Category: Intergenerational

Formed in Community

I was looking through my closet this week for a 56-year-old piece of paper I want to read to our church this Sunday when I came across the first Bible I ever owned. My parents gave it to me on my sixth birthday, almost fifty years ago. This is the Bible I had when I was a kid growing up in the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas. I wrote a lot of notes in the margins of this Bible. Back then it was two Bible classes and three sermons per week – no children’s worship. We sat through all of it. And I looked up every Scripture and I wrote a lot of notes. You can read the notes in my Bible and tell how I was raised.

Next to Psalm 51 I wrote, “This is not original sin.” In a couple of places that describe the musical instruments in the tabernacle and the temple I wrote, “Doesn’t mean we can use them now.” Every single page of the New Testament in this Bible is highlighted, marked up, or underlined. There are also lots of handwritten notes.

“When we work God’s plan, God’s plan will work.”
“You can’t kill time without injuring eternity.”
“You can’t die in Christ unless you live in Christ.”
“A fellow wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”

There’s a picture of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and I’ve circled the Lord’s long blonde  hair. On the other side of the page is a picture of Jesus standing before Pilate. I’ve circled his long hair there, too, and written, “I Cor. 11:14 – God wouldn’t go against his own writings so Jesus must have had short hair.”

I don’t make fun of the notes in my first Bible. I’m not ashamed of them. Everything in this first Bible reminds me of growing up in that Pleasant Grove church and brings to mind really happy memories for me. This Bible reminds me that I was raised by people who loved me and taught me and cared about me and passed the Christian faith on to me.

This excellent reproduction of a Joe Malone sermon illustration, drawn when I was fourteen, reminds me of the sayings he would repeat on rotation at least every four or five sermons. Little ditties like, “Let one drop the sidewalk smirch, and it’s too wet to go to church.” I also remember the good-natured teasing he gave me when I wore that arrowhead necklace from Avon when I was eleven or twelve. I remember bugging him in his office during those summer days while my mom was working as the church secretary. I don’t remember him ever being annoyed.

I wrote, “Mike made me mess up” next to a really crooked underlining. That reminds me of my friend Mike Cunningham. His dad, Chuck. They hosted our youth devos. I traded a magic kit to Mike for his ELO “Time” album in 1981.

I remember Aaron Welch. He’s the guy who picked people to pass the Lord’s Supper trays. He always did it the same way. He’d come up to you before church started and say, “Old man, you wanna help us with the Lord’s Supper?” It didn’t matter that I was twelve. He thought it was funny to call Todd and Mike and me old men.

Jim Martin was one of our regular song leaders and I can still see him leading “Trust and Obey” as I walked down the aisle to be baptized when I was eleven. His middle finger was always oddly set a little lower than the rest of his hand.

Tillie Prosser was a high school music teacher who taught us boys how to lead singing in an upstairs classroom at 5:00 on Sunday afternoons. Her favorite song was “He Keeps Me Singing” and we all led it together at the start of every class. When we sing it today, I still hear Sister Prosser’s voice, counting the beats, reminding us to hold it out, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, two, three, four.”

Kayla Casebolt was the Sunday School teacher who had a giant sandbox in her room where she used little plastic people and animals to tell the stories.

Van and Laura Simpson drove us to youth rallies and Summer Youth Series.

Glen Burroughs taught our high school class and taught me how to drive a stick.

The first time I ever led a prayer during Sunday night church I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the microphone. It was the closing prayer and I was extremely nervous. I must have been eleven or twelve. I couldn’t see anything over the massive podium. When it was over, Johnny Cobbler approached me in the long hallway from the worship center to the south parking lot doors. Johnny Cobbler was one of the cool teenagers. He had a car and I perceived him to be the alpha leader of the youth group. I was both obsessed with him and frightened of him. He laughed at me and said, “Did you lead the closing prayer? Somebody said you led the prayer, but I couldn’t see anybody up there!” And then he shook my hand and said, “It was a good prayer.” There must have been four dozen people who told me I led a good prayer that night. But I remember Johnny Cobbler.

