Intergenerational Christian Formation

Author’s Note: My D.Min Topic for research was: “Generations X, Y, and Z are not being effectively reached by PC(USA) congregations in the Pacific Northwest.”  In typical doctoral fashion, the end product has a related title spun more hopefully than the research inquiry! My dissertation, found in the George Fox University/Portland Seminary Digital Commons archive, is titled “Intergenerational Formation as a Tool for Main Line Protestant Revitalization.” In successful application of intergenerationality, aspects of traditional Christian Education and Spiritual Formation are interwoven and applied across generational lines in hopes for renewal of engaged faith transference between generations. You can find the theory below, an introductory reflection and possible applications on top. To engage in dialog or invite me to speak at your church or community of worship and practice, feel free to contact me through email. Sincerely, ~ Pastor Scott

“After COVID?”

What does coming back together in person for the Church look like “after COVID?” Some churches have done this for portions or most of the last six months to a year.  Others are still not meeting in person, and others have transitioned to hybrid arrangements so all can feel safe participating, whatever one’s masking or in-person or virtual preferences may be.  The silver lining of the pandemic was and is still this: being able to take a look at what the church can/will/must be in the next chapter of ecclesiastical existence and re-envision.

Executive Presbyter, friend and colleague of mine, Brian Heron, once wrote in his Pedal Pilgrimage blog about his 4000-mile cross-country bicycle trek through the desert and over the Rocky Mountains, which my family recently visited. His dilemma was, should he send some gear ahead or trek all 50 pounds of it across on his bike, saving room and weight for more water?  He chose to lighten his load by 20 pounds.  The result was 147 miles of pure enjoyment in the ride.  For him, lifting the load changed the game.

It’s one thing to send 20 pounds of gear in a box to the other side to pick up in a day or two or three; just like when planning a through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Trout Lake Presbyterian (the small rural mountain community church I was pastor of for 8 years) gets massive amounts of “resupply” mail every summer as backpacking hikers come into the community for rest and resupply before hitting the trail for the rest of the Washington State stretch.  I’d like to draw a metaphor from these two pilgrimage realities; and to a lesser extent, from my family’s Rocky Mountain vacation by Prius pulling a small tent trailer.

When I consider our church – or even the Whole Church through such a pilgrimage lens, I see some big – and some not-so-big – pieces of excess baggage that could be lightened. Depending on what part of the Church one might want to address, it could be as big as jettisoning classic theological doctrines of exclusion and antiquated perspectives on sin, humanity, and even Christology to the much harder acts of property management and structures of worship and community.

I can’t begin to address all of them here, but one that I’ve wrestled with over the past two years was how to envision what Church would look like when we all “go back to normal.” What I’ve learned is that there is not a “going back to normal” available to us.  Like the after-effects of a pilgrimage trek – of whatever kind be it bicycle, backpacking, or taking a road trip by Prius, once the pilgrimage is completed, returning to what was before is not possible.  For the change is internal.  I have changed.  We have changed.  Has the Church?  If it is we who make up the church, and more specifically our local communities of faith which are the expression of Christ’s universal church, then returning to our communities of worship and practice should look somewhat different to reflect the further growth of our personal journey of faith.  Shouldn’t then, the church change to meet our own transformations?  In the emerging landscape of our spiritual formation and development as disciples of Christ, what changes ought to take place to facilitate our continued growth?

Here are a few brainstormed ideas: I envision physical space differences in many instances would be a (radical but necessary) beginning: Jettison rectangular tables in fellowship halls in favor of round ones. Jettison traditional forward facing pews to circular facing configurations (not with a raised central “table” depicting hierarchy and power but a lowered one to help both pastor and congregation physically experience the Christ-reality that humility is the direction of God’s universal flow of love “like the water, always seeking the lowest level,” to borrow from a Hopi proverb.  Or, another innovation toward the circular co-equal spiritual space might be coffee house style environments over contemporary stadium seating so small groups are built into the very experience of worship together.  This kind of arrangement might also engender something missing from many of our churches: an intergenerational boost to formation in the faith; after all, if we cannot pass on our faith to the next generations, faith as we know it will cease to exist.

