June 2007 - Vol. 9

A Transgenerational Call:
Building Christian communities for generations to come

By Bob Tedesco

During the1960s and 1970s—a time marked by sudden and powerful social upheavel—a worldwide movement of Christian communities began working to strengthen faith and family life. In our current age of surf-the-net “virtual” relationships the need for stable transgenerational communities of faith is even more profound. Bob Tedesco, President of the North American Region of The Sword of the Spirit, and a founding leader of the People of God community in Coraopolis and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, addresses this need and challenge facing covenant communities today. Building transgenerational communities takes decades of hard work and cooperation among parents, community leaders, and youth workers. Bob offers hope, wisdom, and insight for moving forward as transgenerational communities. 
Why build transgenerational communities?
The Sword of the Spirit is a worldwide “community of communities,” and we strive to be a community of disciples on mission. We are also communities with singles, families and many children. For our first decades [from the 1970s through the 1990s] we did many things for our children: youth programs, summer camp, youth retreats, high school groups. But, in many ways, we were still communities of adults who had heard a call to live a common Christian way of life within a network of relationships—Christian communities.

Over those many early years we watched with dismay the effects of modern culture on many of our "community kids" who were not doing so well. This, in spite of the many helps we had in place. The secularized culture was having increasing influence on our children, especially during their college years. 

Then in the mid 1990s, we heard a call from the Lord to be a transgenerational community of communities. That is, the parents, the local community and the regional youth workers working together to pass on our vision and our call along with our faith in Christ to the next generation. Our children as adults would then stand with us in building the people that he has called us to be. They too would then train and raise their children to be a part of this people. 

Called across generational lines
A number of our communities have had some success in living a transgenerational life and the number of three-generation families within communities has been growing in recent years. We believe that this call includes most, or at least many of our children – to join in building a worldwide bulwark of communities of disciples on mission.

We believe that the call to be a transgenerational community is fundamentally rooted in God’s plan and purpose for the human race and call to his whole church – to be a new humanity in which the image of God is restored and through which God is served. [See Steve Clark’s article on Building a Christian Society.]

Some Scriptural directives
We can understand from the Scriptures that God desires fruitfulness in marriage, in Christian discipleship, and in the transmission of the faith to future generations. 

  • “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply...’” Genesis 1:28
  • “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...”  Matthew 29: 19-20
  • “And what you have heard from me before many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  2 Timothy 2:2
Gathering these broad instructions together, I would say that Christ calls us as disciples to: 1) raise children in the Lord; 2) make fully formed disciples for Christ (presumably including our children), and 3) to raise them up in a way that forms them and equips them to also make disciples of others for the Lord.

So, our children are not called to be weak disciples of Christ, but radical ones...a scary thought for some parents. As a parent and grandparent, I encourage us to think radical and complete in our discipling of our children. Jesus said, “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” So we have that command; but it is also a great joy – to see one’s own grandchild working to extend the kingdom of God!

What’s at stake?
Everything’s at stake when it comes to passing on the faith and forming the next generation for radical discipleship and mission. Our Christian communities, our children, our families are all at stake in this daunting task. Nominal Christian living no longer works in today’s toxic culture. So much of our children’s faith is being “etched” and scarred in the acid rain of doubt and narcissism. Christian family alone is no longer capable of effectively passing on the faith. Parishes are no longer capable. More is needed. Many models of renewal communities are not capable of passing on the faith. Long before the great cathedrals of Europe emptied, Europe must have gone through a stage where it would have been correct to say, “Nothing is working.” Much of Western society has passed that point, and the decline has the added concern of societal and cultural decay. In other words, more is needed than just getting people back into church. Our children will need to be radical, formed disciples to survive spiritually and to be fruitful for the Lord over the long haul.

Three gauntlets children face
From my observation and experience, parents can do a fairly decent job of raising their children until about age 12 or13. Then comes high school. Quite a few children lose their direction in these difficult years. Yet many do survive, or even do well! Then, for many, comes the second gauntlet: university (or post high school). This time is not only trying, but it is usually lived and experienced far removed from the parent’s ability to help. As many of our children have experienced, it can be a black hole of doubt, skepticism and hedonism. For many of those who have survived these “fiery furnaces” a third challenge looms...courtship. Not marrying wisely has proved the undoing for a lot of our children who had gone through decades of Christian formation and family life.

Some things that families can do
If we want to pass on our faith effectively and train our young people for mission, then I think that parents and pastoral workers need to do the following: 
1. Face up to our increasing need for help in the teen years and beyond.
2. Train our children in the necessary art of making life’s decisions as a disciple and not primarily for self-fulfillment, happiness, self image, self...self, etc. Christ first! His kingdom first! We need to forget about normal. Normal is a moving target and it is  moving in the wrong direction. If we succeed in raising our children to be normal, they will be self-centered not Christ-centered.
3. We need to help our young people to not make decisions that disconnect them from the Christian people and the place which God has prepared for them. 
4. Support every effort to build transgenerational relationships and life in your community and region;
5. Support pastoral workers who are trained and dedicated to helping young people grow into maturity, discipleship, and Christian service. For our communities in The Sword of the Spirit, one of the key pieces of our overall transgenerational strategy is The Servants of the Word, an ecumenical, lay missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord, who dedicate much for their time and resources to helping young people grow in the Lord. We can help them with our support, and encourage our own sons to consider the calling to brotherhood life and mission with The Servants of the Word.
6. Be educated in The Sword of the Spirit resources for courtship.

Some things communities can do
As communities in The Sword of the Spirit we need to:
1. Have a long-range plan to be transgenerational locally, and to cooperate with regional work and the work of bringing people into our life in a way that people support and welcome our youth.
2. Prepare married couples to be mentors to people during courtship, and develop resources to help people during courtship—now, even before they are needed.
3. Support a good inter-community cooperation in helping our young disciples to mature to a level at which they can in turn help others to be disciples of Christ.

On the threshold
After decades of work and prayer The Sword of the Spirit is on the threshold of actually becoming a transgenerational people. The Lord has been faithful to us and patient.  He has been empowering us, and the promise is at last so close that it is inspiring us to enter the work in a more committed way. He is in our midst, he has shown us his plan, and we have made great progress. Brothers and sisters, let us give all of our hearts to him and to what he is building in our midst.

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