I remember one Sunday night during my senior year of high school when I accidentally wore a Huey Lewis and the News t-shirt to serve the Lord’s Supper to the reprobates who had been providentially hindered that morning. One of the elders, Kenneth Lybrand, told me after church that it wasn’t right. I shouldn’t wear a shirt like that to serve the Lord’s Table. And I remember Elaine Titus overhearing Brother Lybrand and telling me a few minutes later that it was fine. She told me she could tell I was up there to serve the Lord and it didn’t matter what I was wearing. That meant so much to me. I also remember that Brother Lybrand is the one who gave my parents the money to adopt my little sister Sharon. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

That church raised me. Those people shaped me. A lot of my ideas about God and Christ, a lot of my understandings about salvation and love, a lot of what I believe and some of what I push back against goes back to the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. A lot of who I am in Christ today goes back to that community of faith at P-Grove that raised me and shaped me in Jesus.

You’ve got a lot of little kids in your church. I know you do. Lots of boys and girls between the ages of five and fifteen who will never forget the things you say to them. The attention you pay to them. The way you make them feel. The time you went out of your way to assure them they are an important part of your church family. Or those other times. Those other things you said.

They’re all paying attention this Sunday. And they remember.



Preaching with Tucker

A text this morning from a friend wondered if I had developed some carpel tunnel issues. Yes, it’s been a while since I wrote in this space. No, it has nothing to do with the health of my fingers. I have been out of town three of the past four weeks — in Malibu for the Pepperdine Lectures, on a sabbatical in a nice apartment near the bottom of Ceta Canyon, and in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. I even mixed in a weekend trip to Edmond for my nephew Asa’s high school graduation. So, I appreciate the concern for my physical well-being. Thank you. Consider me back in the groove.

Yesterday marked our summer kickoff here at Central when all our 5th graders are officially promoted into the student ministry. The day is highlighted by the gifting of Bibles and blessings, lunch and a slide show, swimming and bowling, and an all-in youth meeting. But, for me, the best part of my Sunday was preaching with Tucker Haynes.








We’re a multi-generational church at Central and we are continuously on the lookout for creative ways to experience intergenerational relationships. We want to model and practice church as family. Christian community. Doing life together in Christ. So Sunday we had all of our incoming 6th graders participating in the leading of our worship assembly. Noah Hartman helped Kevin lead our singing. Several of the students read Scripture. And Tucker helped me preach.

The text was 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now about brotherly love…” Tucker worked especially hard the past two weeks on the Greek word for brotherly love, philadelphia, and what exactly Paul means when he tells the Christians in Thessalonica that God has already taught them how to love. And he nailed it! He and I went back and forth — me, trying to remember my memorized manuscript while Tucker read his expertly crafted lines. Tucker had the whole congregation eating out of his hand when he confessed frankly that “brothers and sisters can be annoying.” Then he pulled the rug out from under us with his observation that “We don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters; they are a gift from God.”

Oh, yeah. Central ate him up with a spoon. He was excellent!

I really enjoyed my time with Tucker on Friday, finalizing together everything we were going to do.  I asked him questions about the text and about his relationships with his older brother and sisters.  I listened while he wrestled with using a personal illustration to both connect with the listeners and explain the text. We did a mic check together in the worship center early Sunday morning and prayed together in my office fifteen minutes before the assembly began — he was distracted by the 2011 World Series program on my table and couldn’t hardly pray for lamenting the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz.

Tucker, you were terrific, brother. I’m so blessed by God that you and I are adelphus. And I’d be honored to preach with you any day.




The Midlife Church Crisis

I’ve read an article this past week in Christianity Today about the growing number of folks in their 50s and 60s who are leaving their churches. As faith communities focus increasingly more on programs for children and activities for the youth and targeting young families, older Christians around us are experiencing a midlife crisis of faith. But they’re not wrestling with their beliefs, they’re struggling with their role now in the body of Christ. Empty nesters are facing different challenges now: relationship shifts, loneliness, health issues, death. And they’re attending and participating less and less in the life of their churches because they’re feeling more and more like their particular place in life is being ignored.

