Thursday, August 30, 2012

Re-post: Ladderball and the Case for Intergenerational Ministry

This blog is a re-post from a previous entry post-choir tour back in June.  As a new school semester starts, what steps are your church taking to bring the generations together?  As a young adult in ministry, who's often the youngest person in the room (or nearly) during choir practice, I know my generation is hungry to work with those kingdom members who've already been where I am.  There's a lot to be learned from the older generations, but assumptions are often made on both sides of the generational divide, the big ones being:
1)  The young people just want to take over.
2)  The old people have nothing to teach me.
Vital congregations mix things up across the societal divisions from race to economic to generational.  What is your church doing to build the bridges?  Our faith family, through our youth and seniors ministry is beginning to bring in some innovative ideas, for which I'll be telling stories later, but to start with - what is your church family doing?

I just got back from youth choir tour to Nashville!  The first choir tour that I've ever planned and run as a worship pastor.  There were lots of precious moments, and many Aldersgate experiences along the way.  This is the first post of several focused on one of the best ministry experiences I've ever had.

Let me start off by saying that this tour was very different from previous tours that this youth choir had been on.  This was the 19th youth choir tour for my church, and needless to say it's become a juggernaut of a tradition.  It's become foundational in the fabric of our youth and music ministries and much of the year is devoted to fundraising and planning the trip.

The first major difference in the trip was the number of youth on tour.  The tour had had upwards of 80 students in the recent past, 35 last year (my first tour, I attended and directed the music, but our youth pastor ran the trip as it was my third week on the job).  We took 17 students this year.  There were and are multiple reasons for the small size, but there you go.

The second big change was that due to the  size of the group, the huge tour bus was out of the question.  Our church has even had the same bus driver for nearly all of the choir tours.   But we couldn't really justify the expense, and had to go with vans.  Very different, but turned out to be totally awesome.

The third big change was that we weren't able to book churches to sing at.  Many church were able to, and did, lodge our group, but no one (out of more than a hundred churches) was able to host a concert.  There were also many totally justifiable reasons for this, but again, there you go.

So where did we sing?  Retirement villages and nursing homes.  The youth had done the occasional retirement home, but how would they take to a tour entirely devoted to ministry to the elderly and disabled?

Our first gig was at a very nice retirement community, more of a condo living set-up.  A good way to ease in to a tour with more of a missional vibe.  When we had called the place, recommended to us by the church that was hosting us that night, the activities director enthusiastically invited us to share a concert with them.  They would also feed us dinner and would love it if we would play ladderball with the residents.

What's ladderball, you ask?  Apparently it's quite the phenomenon.  You can check it out here.  Think about it as a game of horseshoes that you can play indoors.

The concert was amazing.  The theme music to our tour this year was devoted to the Beatles, although we do a substantial sacred set during our concerts as well.  But the Beatles music was very important to the tour ... Not only are the Beatles awesome and the choir sang the music extremely well, but the Beatles were the soundtrack of the residents' youth.   We encouraged the residents to sing along, and they sure did.  Often times during that first concert our choir swelled from 17 to 75.  I couldn't see it, but I could see the looks on the students faces as we sang, and they were totally digging the joy in the room.

After a dinner of shepherd's pie came the real fun, a youth vs. residents game of ladderball.  A game that's more difficult than it looks.  The scriptures tell young people not to let people look down on them because they're young; I would add that we shouldn't let young people look down on older folks just because they have grey hair.  These folks had skills.

After an hour and four full rounds of ladder ball, the set was tied at 2 and 2, we came to a sudden death round.  One of our adults, all of whom participated throughout for the students' team, came in to give the students a win by one point.  I'm not going to lie, the win felt good,  but I did feel a little bad for winning.  But only a little.  There was a lot of heckling going on, on both sides, and it was hilarious.  Our youth were handing out nicknames like crazy.  Intergenerational ministry happened.  Something I'm starting to think of as the Promised Land for Christian Ministry.

The name of our tour this year was the "All You Need is Love Tour", and a whole lot of love was passed around that night.  The activities director said she had never seen her seniors so active, and I had never been so proud to be a youth choir director and worship pastor.  I've learned an awful lot about the goals of our youth pastor at our church ... doing what ever we can to get the different generations of our church to mix up and do life together.  It happened on our choir tour, at every gig in one way or another, and we aren't turning back from keeping it up in the years to come.

How does your church intentionally get different generations to work together?