“The problem is, we view church and spiritual formation like the public high school” – parents drop their kids off expecting them to be spiritually “fixed” and returned, said Jason Brian Santos, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s associate for collegiate ministries, in a workshop on intergenerational ministries at Big Tent July 31.
Santos said that the patterns and activities of worship – like celebrating communion – are things that have been handed down for 2,000 years. He said these are critical to faith formation because the communal memory is habitual. However, he challenged participants to start thinking about the approaches to these patterns. For example, what if a congregation did a year-long intergenerational confirmation project together (instead of sending students off by themselves)?
Here are three other considerations he raised:
1.Preaching might be less important than Presbyterians think
Sparking some debate, Santos asked if Presbyterians place too much importance on hiring strong preachers. He stated most churches review sermon manuscripts and recordings as the key factor in hiring a new pastor. However, the sermon is 20 minutes (at most) of the week; much more time is required for the Christian formation of the congregation. What might happen if churches started looking for pastors who had strong capacities for spiritual formation and development?
2. Teach kids to worship
Santos asked, “At what point did church become what we can get out of that hour? It’s not about us.” Instead, he said it is important for adults to focus on teaching kids the patterns and actions of worship.
What’s good about contemporary music? It repeats itself, said Santos. Using these songs can teach children that worship music is a confession – it confesses who the worshipping body is as a people. “When we sing the doxology with conviction, it is a powerful thing,” he said.
3. Ask: What else can the church do?
- Church retreats as families. Don’t send the kids off separately. Instead, try reaching Scripture together.
- Engage in creative expression together. Act out the Passover passages. Touch and tell with communion elements, letting kids (and adults) touch, taste and ask questions about the bread and cup. Create art about worship and talk about it.
- Multigenerational Vacation Bible School. Host it in the evening after work with a communal meal. Santos has had experience using a rotational model where all ages journey together to different stations. One element is critical for success: “Is it something everyone can legitimately participate in?”