Our picture of who we are as the church is woefully inadequate and tragically short-sighted; we are not learning enough from each other; we are not connecting generationally, and we are not birthing new family members; most tragically, we are not making enough disciples to make a dent in our current culture; we are sneezing into the wind, according to Ross Parsley in his book Messy Church: A Multigenerational Mission for God’s Family.
Many would agree with the diagnosis; but not everyone would agree about the appropriate cure. In Ross’s view, the church needs to be less like an organised religion or an efficiently structured corporation and more like a big messy extended family. Families, he says, are perfectly designed for discipleship: constant access, consistent modelling, demonstration, teaching and training, conflict management and resolution, failure, follow-up and feedback, all in an atmosphere of love.
Separating the church into different age groups at worship time is like separating the family into different groups at meal time. Instead, we should be aiming for a multi-generational church service model, which is “rooted in history while leaving room for the mystery of the Holy Spirit among us.” A model involving creeds, confession, communion, canon and connection is given in Appendix 1 of the book.
It is interesting to read Ross Parsley’s book after reading Glenn Packiam’s book Secondhand Jesus. Both were worship pastors at New Life Church in Colorado Springs at the time of senior pastor Ted Haggard’s public fall from grace and at the time of the shooting at the church, and they have had their views of church affected in different ways. Ross became interim senior pastor to lead the church (a “messy family”) through the difficult period after Haggard’s departure, and the book contains a chapter describing that period. According to Ross, the overseers to whom Haggard was accountable did not have sufficient relational authority to provide guidance because they were too distant.
This is a well-written and passionately argued book. While I agree that inter-generational relationships in a church need to work much better, with mentoring of those who are younger by those who are older being a particular need, I am not fully convinced that intergenerational worship services are the best way of achieving this. Nonetheless I found the book very helpful and I highly recommend it to others.