When I was studying Clinical and Healthy Psychology at the University of Florida we had two forms of mentoring. First, you worked very closely with a fourth year student who was just about to get their doctorate. You had a lot of accessbility with this person as you worked in the same lab so they were able to give you a lot of attention every week. In addition to that we would meet regularly with a faculty supervisor. This person was top in their field. Mine in particular had well over 100 publications and was very well known in the field. You had less accessbility with the professor compared to the amount you had with the fourth year student but it was still there, needed and utilized.
As I reflect on that situation I am realizing more and more that we can learn a lot about the discipling process through those kinds of environments. The first person who clued me in on that connection was my friend Eric Brown. The more I have thought about it the more I realize it is a brilliant insight. Then I take a look at the way we try to make and grow disciples and how Jesus did it and I a lot of things jump to the surface. First, Jesus used a similar approach. The disciples spent time with Jesus and they also spent time just with each other. They needed peer-to-peer interactions of people in the same boat they were in. They also needed time with the Master teacher who was far and away further along the road spiritually speaking than they were but it gave them someone to follow and imitate.
Now, that is where we run into problems. We tend to embrace one of those but not the other. We do a really good job of getting people with others in their same stage in life, whether it be youth group or a young adult ministry. Many churches do a horrible job of getting people with those more mature than themselves. I can tell you right now, college students are not able to disciple other college students. But for some reason we tend to create environments where that is the only other people in the church they spend time with or even want to spend time with. We fear that if we rock the boat too much into time with the “old fogies” (who they desperately need to get to know if they are going to grow) that we avoid it and never implement the changes that they really need to grow.
Solution – just like in the graduate school experience we need a both/and approach. You need relationships with people in your stage of life. That is just how it is always going to be. We also need to foster relationships that integrate/interconnect the generations where those more mature in their faith can mentor and disciple those who are far younger and less mature. This is going to take some guts and creativity and great communication of our purpose in doing this. I am afraid we are dying from isolation because we only know how to do half the process well to the exclusion of the other.
How have you seen intergenrational ministry done well?