Intergenerational Integration Begins with Ministry Staff

Join us for Rooted’s 2022 Conference in Kansas City, MO, and learn from senior pastor Rev. Dr. Chris Polski in a workshop on building a vibrant, intergenerational ministry team. Chris will offer practical ideas about how to blend the freshness of younger leaders and the wisdom of older generations in order to benefit teenagers and their families. 

It’s been almost 20 years since I last served in a full-time youth ministry role, and during that time I’ve had the privilege of watching my own children move through the youth ministry in our church.

I can remember many experiences sitting with desperate parents of teenagers who came to me seeking advice on what to do in any number of vexing situations. I was single at the time and had not yet parented children myself, but I did my best to listen and to provide some biblical comfort or insight based on my experiences with the sons and daughters of these church members.

In some cases what I shared turned out to be very helpful, and in others, not so much. I wouldn’t say that the advice I gave was bad or ignorant—at least not in most cases. But there were aspects of counsel that may have been missing or incomplete because I neglected to seek out the wisdom of those in my church who were more experienced than me.

Now as a senior pastor overseeing youth ministers, I have many opportunities to observe this struggle of connecting the wisdom of the older generation with the proximity of youth ministry into a single, intergenerational system. Certainly, I’ve lost some of the cultural awareness that most youth pastors have (Who is Hozier, again? What is this Snapchat thing?). On the other hand, as a more seasoned pastor I have a little more comprehensive awareness of family systems, relational dynamics, and the tried-and-true principles of effective ministry to both adults and teenagers.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we need both freshness and wisdom in the church, and particularly in youth ministry. For this reason, it’s essential to build an intergenerational youth ministry team—and often this starts with creating healthy and interactive relationships between senior pastors and youth ministers.

Generational Distance Can Hinder an Interdependent Youth Ministry

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten a little bit older is that in some churches, senior pastors and youth pastors tend to pull away from each other because of generational distance—not in a mean-spirited way, but in a “let me give you your space” kind of way.

This happens because older pastors are afraid that their lack of immediate cultural awareness renders their insights of little worth, even though the Bible often asserts the opposite (e.g. Ps 92:12-15). Likewise, many younger pastoral workers end up thinking that they can’t possibly understand the best ways to respond to the questions and concerns of parents because they haven’t yet parented themselves, something the Bible also warns against (e.g. Tim. 4:12).

One of the areas where I see this tension is in relation to the use of social media. Older pastors and parents sometimes can only see the dangers of social media (which are very real) whereas younger youth workers, even though they understand the dangers, can also see some of the important ways that students need some aspects of social media to establish themselves within a larger community. A simple conversation over coffee between an older pastor and a younger youth worker can often lead to moments of critically important joint insights into cross-generational approaches for managing complicated topics like this in a local church setting.

When we neglect these moments of cross-generational dialogue, the result is that both the pastor and the youth worker miss out on the very thing they need to be most effective in their joint calling to minister faithfully to the students in the church.

Younger Youth Ministers Bring Generational Freshness

Young ministers, while often lacking in some of the experience of older pastors, do bring a freshness of approach and enthusiasm. Most importantly, they bring an ability to connect with the kinds of questions that students are asking and the ways that their questions need to be addressed. Older pastoral workers need to sit and absorb much more of this than they often do if they want to be effective in their own overarching ministry in a local church.

Older Pastors Bring Generational Wisdom

On the other side of the coin, younger youth ministers need to take the risk of pressing into the wisdom and life experiences of the older pastors in their churches. They need to learn to listen to stories, absorb the outcomes of real-life ministry experiences, and not be afraid to go off the popular path into some of the old ways of doing things on some occasions.

When older lead pastors learn to be more patient intergenerational learners and younger youth pastors learn to be more patient intergenerational listeners they are, in a profound way, modeling the very things that Jesus did for us when he became incarnate. He didn’t dismiss us just because we weren’t like him, he entered in and showed forth the wonder of the gospel when he empathized with our condition, even to the extent of laying down his life for ours.

For these reasons, the most dynamic youth ministries that produce the greatest long-term fruit are those that are forged in the fires of intergenerational engagement—a process that often begins between older senior pastors and younger youth pastors, but doesn’t need to end there!

You can read more from Chris on this topic of intergenerational integration, one of Rooted’s five pillars of youth ministry, in his articleThe Thrills and Spills of Youth Ministry Islands.”

Rev. Chris Polski serves as the Lead Pastor of Trinity Church Kirkwood (PCA) in southwest St. Louis. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary where he also serves as a Visiting Instructor in Practical Theology. He is married to Katie and has three wonderful kids. In addition to enjoying his family he is a huge U2 fan, lover all things sports related and a devoted reader of C.S. Lewis.

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