One of my family’s favorite TV shows to watch on the Food Network is Chopped. On each episode of Chopped, four talented chefs compete in cooking rounds of appetizer, main course, and dessert. In each round, the chefs open baskets containing four mystery ingredients, which they must use to make a creative culinary masterpiece on the spot. Mystery ingredients range from ordinary to extraordinary to downright disgusting. Sometimes, the chefs will admit they have never tasted a mystery ingredient or that they cannot stand the item they are obligated to use in their dish. After each round, three famous chefs taste and candidly assess each dish. Afterward, contestants are sent away while the judges further deliberate, discussing whose food had merits and where it fell short. The contestants are then brought back for a dramatic unveiling of whose dish is on the “chopping block,” thus eliminating that contestant from the competition. The one chef who isn’t “chopped” wins the grand prize of $10,000. I am amazed at how chefs can make masterpieces out of seemingly unpalatable food or food unfamiliar to them. Ordinary items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches become mouthwatering dishes. But sometimes dishes that look beautiful yet lack flavor are chopped.
I have served as a worship pastor for more than eighteen years, and I admit that sometimes I feel like one of these chefs, trying to avoid my own worship chopping block. Each week, I am given “mystery ingredients” from a myriad of worship elements—music, liturgy, the worship calendar, and diverse participants—in both ordinary and unusual settings, such as the pandemic. Often, just like the chefs on Chopped, I feel the pressure to turn the circumstances of each Sunday with all its mystery ingredients into a masterpiece for Sunday worship. Each week I must stop to remind myself that I am not the master chef. Rather, our triune God is the initiator, actor, and only true “chef” of Christian worship; Jesus is the star ingredient, and the Holy Spirit empowers all the “mystery ingredients” of our worship basket together according to God’s purpose each week.
As worship leaders, we sometimes hear a panel of judges—imaginary or actual pastors, elders, and worship participants—“taste-testing worship”. When the Sunday worship we planned falls a bit flat, we feel the sting of critique. When one of our “mystery ingredients” hits a home run, we revel in comments of joy and thanksgiving. And the mystery baskets keep coming every Sunday.
Recently, for many of us, our pandemic-shaped reality has put a number of worship elements on the chopping block, and we have had to make hard choices about what is “essential.” One of the elements that I have noticed being chopped—intentionally or not—is the priority of intergenerational worship. What exactly do I mean by intergenerational worship? In many churches, the word “intergenerational” is used to signify that kids and youth are present in worship. While this is part of an intergenerational mindset, I believe this definition misses the point of being intergenerational. Personally, I define intergenerational worship as worship that brings all generations together as equal, valued participants in the divine relationship of the triune God, being formed in our participation with God and one another to be the body of Christ and embody the fullness of the gospel, proclaiming God’s ongoing redemption of all of creation. I could write pages unpacking this lengthy definition, but instead I would like to share three key practices that are crucial to maintaining intergenerational values in worship and keeping intergenerational worship off the chopping block.
1. Practice Gratitude
See every person, every thing, every age, and every generation as a gift. Everything in the mystery basket of worship—the participants leading, those in the pews, the sights, sounds, and experiences—is a gift from God. When we and those in our congregations intentionally seek to see each person and each expression of worship as gifts rather than things to be consumed, we move past a connoisseur approach that assesses worship for what it can give us. At the heart of being intergenerational is the practice of gratitude, which is practiced by valuing, loving, honoring, and cherishing God’s diverse gifts—especially age—in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
Here, I must speak boldly. Much of the time, I encounter leaders and congregations who heartily want to include all ages in worship until it gets messy, or not professional enough, or not to a certain generation’s liking. Often underlying these situations is an inability to see all that happens in worship as a gift. I encourage you and your team to look again at your worship basket and mystery ingredients and pause to thank God and bless each person and gift presented. I guarantee it will change your heart and probably move you and your team toward a more intergenerational mindset.
Thank God for your mystery basket of worship! This week during worship planning, look at all the people on your team and in your congregation with fresh eyes. Ask yourself: Am I intentionally valuing and thanking God for the diverse gifts of age and generational differences in our congregation? How is that reflected in worship this week?
