November 2011 - Vol. 54

.Taking a Transgenerational Approach
to Christian Community
By Bob Tedesco

In the Sword of the Spirit, we have, for many years now, taken a transgenerational approach to community life, structures and programs. That is to say, we believe that our children share in the vision and the call that we have been given; we believe we have been called as families into Christian community. We know that some might receive a different call from the Lord, and also that some may freely choose not to respond, but we are taking an approach that attempts to pass on our vision, our call, and our faith to our children. We want them to benefit from the gift that the Lord has given to us.

Scripture is Transgenerational

Blessings (vision, call, faith, prosperity) are often cited as extending out to future generations.

“I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:17-18

“God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you might become a company of peoples. May He give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham!” Genesis 28:3-4

“Make haste and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry; you shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have; and there I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come; lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty.’” Genesis 45:9-11

Curses and Punishments 
Curses and punishments are likewise not limited to only those who have earned them. (Life, it seems, is not “fair” by our standards.)
“And I tell him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.” 1 Samuel 3:13-14

“David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” 2 Samuel 12:13-14

Covenant is transgenerational:
“And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord; David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.” 1 Samuel 23:18 

“And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father; and you shall eat at my table always.” 2 Samuel 9:6-7

This transgenerational pattern is not just in the Old Testament:
“And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family.” Acts 16:31-33
“Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise) that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3
The New Testament also takes a concern for young and old “in the Lord” and “faith generations” are addressed.
“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” 1 Timothy 1:2

“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus...” 2 Timothy 2:1
“But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7

“...for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you...” 1 Thessalonians 2:11

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” 2 Timothy 1:5 

Four generations of Christian faith are shown in 2 Timothy 2:2.”...And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

What you have received
Even certain godly practices, such as tithing, are shown as transgenerational. 

“One might say that even Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of Abraham when Melchizedek met him.” Hebrews 7:9-10
Training and influence
The Bible never presupposes that children will just grow up and make their choices in a vacuum, but that they will be trained and influenced by the parents…and grandparents.
 “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on you hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11:18-21
Mother, grandmother
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” 1 Timothy 1:5
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...” Matthew 28:19-20a
Raise them up (elevate to):
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
Accepting the Call

A Conversion
For many parents, something like a conversion is needed. Whether we are in a Christian community or not, passing on faith to the next generation is a lot of work. Accepting the Lord personally presents a challenge to our desires, our habits, and our patterns of life. To pass on the faith to the next generation will demand more of us and even deeper values and patterns will be rattled, disturbed, and shaken.

First Step
The first step to a trans-generational community is for parents and single people to agree that this is the Lord’s will. A certain process led us to conclude that the Lord has called us, and that means more than just a singular response. It was a call to become part of his people as disciples, entering a process of formation and embracing a mission. More than an altar call is needed for our children as well. For some individuals and communities, a retreat weekend might be helpful in coming to a conviction and a commitment to this course.

Transgenerational Approaches

As a Family
Some of the main influences in how we live our family life are our hopes and dreams for our children. If our hopes are mainly for academic excellence, that will direct a certain approach. If we are mainly focused on athletic accomplishments, a different approach is needed. If we want children to be active and fully engaged in the school culture, something very different is needed. I have known some parents who just wanted their children to grow up and go away… (but be “saved”). Less is needed with this approach. If we want our children to be disciples of Jesus Christ, formed into his kingdom and mainly living for him, a new approach is needed. We will be teaching them to see things through his eyes not their own. We will be teaching them to make personal decisions based on what is best for his people and not for the self. Self-image, self-fulfillment, self-help, etc. has become the mantra of the modern culture. I am surprised that we are not yet finding students chanting, “self, self, self...” in the high school classrooms. A trans-generational approach to family/community life will bring decisions about career, academics, sports, recreation, activities, and friendships under the influence of, “What is best for the kingdom of God?”

As a Community
Trans-generational community life will make major demands on the structures and the leadership of a Christian community. Programs, activities, events, retreats, gatherings, etc. will now have to take a growing concern for passing on the vision and life to the next generations. Leadership and ministry teams will have to work at drawing in younger folks. Time, money and prayer will have to be directed to things like summer camp, high school programs, campus outreaches, and post-college initiation groups. A smooth, coherent plan should be developed which allows a child to grow, encounter the Lord, develop as a disciple, and take a place alongside other mature Christians. In the Sword of the Spirit we are fortunate to have regional youth programs with retreats, mission trips, periods of service, and training beyond the local community. If a local community is too small to do much, at least the regional programs and connections are there to help.


Time Bombs and Land Mines 
Life sometimes is marred by things that blow up in our faces. The “land mine” metaphor describes those things that are unexpected or seemingly impossible to predict: a serious illness, a car accident, a house fire. The “time bombs” of life are a bit different: we can almost see them coming. They may not be unexpected, but their impact can be worse than we thought: retirement, the failure of a business, the failure of a relationship.

