posted November 03 2008 by:
David Fraz e holds a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Seminary, currently works as the director of Student Ministries at the Richland Hills (Texas) Church of Christ and is a presenter for ParenTeen Seminars. In the summer of 2008 David served as a post- doctoral fellow with the Fuller Youth Institute. He also served as the director of the Youth and Family Ministry program at Lubbock Christian University for five years, and continues teaching as a graduate adjunct professor of Youth Ministry and related studies. David and his wife Lisa have two children, Braeden and Shelbee.
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