By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister
How are we doing as a broader faith community in passing on faith to the next generation? Where is faith being lived out loud in such a way that our children and youth are catching a vision of what it means to be follower of Jesus today? The title of John H. Westerhoff’s book Will Our Children Have Faith, first published in 1976, is a question that reverberates with every generation of the church.
In some of our churches we are noticing emptier pews and smaller youth groups, decreasing engagement in the life of worship, and greater divides in cross generational life. I hear both anxiety and fear in response to these trends.
The reasons for these trends are as multi-faceted as is the diversity of our conference congregations. We also don’t live in a bubble from larger societal trends. Many studies reveal that more millennials are choosing to opt out of traditional church participation. This drop in traditional religious engagement and identity spans every demographic group.
We often talk about passing on faith to the next generation as if it was a one way street. A more apt metaphor may be one of a journey in which faith comes alive for each one of us in new ways as each generation shares in common experiences and practices of the Christian life. Unless we as adults are growing in our faith how can we expect our children and youth to grow into a faith that lasts and matures in adulthood?
Several years ago in my neighborhood there were several boys who were ringing doorbells late at night and then dashing away. My anger got the best of me one night and I chased them through the streets after they rang our doorbell waking the whole household. Much to my chagrin, my seven year old daughter heard what I did. Thankfully, she showed me a better, and more Christ-like way, to respond. The next evening she suggested that we set out a plate of freshly baked cookies that we had made that day so that the boys could have something to eat if they came again that night.
Our children may have something to teach us about being peacemakers if we as adults are willing to listen!
What is the invitation of the church at this time? What are the deeper questions we need to be asking of ourselves and how we live as disciples of Christ? We may need to look to the edges of our institutions and faith communities to see the Spirit moving. We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations.
I believe we have stories and practices that we can share with one another to spur us on in this grand journey and narrative of God’s revealing salvation. We have signs of hope if we look closely enough. We have a rich heritage of faith that can inspire us to live anew into the emerging shape of the people of God.
Along the way, we may be called to let go of some things. In order for the new to arise some ways of doing things in the church may need to die that the church may be resurrected to new life. Are we willing to allow our church structures to change to support and embrace the new shapes of faith of the next generation? As our demographics change and as our world around us changes we will need to imagine new wineskins. We also may be called to reclaim pieces of our faith heritage that we have neglected.
Over the next year, we want to highlight stories from across our conference of how faith across generations is being renewed and lives transformed. Let’s tell on each other in the best possible way to highlight the good news of God at work in our young and old. What models do we have, both new and old, of renewing faith intergenerationally? Contact me if you have a story to tell of a faith nurtured or renewed in your congregation or larger community.