Regardless of whether or not one these brainstorming ideas might work or even if they are headed in the right direction, local churches should own and offer input from all-comers to make transformations within themselves. I would hazard a guess the first step is for each community of worship and practice to discern for itself what they want to become.  Moreover, I wonder could this also be, perhaps, a re-envisioning of what the Presbytery/Conference/Diocese/Synod or other judicatory support role might look like in the new chapter of the Church’s corporate life together?  Above all, let there be peace, let there be love, there be kindness and inclusion for all – for we are but a strand in the larger weaving that is God’s whole Community of Creation.

Below are some ideas you might try as experiments in your church to draw all the generations together in new forms of worship and formation.

~ stc

Intergenerational Lectio Divina for a Small Group or Family Setting


  • Bible
  • Blank paper,
  • Pen or pencil
  • Colored pencils or crayons

Guidelines: Following the directions below, listen with as many senses as you can. When sharing, speak only the part that “shimmers” for you.  Refrain from commenting on other’s words or phrases.  Prepare your minds and hearts to be open to God.  This might look like:

  • Siting relaxed with both feet flat on the floor
  • Eyes closed or open
  • Hands open, resting on legs palm up or just resting
  • Playing a chime or ringing a bell or prayer bowl to begin and end


  1. Have one member of your group/family read the passage out loud slowly. Listen to the passage and pay attention to the text. See if a word or passage seems to stand out for you, or “shimmer” in some way. When the reading is done, wait in silence for a short time (ex. 2-3 minutes.) Repeat to yourself the word or phrase that stood out or shimmered for you while you wait. Assisting others as needed, quietly write your word or phrase somewhere on your paper in pen or pencil.
  2. For those willing to share, at the end of the short time of silence, say out loud your word or phrase. If you wish to pass, say “pass.”
  3. Have a different member of your group/family read the passage out loud slowly. Listen. Pay attention to the text. If an image comes to mind as the passage is read, hold onto it. When the reading is done, wait in silence a longer time (ex. 5-7 min.) and repeat silently to yourself the image that came to you. With colored pencils, draw a picture quietly that expresses the image that came to you.
  4. If willing, at the end of the period of silence, share the feeling or image with your group/family or pass.
  5. Have a third person read the text. Again, listen for the word or phrase that shimmers or stands out for you. What feeling accompanies your word, phrase, or image? Wait in silence when the reading is done (10-15 min.), concentrating on your word/phrase/feeling/image. Continue to draw and color on your paper to help you remember what came to you from the reading.
  6. Signal the end of the extended silent period with a bell, a chime or a prayer bowl, then debrief the experience.


  • What was your experience of this method of meditation on God’s word?
  • Did a single message come through for your group/family as a whole? Were there multiple messages that could apply for everyone?
  • What actions are you moved to take after experiencing God’s word in this way?

A Godly Play Inspired Intergenerational Formation Story Encounter (to use in place of a sermon):

Jesus Makes Breakfast

Walk slowly to the communion table with the basket of materials for Jesus Makes Breakfast. Unfold the large gold prayer shawl and drape it over the table. Stand quietly while you feel the story forming in you. Then invite the children forward so they can see. Invite all others to shift so they can see. Place a white circular underlay down in the center top near you, and smooth it as you say:

This is another story of Easter, the time we celebrate the mystery that Jesus died and that God made Jesus alive again.

Roll out the blue cloth across the middle of the underlay, smooth it out; say:

This is the sea of Tiberias, a place the disciples often fished.

Roll out the brown cloth overlapping the blue and say:

This is the beach where the boats could go out and come in.

Present the boat, carefully place it half in and half out of the water. Say:

When God made Jesus alive again, Jesus appeared to his disciples several times. This is the story of the third time.

Present Simon Peter and the other disciples and say:

Simon Peter said to some of the disciples, “I am going fishing.” They said, “We will go with you.”

Place Simon Peter and the disciples in the boat; move it into the sea and Say:

They got into the boat and pushed off from shore.

Cast the net into the sea to the left of the boat (presenter’s right)

But that night they caught nothing.

Present Jesus and put him on the beach

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know it was Jesus. He said, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No” He said, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they did.

Move the net from the presenter’s right side of the boat to the left. Pour out your bag of fish until the net is almost overflowing.

They caught so many fish they were not able to pull the net into the boat! The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Peter heard, he jumped into the sea.

