The Trinity and Intergenerational Christian Communities
I mentioned in yesterday's posting, which focused on Trinity as fellowship, following Jurgen Moltmann, that I wanted to explore the relationship of the social Trinity to intergenerational communities. So, here' are my thoughts.
In traditional "orthodox" Christian theology, God is confessed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am comfortable, for the purpose of balancing this out, to extend the confession to read: God the Father, God, the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Mother of us all. For the purposes of this conversation I want to focus on the apparent parent/child relationship present in this confession.
There is a Father (and a Mother) and a Son -- two generations. There is, in this confession (traditionally speaking) no hierarchy. There is equality of persons within the Trinity. Theologian Joe Jones notes:
Among the Father, Son, and Spirit there is no ranking of superiority or priority. While there has been a historicla tendency to regard the Father as the source of -- "begatting" and "spiriating" -- the Son and the Spirit, I find this langauge regrettable and unhelpful, for it leads into an implicit subordinationism. [A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine (2 Volume Set), 1:192].
I want to be careful how I express myself here, for there are many fine lines of discussion that lead to tri-theism or modalism, but what I want to think about is how God, in God's inner nature, might model for us an appropriate way to build intergenerational Christian communities. This is, for my a very practical issue, if we are to buck the trends that segregate people according to generations (along with a lot of other possibilities).
My thoughts on this topic stem from my preparation to lead our elders in a discussion of the final two chapters of Carol Howard Merritt's book Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation.
One of the themes of the book is the development of intergenerational congregations. Churches are one of the few places in our society where multiple generations gather on a regular basis. Unfortunately, too often, there is a generational divide that affects understanding of one another, but it also hinders sharing of leadership within the community.
The most crucial aspect when developing intergenerational ministry is making sure that people under the age of forty-five hold leadership positions. As we begin to trust younger people in our congregations and governing bodies, as we allow them to have some power, then our churches will reflect that leadership. [Merritt, Tribal Church: (Kindle Locations 2190-2192).]
We will need to share power, not just for the sake of institutional viability, but for the sake of young adults. We can show the next generation what it means to be a part of a caring supportive environment, so they might function as valued members of the body of Christ. We can begin looking for ways to retain our ministers and support young clergy, especially by providing adequate salaries, allowing them to have some influence, refraining from unconstructive and unnecessary criticism, and hiring more women as senior ministers and heads of staff. As we begin to trust younger people in our congregations, pulpits, and governing bodies, and we allow them to have some power, then our churches will reflect that leadership.[Tribal Church: (Kindle Locations 2208-2213).]
There is, it would seem, significant generational suspicions of the other. Sharing leadership and power is difficult, because it often involves letting go of something one holds valuable. There is a fear among many older persons that they are being put out to pasture, that their contributions aren't respected. At the same time, many younger adults feel like their views and needs and ideas aren't respected because they are young. The message they hear is -- wait your turn. But as we live longer, is this a useful expectation. After all, Prince Charles continues waiting for his mother to either die or abdicate -- and she's showing any inclination of doing either.
So, I go back to the Trinity as a model of relational ministry. Leadership, you might say, is shared equally across generations within the Trinity. Yes, God sends and Jesus obeys -- but is this all that is said here? If we reflect in our relationships the reality that is God (Genesis 1:27), then what might this say about how create intergenerational communities of faith?