Monday, September 14, 2009

Generational Segregation

Yesterday morning at church I got to talk to one of my favorite fellow parishioners. In the course of our discussion, she mentioned her small group’s inability to bond and said she was starting to wonder if she and her husband were too old for the group. I assured her that that wasn’t the case, that groups need to have multiple generations in them.

This wise and godly woman has children who are older than I am, but I can relate to her better than to many women my own age. I always enjoy talking with her, and I have learned from both her words, which have challenged me to prioritize God’s Word over both church tradition and worldly wisdom, and her actions, particularly her ability to honor and respect her husband even when they disagree. I am glad to know her; many young people in the American church miss out on the benefit of fellowship with people like her, who have been following Christ for longer than their own lifetimes.

It seems that everyone these days is talking about diversity, but we are, more and more, segregating ourselves by age, interests, and ideology, especially within the church. We have groups for young adults, groups for singles, groups for mothers of preschoolers, groups for scrapbookers, groups for men, groups for women, groups for senior citizens, groups for divorcees. We all want to find people who are going through the same things we are, but in so doing, we fail to benefit from those who can offer us a fresh perspective on life.

I confess that I contribute to this problem to some degree. I tend to make a greater effort to welcome people to church and invite them to my home if they young children, like my own. Our children are a natural conversation starter, and no one minds being interrupted when another parent has to deal with a discipline issue. But when I associate only with people who are most like me, I am fostering disunity. Separating ourselves into demographic groups creates many small congregations within a congregation, many churches within the church.

I hope my wise older friend from church does not give up on associating with us younger women. Intergenerational fellowship benefits everyone. Those who are farther along life’s path can offer us advice on how to get through our current struggles because they have gone before us; those who are younger than we are can provide enthusiasm and keep us from getting stuck in the rut of “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.” We can learn from each other, but only if we spend time together.

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