The author of the short article, Michelle Van Loon, took an informal survey of 500 Christians about their church experiences as they had grown older. Almost half of the respondents said they had scaled back their involvement from what it had been a decade earlier. Those who had downshifted or left their churches cited several reasons: weariness with church politics, increased career demands, significant time devoted to caring for parents or grandchildren, health issues, and a sense that somehow they had outgrown their church.

“I’m tired of the same programs year after year,” one said. “I want deeper relationships with fewer people, more spiritual exercises like prayer and meditation than the canned studies our church offers.”

Now, here’s the part of the article that really spoke to me and confirmed for me a whole lot of what we’re doing here at Central:

“Anecdotally speaking, it seemed that those over 40 who discovered meaningful service, worship, and connections reported that their church was committed to intergenerational ministry rather than family-centered, child-focused programming. Though there is some overlap between the two ministry philosophies, the congregations that concentrate on families with children under 18 unintentionally marginalize those who don’t fit the profile. Churches with intergenerational ministry have invested in building connections between members of different ages and nurturing fruitfulness in every season of life.”

I am completely sold, and have been for a while, on fostering an intergenerational culture in our churches. From our Running the Race series a couple of summers ago to our Sticky Buddy initiatives today, we’re trying to do more and more of this here at Central. But it’s tough. It goes against our human nature; it certainly goes against the grain of our culture. It’s hard work trying to integrate our small groups. It’s not easy to get older people to outdoor family picnics and activities or to get our younger families and students to attend potlucks or game nights with our older crowd. It takes careful planning and a high commitment to the importance of intergenerational relationships to come up with new and better ways of getting our people together.

We’re trying to do it in our worship assemblies with more interactive time during the Lord’s meal, with more storytelling and sharing, with more prayer time together in the pews. Our student ministry is in its second year of discipleship “tracks” that pair our teens up with a couple of adults to explore knowledge, community, inner life, and mission avenues of spiritual growth together. Our current “Holy Sexuality” series is a carefully scheduled “congregational conversation” about everything from raising holy kids to identifying and working on sexuality issues in our own marriages to recovering from sexual abuse. Our purity ceremony is an event for the whole church family. Our second Sticky Buddy event is coming up next month.

Some of our ideas are better than others. Not everything we try wildly succeeds. But we believe that if we spend most of our “church time” only with our peers and people of our own age and stage of life, we’ll produce shallow, inwardly-focused Christians. Intergenerational churches willing to do the hard work that’s required, we think, will turn out Christians who understand sacrifice and service, who have a much broader view of the Kingdom of God and who’s in it, and who are appreciated and highly valued at every stage of life. We’re committed to it here at Central.


The process of de-DFW’ing my children has not been slow and steady; it’s been rapid and sure. Valerie bought a pair of cowboy boots less than six months after our move to Amarillo. All the pre-sets in her truck are on country music stations, and have been for a while. All three of the girls prefer the locally owned restaurants and coffee shops instead of the national chains — The Palace and Texas Tea are the favorites — and they’ll defend them like they’re members of the family. They complain about a long travel distance to the other side of town (ten minutes) and they praise the big sky and the beautiful sunsets.

It was seriously hammered home to me this weekend just how “rural” we’ve all become when we spent more than three hours with Carley as she showed her rabbit at the Randall County Junior Livestock Show. Oliver, a six-month-old cinnamon breed who’s been living in a large cage in my garage since September, didn’t take first place. But both Carley and Ollie did us proud in their own understated ways. She didn’t drop Oliver while moving him from the carrier to the judge’s boxes in front of the crowd like a few of the participants did. And Ollie behaved himself very well for the awkward manipulations he had to endure and for the pictures afterward.

Yes, my youngest daughter is in FFA. No, I never would have imagined that four years ago. And, of course, I couldn’t be more proud of her and more grateful that we live with such wonderful people in Amarillo.