For seven years, I served as the pastor of youth and Christian education at First Baptist Church in St. Albans, West Virginia.
Upon entering the building, you immediately come to a stairwell. Whether you take the stairs up or down, you will encounter a similar sight: You will find rooms with tables and chairs.
In both cases, people will be seated around these tables, probably eating food, engaging in conversation and enjoying one another’s company.
If you take the stairs down, you will find yourself at the entrance to the church fellowship hall. It also serves as the classroom for a Sunday school class, predominantly of senior adults. The arrangement of the tables is very reminiscent of a college classroom set for a lecture.
[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]
Every Thursday night, however, members of the class, along with other senior adults from the community, gather together in that space for what they call Serious Senior Thinkers. As they sat at the tables, they played games, ate food and talked about the joys, concerns, struggles and successes of their lives.
Soon after I arrived in St. Albans, the members of this esteemed group learned that my wife and I knew how to play Hand and Foot, so they invited us to join them. A wise professor once told me that the key to longevity and influence at a church was contingent upon gaining the favor of the little old ladies. This opportunity would put us in proximity to said ladies (and gentlemen), so we took them up on their offer.
Every Thursday night possible, my family and I took the stairs down to the fellowship hall and spent the evening with the Serious Senior Thinkers. Something amazing happened: We developed relationships.
Before long, we were receiving invites to their homes and to family functions. Additionally, some of them began helping with various aspects of the youth ministry. Some began calling me the pastor of youth and senior adults. Thursday nights were a special time for us sitting around the tables at the bottom of the stairs sharing life and building relationships.
Let’s go back to the entrance of the church for a moment. If you take the same stairs up, you will find yourself at the entrance to the youth room. As the name might suggest, this is the primary meeting area for the youth of the church.
Every Wednesday night, youth and young adults, along with their adult leaders, gathered together for youth group. All around the room were high-top tables with stools. At any given time on Wednesday evening, those tables would be surrounded by young people. As they sat at the tables, they played games, ate food and talked about the joys, concerns, struggles and successes of their lives.
As the pastor of youth and Christian education, this group was my primary responsibility. I had always felt called to youth ministry, and I loved what I did. I enjoyed the energy and excitement of being with the teenagers. I loved helping them apply their gifts and abilities to understanding and living out the gospel.
I spent many an hour around those tables with the young people of our church. Again, something amazing happened: We developed relationships. They invited me to attend their games and school events. We would get together for “coffee” when something was going on in their lives. We shared a lot of life together. Wednesday nights were a special time for us sitting around tables at the top of the stairs sharing life and building relationships.
There are churches like this all over the country — churches with senior adults meeting in one place doing one thing and youth meeting in another doing basically the same thing.
Experience and research have led me to believe that closing the generation gap or any other relational gap for that matter begins and ends with making our way to the same table.
As we share space and meaningful experiences, the fibers of our lives begin to intertwine. We begin to see similarities and appreciate differences. We learn how to communicate one with another. It’s amazing what a little food, an engaging game and some meaningful conversation can accomplish. It all begins by coming together at the same table.
The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].