Further Reading on Intergenerational Ministry and Worship
- Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship, by Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton (IVP Academic, 2012)
- Lifelong Faith: Formation for All Ages and Generations, by John Roberto (Church Publishing, 2022)
- Engage All Generations: A Strategic Toolkit for Creating Intergenerational Faith Communities, by Cory Seibel (Abilene Christian University Press, 2021)
- The Church of All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together, edited by Howard Vanderwell, (Rowman & Littlefield/Alban Books, 2007)
- Theme Issue: Reformed Worship 76, June 2005
- “What It Takes: Ideas for Planning Intergenerational Worship,” by Joy Engelsman (RW 76:8)
- The Psalms as Spiritual Calculus, by Kevin Adams (Reformed Worship blog)
- From Wiggles to Worship, by Paul Ryan (Reformed Worship blog)
- “Let the Children Come: Resources for Including Children in Worship,” by Shelley E. Cochran (RW 27:29)
2. Prioritize Participation and Relationships
Intergenerational worship is characterized by equal participation of all people in the body of Christ, regardless of age, generation, or any other attributes. The prefix “inter” in “intergenerational” implies relationship. Ministry professional Mike McCrary says the term “multigenerational”, in contrast to “intergenerational”, is like having many cars that stay in their lanes, riding alongside each other but never interacting or truly seeing each other (“An Intergenerational Mission for God’s Church,” Encounter: Journal for Pentecostal Ministry 11(1), Summer 2014). In the same way, multigenerational worship has many generations together, but they are not in relationship with one another or in relationship together with God. The triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is a model of self-giving love in relationship to one another. In worship, God invites us all to join fully in this divine relationship. When we seek to be in relationship among generations, we model the relational nature of the triune God. And this relationship involves mutuality, sharing our lives and our stories and all that we are. Acts 2 beautifully demonstrates how the Holy Spirit facilitated sharing among God’s people “all together,” where all people were included and connected with one another in their faith and in the life of God.
Here again, I must be candid. Our culture today operates on five-star reviews and fifteen-second ads on YouTube. We cannot deny that our consumerist culture has shaped us to approach worship like connoisseurs. Instead of valuing the gifts in our mystery basket, we tend to ask how worship helped us today, or what we liked or disliked. I often hear comments like, “That song didn’t do anything for me” or “I just didn’t feel fed today.” We experience worship instead of participating fully. Intergenerational worship means that all are participating—not just those leading in the front, but everyone. When we take this value to heart, consumerism is replaced with intergenerational worship that is formative and participatory.
Recently I interviewed twelve intergenerational leaders who are working in intergenerational settings all over the world. When I asked them what they were noticing during the pandemic, I noticed a theme in all of their answers: relationship over programs. Each leader, in their own way, urged churches to consider valuing and prioritizing relationships over programs. Participation without relationship is not participation! As we move forward in our new pandemic-shaped reality, I encourage you to consider how we might prioritize relationships over programs in our worship gatherings.
Evaluate your weekly worship gatherings. Talk with your worship planning team and leaders. How can you prioritize relationships over programs? How can you help people feel like valued participants and shift people’s priorities from experience to participation? Even further, how are we enlarging our mystery baskets by pursuing relationships with all ages and generations?
Further Scriptural Reflection
Read one or more of the following passages and consider what they teach us about intergenerational worship.
- Nehemiah 8
- Exodus 12
- Isaiah 11
- Luke 2
- John 6
- Matthew 19
- 1 Timothy 4:12
3. Embody the Full Gospel
Throughout time, God’s story has included all ages. When we practice being the body of Christ in worship each week, we embody God’s good news that we are reconciled to God through Christ and that God is at work redeeming all things. By contrast, when even one person, age, or generation is put on the chopping block, the full picture of the gospel is marred. Our being the body of Christ is what forms us. We cannot be fully formed to embody the gospel when we are segregated, when we tokenize, or when we leave out an age or generation.
Many leaders struggle to see how intergenerational worship is missional. I would argue that any church that fails to be intergenerational is also failing to be fully missional. Our being the body of Christ is a witness and picture of God’s final redemption of all of creation. Including all ages is not only formational, but missional, because it allows us to be the full body of Christ (Ephesians 3:20–21).
Do you see intergenerational worship as missional? Consider discussing this with your church leaders. Take mental snapshots of your worship through the past year. Pray and ask God how your worship might embody a fuller, more robust picture of God’s story by including more generations and ages.
A Final Word of Encouragement for Worship Leaders
Breathe! I know that being a worship leader at this time is tougher than ever. I encourage you to take heart and know that God has placed you “for such a time as this.” God never “chops” anyone; God will never “chop” you. May you feel God’s immeasurable grace as you give thanks for all the mystery ingredients you have been given. May you feel the love of Christ as you seek out people who might have been unintentionally “chopped,” and find ways to include them. And may you be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, who empowers you to continue joyfully in God’s work, knowing that you are living into the fullness of the gospel. Amen.
Further Questions for Worship Pastors and Leaders
- How do I view each expression of worship in our worship gatherings? Do I see them as gifts from God? (James 1:16–18)
- If I were to be honest, when it comes to age, are there any people, or generations, that have been “chopped” or ignored in my congregational setting?
- Why is intergenerational worship not just about the kids? (Hint: relationship!)
- What is the difference between having all generations in worship and viewing all ages/people as equal participants in worship?
- Can I identify areas where I have adopted a connoisseur approach to worship? Can I identify areas where I have adopted a participatory approach to worship? What are the key differences between these two approaches?
- Because worship is a practice of faith formation, how can intergenerational worship help us live into the fullness of being the body of Christ?