For those raising children, the examples can be quite different. Land mines might be our son’s loss of interest in school with his new awareness of girls, our daughter’s decision to forego college for a naval career, or our daughter’s choice of a college hundreds of miles from family and community. Time bombs might be things like the impact of elementary school on a child, the onset of puberty, or college tuition expenses.

I am of the view that many of life’s unexpected explosions are actually more predictable and less surprising to those with more experience, who know the end results of certain patterns of life and decision making.

Big Obstacles 
We have learned over the years that certain obstacles have a profound impact on our trans-generational vision. An early one might be our choice of school. When parents pick a school or school system, they are also unwittingly choosing a set of friends for their child. Recreational dating* is another big obstacle along with an approach to courtship that is not “faith-based” or consistent with our perceived call from the Lord.

Correspondingly, the choice of spouse that does not support our life’s call is usually devastating. The choice of college or school can be another obstacle along with the choice of career. To pursue a career as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army is unlikely to also result in being in a Christian community. (Although I do know one who made the transition!) These are all decisions that set a course for our children and to the degree that they are disconnecting them from the body of Christ, they are damaging (often fatal) to a trans-generational vision.

A Descriptive Equation

We can look at this transgenerational call as a spiritual equation. On one side, we have the next generation making decisions to enter our communities. On the other side of the equal sign are the factors contributing to or detracting them from making that choice: the parents, the children, the family, the Lord, the enemy, the world, and the community. These are not all of the factors and we won’t discuss all of these. Nor will we discuss any of these in the depth needed.** Stated another way, “How do the parents, the children, and the community affect the number of children coming into the community”.

As parents, our underlying attitudes toward the Lord, his kingdom, and his people will greatly affect our ability to inspire respect and admiration from our children for our way of life. Sometimes we want something at one level that is not supported by the way we talk or act. (Perhaps we tend to be sarcastic, critical, or negative). Our children are adept at sensing those contradictions. They are keenly aware if we are mainly impressed by academic excellence or worldly success. Are Christian leaders or pioneers, our heroes? Or is it Donald Trump, or Bill Gates, or the latest Nobel Prize winner?

In addition to supportive attitudes and speech, I would point to parents having a plan (and a budget) for getting each child fully engaged in the kingdom life that the Lord has given to us. This will often involve choices as well as the painful decisions to forego certain “opportunities” for our children’s development. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Mt 4:21-22

The family environment should be one that supports trans-generational community life. Our daily life patterns (meals, prayer, free time), our weekly life pattern (our gatherings for worship, celebrating the Lord’s Day, etc.) and our special events (retreats, conferences, vacations), should all be ordered in a way that is supportive of our calling.

Additionally, the ways that we honor each other on a daily basis and at special events can have a huge impact over a period of time. Each family should look for ways to establish daily, weekly, and special event approaches to honoring. We can talk it through together and then we can do it. There is a toxic, sarcastic negativity to much modern speech and commentary. Honoring each other is one antidote to that poison.

Children need to honor their parents and obey them. They need to be able to see that this will be the main way (early on) that they love the Lord. Obedience to parents is one expression of loving God. We should tell them this truth. Children need to know and experience that the Lord is at the center of this family and that this family’s joy is in loving and serving God and accepting his order. As children, we can enjoy youth group, Lord’s Day celebrations, retreat, campouts, etc.

The Community
The first and main step for a community is to have a plan inspired by the Lord: a plan with a vision, a plan that includes educating and supporting both the parents and the children in its vision. When a community knows where it is going, it can then develop action steps that involve approaches, resources, and personnel. It can also tap into regional or outside resources and programs that support its vision.

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
Many obstacles will present themselves along the way, and children who have been raised in good, clear-thinking and clear-sighted families will have the best chances of surviving the gauntlet. Having said that, we should remember that the heaviest positive element of this equation is the grace and the mercy of God! Some children who have come from family situations that were confused or chaotic have still done well in the kingdom of God. The Lord can overcome all of our weaknesses, obstacles, and confusions as families.

1) Have a plan (regional, community, family).
2) Commit yourselves to it (mind, heart, patterns of speech, patterns of life, time and money).
3) Beseech the Lord constantly, expecting miracles!

*Dating with no purpose or intention of marriage either possible or expected.
**This subject is part of a later intended work.
Bob Tedesco is past President of the North American Region of the Sword of the Spirit, a founder of the People of God community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, and has been one of its key leaders for the past 36     years. 

He is the author of Essays on Christian Community: Do covenant communities have something to contribute to our models of church?,  published by Tabor House, Lansing, Michigan, 2010, 157 pages.


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