When Intergenerational meets Intercultural
The shape of discipleship in the intersectional space between intergenerationality and interculturality
By Robin Yang
I am hoping to begin a national conversation that explores how we do lifelong discipleship and faith formation in the messy overlapping space between intergenerationality and interculturality.
Dr Holly Allen, a leading voice in intergenerational ministry based in the US, has come out to Australia and spoken across a number of different states on intergenerationality. In Victoria and Tasmania, we are working hard to embed this an intergenerational approach into Presbyteries and congregations. I am increasingly concerned however that we have not examined this discipleship framework through an intercultural lens.
A few things as I begin.
- May I ask that our responses be thoughtful and respectful.
- I do not wish to get into differences between multi/cross/inter generational and cultural. That can be another conversation.
- My thoughts below are not a logical reasoning for or against any position. I am posting observations I have made as hooks to begin conversations.
I am using the definition of intergenerationality from Holly Allen and Christine Ross who talk about life long faith formation and discipleship based around the key values of mutuality, equality and reciprocity.
I will begin with the premise that this Intergenerational framework comes from a particular culture – white middle class North American culture.
The suggestion then that this particular cultural discipleship framework should supersede other frameworks, including those from our culturally and linguistically diverse and First Peoples communities, as the preferred or ‘better’ discipleship framework reeks of colonialism. We are in danger of normalising intergenerationality in a particular way. In doing so we exclude others, both individuals and cultures.
If we examine the intergenerational framework through a migrant experience in Australia we see a range of areas where the values of mutuality, equality and reciprocity do not work.
- Respect for elders means younger people do not have a voice in their community
- Generational conflict between First and Second generation
- Many Asian Second Generation are leaving parent’s churches to establish their own second generation churches
We continue to see churches from all cultural backgrounds who have all generations represented, using generational ministry models (children, youth, young adult, men, women, senior ministries etc.) In many places, this ‘replaced’ model of discipleship does work. Or does it? Have we sufficiently critiqued generational ministry or do many places just assume it works?
When we look at Australian church history over the past 50 years, we see generational ministry did not produce the fruits the leadership of the church had hoped. Has past generational ministry in Australia contributed to missing generations from the church today? In Asian Australian migrant churches, and specifically Korean, the silent exodus of young people out of the church continues at disturbingly high rates. I am confident the issues here are far wider than just a discipleship framework. However the end results are people leaving the church and often faith.
What if we placed the North American intergenerational understanding as one methodology of lifelong discipleship alongside a range of others? What are the implications for various councils of the church that have adopted it? What alternative language do we then employ?
An intercultural lens requires of us to look at how other traditions, communities and cultures understand this methodology. Perhaps a helpful way to begin is by asking the question, “What does a mature follower of Jesus look like?” I define spiritual maturity as one key objective of lifelong faith formation and discipleship, the journey to become more Christ like or grow into the likeness of Christ (Colossians 1:28).
The picture of a mature follower of Jesus will vary depending upon a variety of factors, such as denominational background, theology, traditions, and perhaps more interestingly, cultural background.
In my childhood, knowledge of the Bible was key to growing as a disciple of Jesus. So as a Korean Second Gen, my immigrant church’s discipleship pathway and programs were all geared towards memorising Bible verses, Bible studies, small groups and Quiet Time (time set aside for personal devotion with God) . The Bible was venerated and even underlining verses was not done.
How a Christian community defines spiritual maturity is the beginning point for how it develops and does faith formation. If we take the time to listen and understand how every community does this, then we can begin to understand how the intergenerational framework can intersect with the intercultural.
Would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Intergenerational Ministry – Young Adults Coordinator, Unting Church Synod of Victoria & Tasmania