Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Prepare ye the way for the Lord

The American church may be losing its grip on Christmas. Last year, while Christians were lamenting the decision of some major department stores to drop the word Christmas from their advertising, some megachurches decided to drop Sunday worship because Christmas fell on a Sunday .

Perhaps the desire to drop Christmas worship was due to Christmas burn out caused by an overdose of frantic shopping, office parties, sappy TV specials and gaudy decorations. One megachurch told the local paper that the decision was made because people are so busy during the holidays and Christmas is supposed to be a family day.

What!? Do we need any more encouragement to be more self-absorbed? Does the church want to go on record stating that public worship is optional even on one of the few days that most people come to church?

Since Wal-Mart has given the nod to “Merry Christmas” greetings this year, it would seem that the American church has turned over the ownership of the holiday to the department stores. Advent was replaced long ago by the “Christmas shopping season.” This year the high priests of marketing have decided to start the shopping season early in order to boost the economy. America is looking to Wal-Mart and Macy’s to preserve Christmas traditions rather than the church. Even Jerry Falwell is concerned that Christmas celebration might be removed from the department stores .

A 2005 survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University found an overwhelming sense that Christmas is losing its religious theme. Only 11% believe that most people still “focus on the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.”

The faithful observation of Advent can help us prepare for the real meaning of Christmas and keep our perspective amid the holiday madness. Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming” and designates the four weeks before Christmas when Christians reflect on the meaning of the coming of Christ.

While the ancient Hebrews yearned for the promised Messiah, anticipation celebrated through Advent can awaken our deep yearning that Christ come more fully into our lives. Advent traditions such as lighting a candle for each Sunday of Advent, decorating a Christmas tree during the last week of Advent and lighting it for the first time on Christmas Eve to mark the light of Christ coming into the world, help us prepare for Christmas. By observing the Advent season as a time of devotion, worship and service, Christmas Eve and the 12 days that follow can be a time of feasting and celebration worth waiting for.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The intergenerational church

Building an intergenerational church in a society that separates people by age groups can be a challenge. From preschool through high school children are put in classrooms with others their age. At the other end of life, we put our aged into nursing homes.

The church seems to have perfected this age segregation with our age-graded Sunday schools, youth groups, seniors’ groups, singles’ ministries, etc. Gen X churches, where a single demographic is targeted, was the latest trend until Willow Creek dropped its once popular Gen X service, Axis, because of a large drop in attendance.

Sunday school experts agree that this segregation leads to growth. Decades of data support this “birds of a feather flock together” thinking. On the other hand, many have observed that youth tend to drop out of church after high school graduation and young adults rarely integrate into the life of the church.

If the church is to be a community, then it needs to reflect the intergenerational quality of the traditional family. Norm Wakefield, Spirit of Elijah Ministries, suggests that a biblical model of youth ministry involves adults modeling appropriate behavior to the younger generation. He recommends men’s and women’s retreats that include the children. He has observed that teenagers behave differently with adults of their gender than in peer groups. Boys will model adult behavior when on a fishing trip with men because they want to be accepted.

Small groups tend to follow an intergenerational approach to adult ministries. This helps to fulfill the older women and older men mentoring the younger women and men mandate of the Bible. This can be done without a drop in numbers. The multiplication of small groups, particularly in cell churches, surpasses that of the traditional Sunday school.

One way to bring generations together is through big projects that involve the whole church. We had a car wash at Grace Chapel that involved children, teens, college students, older adults and seniors. It is one of the most endearing memories I have of a church working together. Our ministry to the nursing home has also involved people of all ages.

Building an intergenerational church can be a challenge but it is a witness to the world of the holistic community that God wants us to be.