There is no “Generation Gap” in God’s Kingdom

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

Maybe you’ve noticed it as I have. Popular music really hasn’t changed much in the last forty to fifty years. Sure there are new fusions of multicultural influences, and techno influenced styles that have formed new sub-genres, but by in large, popular music is generally the same. Pop bands are often still dominated by a rhythm section with one or more singers. These male and female singers generally sing in about the same register (much too high for most males and often too low for females). We can expect simple harmonic structure and repetitive lyrics that provide a “hook” needed for mass audiences. Contemporary Christian music is no exception. Musically, there has been little change.

While many trained musicians often think this makes popular music (secular or otherwise) boring, I think it means that there is more common ground musically than there used to be among our living generations. For instance, when I was growing up, my Boomer parents loved music from the 50-60s-especially doo-wop. There were beginnings of rock in some of the music I heard, but there was a major shift during the formative years of the Boomer generation in popular music. As my parents aged, the popular music of their day shifted. Much of the music I (as a Buster/Generation Xer) listened to growing up is similar in many ways to what’s currently on the top 40 radio stations.

Why is this important? Well, I believe that the youngest living generations have more in common musically than our older generations. This realization can help bridge gaps in the church as well. This is good news as we move forward, especially since the quality of both text and music in contemporary worship music has risen exponentially in the last decade.

Even so, your church may be filled with people who do not listen to any form of popular music. In fact that are stuck musically in a decades-old musical style. They couldn’t care less that popular music hasn’t changed much. What they want from church is FAMILIARITY!

Familiarity is two fold:
First, familiarity means what you’d expect it to mean…it’s something you know. For instance, I had a long conversation with a gentlemen regarding this a few weeks ago. He wanted to know why we didn’t sing more old hymns. He’s argument was our people sing with more enthusiasm when we sing old gospel hymns. I simply said, “yes, that’s true, but that’s only because the songs are very familiar.” What I explained to him was while the energy is not AS high on newer tunes, I am careful to choose newer songs that I believe will LAST and will eventually become FAMILIAR parts of our hymnody.

Second, familiarity is a general feeling of “this sounds like something I’ve heard before.” This is what I’m referring to in regards to how music has stayed similar-ish over the last several decades in both popular secular and Contemporary Christian music. The mood, the affect, the instrumentation, the vocals all play into creating familiarity that are “familiar” to our youngest generations (remember this is now adults 50s and younger).

Capitalize on both types of familiarity to make inroads into closing that generation gap because all people are vital in the Kingdom of God. Living in harmony means being even more creative as a worship leader in how you create familiarity in a worship service with many varied backgrounds and experiences. A great way to bridge this gap (as an example) is to use a familiar song with instrumentation/popular musical “style”/ vocals that are more in line with what’s present in popular music. Updated “contemporary” hymns are often great ways to accomplish this, but there are others. What would you add?

Ways to Demonstrate Value to the Builder Generation

In my last post, Finding Value and Purpose for the “Builder” Generation in Your Music Ministry, I discussed the impact being in an intergenerational choir had on a choir member from the Builder generation. Because the post was getting a little long due to the narrative from the daughter of this choir member, I decided to wait to write about some practical ways leaders can demonstrate value to Builders in our choirs.  Here are a few ideas, although there are doubtless many more:

  1. Encourage them to be a part of the choir. While this may seem axiomatic, you’d be surprised how many Builders simply don’t feel wanted in the church choir. I’m not sure who has made them feel inferior, but several Builders I’ve been in contact with recount a similar story—they simply felt no longer valued. Just making them feel welcome, inviting them to participate, etc. will go a long way Builders (or any generation for that matter).
  2. Find a seat that allows them to sit if they need to. Many Builders have health issues that prevent them from standing for long periods of time. Make it easier for them to participate by allowing them to sit when they need to, providing a stool if needed, or anything to make them feel less “inferior” to other members. These members don’t want to feel awkward about needing physical concessions, so be sure to not draw attention to that need with the other choir members. Side note: these concessions don’t only apply to Builders, there are others who need help or assistance with physical limitations and you should aim to make it as easy for them as well. Getting in and out of the loft (if you have one) or risers may be challenge. Figure out a way to make it easier for those needing assistance. Perhaps have them come to the platform earlier than the rest.
  3. Sit Builders next to helpful choir members. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, where people sit in your choir is important. Yes vocal timbre and height are important, but strategically mixing generations may prove to be even more important. I almost never put Builders by other Builders. More often than not, I make sure there are helpful choir members on either side of our Builders for various reasons, which include things such as:
    *helping them find their place in the score- mobility and dexterity are certainly not what they used to be even if they’re good music readers.
    *Be their ears– hearing in a large choir may be problematic at that age; others can tell them what they missed.
    *Help them physically– getting up and down out of their seat, helping pick up dropped folders, etc.
    I depend on these helpful choir members more than they know. I want them to tell me when there are concerns with our older adults. Usually there are issues that I can resolve once I know.
  4. Consider the tessitura/range of the musical literature. Let’s be real; as we age, our voices just ain’t what they used to be! Most older adults have weakening of breath control, loss of range, and if not careful–that widening vibrato that can lead to a wobble. While the purpose of this post is not to diagnose and correct vocal faults, it is something that should be considered. An EASY way to make concessions for literature that has extreme ranges is to re-work/re-voice parts so those unable to sing the parts as written have alternatives. Be careful when mentioning the changes—don’t imply that only older adults have these issues with their range, just simply say, “these notes are alternatives for those uncomfortable with how high this part is.” This gives everyone who can’t an “out.” Do mention that all those who CAN should sing as written.
  5. Start a Senior Adult Choir. While this might seem counterintuitive to being intergenerational, I think that age-stratified groups are helpful as long as they exist in intergenerational ministry-settings. What better way to show value to your Builders than to give them a mission-minded, ministry group that allows them to have some ownership of their own in worship leadership. This group doesn’t have to be just your church members, it can be open to the community, which really create in-roads into being a light in your community. This group usually has more free time (when not headed to doctor’s appointments) so get them out and singing in the community- sharing the gospel and building the Kingdom.

