ABC’s Intergenerational Partnership: that’s what we’re calling one of our church’s four “growing edges” as we move into our post-COVID future. We’ve long recognized the gradual aging of our congregation and the diminishing numbers of young people among us. This was confirmed by our strategic planning self-study in 2015. In an attempt to change this trend, we became partners, beginning in 2018, in a Fuller Seminary-led cohort of twelve churches trying to help each other discover effective strategies for future growth and development. One of the important things I learned from this was that we “older dudes” need to think younger if we’re going to be part of an intergenerational partnership. Unconsciously, we’ve been too committed to persuading modern young people to get onboard with our program for the church, and we need to do more listening to what they’re saying about how the church can do better at speaking to their needs in their language.
ABC’s church building was constructed in 1958 with the intention that it would be the first phase of a visionary building program. The idea was that someday a larger facility would be constructed on the corner, now occupied by our lawn, and our current church building would become the Sunday School/Youth facility. That’s why its cornerstone has the inscription:
“TRAIN UP A CHILD IN THE WAY HE SHOULD GO.”
This is the first half of the Biblical text in Proverbs 22:6, which reads in the modern version used in our pew Bibles:
Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. (New Revised Standard Version)
It’s interesting to think about the reason for the difference in these two translations of the original Hebrew words. Like most modern translations, the New Revised Standard tries to eliminate gender-specific language to show that the writers had both women and men in mind. Often, they do this by changing from singular to plural, so when the child (young boy in Hebrew) is referred to with a pronoun, the writers won’t be forced to use he/him, implying (wrongly) that a young girl would be excluded.
But in this case, changing to the plural, children, is misleading in two ways. First, it’s too general, moving the focus from the importance and value of each individual child’s education in the faith. Second, many scholars have concluded that the original Hebrew phrase implies that there may be a unique pathway each child should be taught, rather than a list of proper actions and behaviors; that every individual girl and boy should be directed in the specific way that’s right for her or him. The plural translation obscures this.
There’s also an important truth in the second half of the proverb, that when this person grows old, they will not depart from the way. I’ve taken comfort, in raising my own children and observing hundreds of other children grow up in Christian families, that the text doesn’t promise they’ll buy all we’re trying to teach them right away. Some of them may openly rebel, or they may live most of their lives without having an active church connection. But I’ve been impressed with how deeply embedded early childhood direction is and how often children who have been raised with good and godly values return to them “when they grow old.”
ABC’s VBS (Vacation Bible School) will begin on Monday, July 26 (see below). As far as we can tell, this church has sponsored a summer VBS every year since the late 1930s, with the only exception being last year, due to the COVID shutdown. Many years there were more than sixty children in attendance. Often, more than half have been from community families, outside the church. Staff usually have numbered more than thirty volunteers, and the whole church has been involved in supporting the effort. It’s clear that VBS has been and can continue to be one of ABC’s major outreach programs.
A couple of weeks ago, a man in his mid-sixties was in my office reminiscing. He is not and never has been part of this church family, but ABC is important to his entire faith journey because of an early encounter. When he was eight years old, a friend invited him to ABC’s VBS. His family had no church connection, so the Bible stories and crafts were all new to him. Since then, involvement in a local church has always been part of his life, and now that he’s “growing old,” the principles he first encountered as an eight-year-old at VBS are continuing to bring him comfort and hope.
Once again, we’ll be planting faith-seeds at ABC’s VBS during the last week in July. Join us in praying for a good harvest, even if it may take sixty years or so.
– Pastor George Van Alstine