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Age Segregated Ministries: Borrowing a cultural construct?

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Worldview Questions

The difficulty with worldview is that one does not see it, but then one cannot see everything else with out it. We must resist adapting neither a separatist nor a syncretic worldview towards the cultural war. A separatist worldview says “I form my own culture”. This was the solution adapted by the Essenes of the New Testament period to the monasticism of early Christianity, after the conversion of Constantine. On the other hand, a syncretic worldview says “I integrate the best of the two cultures”. This would be the position of the Sadducee and most of the Medieval church. multigen-worship-2However the church must engage the culture (may we dare not separate or mingle but engage) with the biblical worldview, having the gospel at the center. This is closer to the position adapted by the reformers such as Luther (who thought of the two kingdom models, though I don’t agree with that thoroughly, but it was his way of thinking the issue.) A church should always examine whether her worldview is a worldview formed out of cultural norms/ cultural constructs/ or not. But then one must examine it, in order to see which worldview he or she has adopted! right? Remember we cannot see it. We can only see through it. The church is facing massive cultural shifts in the past 10 years. Within our life time North American culture has moved from a dominant christian worldview to a secular worldview. The church is being confronted with consequential cultural decisions and loosing the war left and right. Remember, loosing a cultural war does not mean much for the health of the church as much as within. The threat is not so much from without, as we are confronted to rethink everything else all over again, starting from racial tensions to sexual orientations. My only fear is to what we do next! This requires the church to rethink & examine her worldview! (I will write more on worldview in the future, but for now worldview answers life’s defining questions such as where did I come from?, what is wrong with me/the world?, what is the solution to our predicaments?, and where are we going? These worldview questions define from what is to be human (racial question, questions of origin, gender questions) to solutions of problems of the world, to the most complex question of human destiny). The church is invited into a conversation in which the terms of the conversation is set by the broader secular culture within its cultural construct and political correctness.

One of these cultural constructs, that the church adapted for years, is an age segregated family ministry in churches, where Sundays are the most “age-segregated”. By doing so, there are minimal or no interactions between the many redeemed age groups within a local church. A family ministry expert asked a question to a group of us saying “when an older gentleman dies in your congregation, how does his departure affects the teenagers of your church?” We knew what he meant. In the current age-segregated church, what the older church members do has little effect on the younger ones and it takes the younger ones twice their age before they think they are part of the older congregation. This is a big issue! There is one church of Christ, and all age groups should feel the oneness of the church in Christ!

The ‘Teenager’ movement

The teenager movement is a recent American cultural construct. The word “teenager” was not coined before 1941 and it appeared in the English dictionaries in the 1950’s. It has quickly formed a multimillion entertainment, clothing lines, etc… enterprises around this new phenomenon. The teenage period instead of being a time of preparation and transition to adulthood, has become a time when the adolescent takes less responsibility, develops less or no interaction with their familial identity and focus more on the self. All of the sudden, we then celebrate their 20’s birthday and send them to colleges where their world would crumble and their faith questioned. The church simply borrowed this cultural construct and happily implemented an ecclesiological ministerial norm, with no question asked (based on this cultural construct.) This age-segregated model of ministry strategically creates a hedge between the old and the young, promoting generational gaps. The church fails to reconcile the heart of the fathers to the children (Mal. 4:6) for there is minimal interactions between them. as a result, parents fail to take primary roles in training their own children in the admonition of the Lord to shape their worldview (rather they want church professionals to do it).

That being said, we still do have the elephant in the room, called ‘the teenager‘, and we must engage the teenage-culture (not with a separatist nor syncretic worldview). Here I refer my reader to biblical contextualization, a method by which we separate biblical-normatives from their historicalcultural-context so that we may apply the biblical norm to our present-culturalcontext. However finally admitting that we are in post-christian America, we have to do both De-contextualization (secular cultural norms) and contextualization (biblical norms) at the same time.

Family-Equipping  v. Family-Integration models of ministry

Thus, setting aside an age-segregated model of ministry as unbiblical norm, I support a family-equipping model of ministry that encourages families to take primary roles while the church  maintaining still some form of age-focus trainings. This is in sharp contrast to a family-integration model of ministry (a model that completely removes any form of age-segregated ministries whatsoever) which also is producing much fruit in some churches today.

Does your church think these through? or does your church simply borrowed a cultural norms with out asking biblical worldview-questions?

In closing, please read these biblical assumptions, in which parents and children hear the world of the Lord together and parents having the primary role in it!

when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:11–13)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:5–7)

“I will open my mouth in a parable;  I will utter dark sayings from of old,  things that we have heard and known,  that our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children,  but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,  and the wonders that he has done.  He established a testimony in Jacob  and appointed a law in Israel,  which he commanded our fathers  to teach to their children,  that the next generation might know them,  the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,  so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God,  but keep his commandments;  and that they should not be like their fathers,  a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast,  whose spirit was not faithful to God.”  (Psalm 78:2–8)

© 2015, Samson Tilahun. All rights reserved.

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