Builders who can still WANT to be involved in the life and ministry of your church. Make it as easy as possible for them to participate…just as you would anyone else.

 

Finding Value and Purpose for the “Builder” Generation in Your Music Ministry

Being an intergenerational music ministry means that we value and find places of services for ALL ages. While this sounds easy to write, it can more challenging than one might think. Folks from each generation are at different stages of life, which affect their ability to participate. The question that runs through my head for all on my team is: how can I make things easier for folks at different stages of life to participate and make a valuable contribution to the kingdom of God? This may mean helping the young mother who has to miss so much for her kids understand she is wanted and valued while she is away. This also means not making the older adult feel guilty because they have to miss so much for doctor’s appointments or illness. Someone once told me, people always make time for the things they love and are committed to. I’ve found making our people feel valued and appreciated means they’ll be here as OFTEN as humanly possible. We leaders must be open and embrace the strengths each generation brings to the table while learning to manage the weaknesses of each as well. For the next few posts, I want to highlight some perspectives from folks in our ministry from different generations.

In this post I want to share of the JOY it is to have music team members from the Builder Generation. Builders, as defined by Pete Menconi in The Intergenerational Church: Understanding Congregations from WWII to http://www.com, were born from 1925-1943. Our youngest Builders today are 75 years old. If what I found in Georgia is true, no more than about 10-15% of any music ministry is made of folks from this age group. Most have simply “retired” out of being in music ministry or, sadly, have been made to feel inferior and simply dropped out when they simply didn’t feel valued anymore. Issues folks from this generation face in music ministry include: sickness, loss of mobility (standing, balance, getting in and out of loft), breath support—vocal issues, etc. It’s our responsibility to help minimize and alleviate these issues as much as possible. Otherwise, they will simply drop out.

In our church we have several folks from the Builder Generation in our choir and orchestra. Today I want to share about one particular lady in our choir who God has used to encourage me countless times. It is a double blessing that she gets to sit next to her daughter in the choir…serving alongside. Here’s a bit of her story from her daughter’s perspective:

Mother grew up in a musical family so music is very much a part of her DNA.  As a child, she was attending “singing schools” led by her Dad.  He would lead and her mother would play the piano.  Part of the requirement of each singing school was that each participant got to lead the group as a music director.  Mother began doing that before she was a teenager. 

Music has been one of the dominant themes/patterns of her life.  She majored in music in college and has had piano students, vocal students through the years.  She has also served as pianist, organist and minister of music in many of the churches and military chapels.  Her love and passion for music makes her heart sing. Again, music is in her DNA and God has used that in her life.

She has and continues to dedicate herself to serving God.  As she is aging, there are many activities she can longer participate in and/or lead. The opportunity to sing in a choir again has allowed her to reconnect to her joy of music and her sense of value.  It is filling a void that existed since music is so much a part of her life.  Some comments she has made:

  • I am so thankful to be singing in a choir again.
  • I didn’t think I would ever get to do this again.
  • (to me) You don’t know how much this means to me that you make this possible.
  • I know all these songs! (She does know many due to her vast knowledge of music however not 100%!)
  • I prayed and prayed that God would allow me to sing in a choir again.
  • At least there still something I can do.
  • I bet I am the oldest one in the choir! (to which I have told her she is not!)

Will, I think I have shared with you that I was not sure how well she would do and if she could manage to keep up as she ages.  When she is in her seat with her folder, she is in her “sweet spot!”  Although she has difficultly following some of the scores (that’s where I come in as her guide!), she is spot on with diction and notes.  Her voice is not strong but it is on key. Being part of the choir reinforces her call to ministry and allows her to continue to serve God.  Not all choirs would welcome her (and others of her age) that you so willingly embrace. You find value where they are in their lives and in their musical experience. 

For me, it’s an honor to be a small part of how God is answering Mother’s prayers and seeing her engaged in what is so much a part of the very fabric of her life.  It has, for now, altered some of the ways I am able to engage and interact with others in the choir as I am her guide and support.  I am good with that.  I can only imagine there were many times when I was growing up that she was in the same place, sacrificing some of herself for me and my brothers for that moment in our times of growing up.  The fact that you embrace people where they are and find a way for them to fit is a leadership characteristic I value and appreciate about you.  It’s one of the many characteristics that sets you apart from your peers. 

I wept as I read this.

I have to tell you, not a week goes by that my Builder generation member doesn’t grab me lovingly by the arm and thanks me for letting her sing in the choir. She keeps me in check, friends. She reminds me we’re in this together till the end; we are spurring one another on, submitting our own needs to those who need it most for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of God.