A sign of a healthy church is the older are working to help the younger surpass them, and the younger work to stand on their shoulders.
The story of the book
In the book of 1 Kings we were introduced to the role of the prophets. The most prominent ones were Elijah and his disciple Elisha.
Elijah was a fiery and passionate prophet who fearlessly confronted those who opposed God’s will. He was also known for being used by God to perform miracles, including bringing a widow’s son back to life and causing a drought to end with a rainstorm.
In 2 Kings, something significant happens. He passes his mantle to Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-25). But it’s not just a transfer of influence. Elisha asks for two times the influence of Elijah (2 Kings 2:9), and the author shows how this happens by recounting 7 miraculous feats for Elijah and then 14 for Elisha.
But that’s not all. It’s also likely that Elisha had a larger following than Elijah. While the Bible does not explicitly state this, there are multiple passages in 2 Kings that suggest this.
For example, in 2 Kings 2:3, a group of prophets came to Elisha and asked him if he knew that Elijah would be taken up to heaven that day. This suggests that Elisha was already known as a respected and influential prophet, and that he had a group of followers who were interested in his insights and teachings.
Then in 2 Kings 6:1-2, the sons of the prophets came to Elisha and asked him to let them build a larger place to live, indicating that Elisha had a significant number of followers who were living together and studying under his guidance.
How time together is organized
Churches often organize time together by similarities such as age, gender and life stage (single, married, retired, etc.) The reasons for this are certainly rational. The thinking is that people can better relate to and support each other in their faith journeys in the midst of common experiences.
Teaching can also be tailored to the specific needs and interests of the group. This results in people feeling more comfortable and like they “fit in” with the people they’re spending their time with.
But here’s an important question to consider…does this philosophy truly lead to a deeper experience of community and growth in Christ? Does a teenager spending the majority of their church experience engaging with other teenagers lead to significant development? Does this way of functioning best display the Kingdom of God?
Raising up the next generation
One of the main goals and responsibilities in the lives of those who have developed into having a Christ-like influence in a church should be to raise up the next generation. How are they to do this if they’re not spending meaningful time with them?
There’s nothing wrong with spending time in groups of people with similarities. In fact, it’s healthy. But it’s also a major issue of church health when it’s how the majority of the time spent in church life functions.
If you walk around in the middle of the average church meeting time, this is what you’ll find. The youth are together in one place, adults in another, and so on.
The issue with this line of thinking is its very me-centered. It’s all organized to serve individual Christians. But church life doesn’t work very well when the dominant approach to church functioning is “what’s in it for me?”
When a church does this, it ends up attracting many people that are looking for how the church will meet their needs.
The church is a family of families
But a church is not primarily an individual experience for individual needs. It’s first and foremost a family of families. This is how the majority of time in church life should be spent. Families together with other families in whatever forms they take.
Of course, kids will play with kids and adults will talk to adults. But kids will also play with adults, and adults will talk with kids. Then kids end up doing things with other adults that aren’t their parents. Then they grow up and trust those other adults and glean from them for life.
Again, there’s value in meetings in groups of people with similarities. Have your women’s bible studies and your men’s breakfasts. That should absolutely be done. But the foundational environment of church life should be kept intergenerational, where the older and younger do life together.
Just like Elisha, the younger should be mentored to build upon the knowledge and achievements of those who came before them. No one person, or family, or even generation is going to accomplish what the Lord is looking to accomplish.
He’s taking us somewhere and that’s only going to become a reality through the collective efforts of generations upon generations.