Place Peter in the water between the boat and shore. Slowly bring both Peter and the boat of disciples to the beach. Say:

They came to shore dragging the net of fish to shore.

Present the grey cloth stone circle and build a Lincoln Log fire. Say:

When they had gone ashore, they saw a fire with fish and bread. Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” … “Come and have breakfast.”

Place Jesus and the disciples around the fire. Put bread and a fish by each disciples’ place; say:

Jesus gave them each some bread and fish. This was the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after God made Jesus alive again.

“I Wonder” Questions:

I wonder how Simon Peter feels, standing on the beach.

I wonder how the others feel when he says he’s going fishing

I wonder how they feel about going out to fish at night

I wonder what they feel when they catch nothing.

I wonder how they feel when Jesus calls to them to cast on the other side

I wonder how they feel when the net is so full they can’t haul it in?

I wonder how Peter feels when he is told it is Jesus

I wonder why Peter jumps into the sea

I wonder what they feel when Jesus welcomes them around his breakfast fire

What do you wonder?

Share with your family members what part of this story you liked best and why.

Materials (including Worship Woodwork Inc. materials made for Godly Play)

Large gold colored prayer shawl

White circular underlay

Blue cloth overlay for sea; Brown cloth “beach”

Fisherman’s boat with net

Wooden figures of Jesus, Simon Peter, and 4 or 5 other disciples

Grey cloth for circle of stones around fire

Two Lincoln Logs for fire

Fish for the net; enough fish and bread for each disciple around the fire

Posted 1/9/2020:

Religious Socialization Through Relationship

Return a moment to a question often posed by main line Protestant church Elders today: “How do we get our young people and visitors to stay in church?” “This is an exciting question,” write next generation church researchers McIntosh, Smothers, and Smothers, because,

Pastors and church leaders are realizing that it takes more than weekend worship experiences to transform individual lives and the world. We are acknowledging that engagement through relationship is the real work of discipleship. Building relationship requires gathering, listening, building trust, and sharing stories. And it requires struggling with issues of faith, family, and fears. When this happens in the context of a congregation, authentic faith communities can form[1] (Emphasis added).

It is my opinion that an authentic faith community means faith is alive, being practiced, and being passed on to younger generations from older ones. It therefore has to include multiple generations interacting together, being impacted and formed by one another. This occurs in relationship among all ages present in the faith community, but unfortunately it has the potential to be stifled long-term when practiced in age-segregated silos.

Mark DeVries’ summary critique of age-segregated youth ministry points to this effect:

One of my working assumptions is that the contemporary crisis in youth ministry has little to do with programming and everything to do with families. Our culture has put an incredible emotional weight on the shoulders of the nuclear family, a weight that I believe God never intended for families to bear alone. One of the secrets you will learn about in these pages is the strategic priority of undergirding nuclear families with the rich support of the extended Christian family of the church. When these two formative families work in concert, we are most likely to see youth growing into a faith that lasts for the long haul.[2]

Faith in the “long haul” is the single most important effect religious education and spiritual formation practices can pass on. Since DeVries’ writing, the Fuller Youth Institute has undertaken longitudinal studies on youth ministry practices and intergenerationality, culminating in helpful data for all ministry practitioners: “Despite the age segregation that exists in our churches and broader culture, each young person is greatly benefited when surrounded by a team of five adults. We call this the new 5:1 ratio.”[3] Jim Newby, writing in 2018, agrees:

For those who are serious about faith and the promise that it holds, the priority of intergenerational relationships can no longer be held at arm’s length by the faith community, and more pointedly, by ministries devoted to the faith formation and well-being of adolescents.[4]

Additional insights regarding the importance and role of relationship can be found when considering the imago dei of people of all ages. Both Richard Rohr and the late Eugene Peterson refer to the relational nature of humanity as a reflection of being made in the image of God. As a reflection of the importance of relationship among one another and the community of Creation, this echoes reflections from the Celtic spiritual tradition, which at some major points diverges from classical Roman Catholic Christianity.[5] Trinity and the interrelationship of Three-in-One are at the heart of it. Peterson writes of the perichoresis, or “circle dance,” this way: “God is only and exclusively God in relationship” (italics original in text). This indicates that our Oneness and God’s Oneness are related.[6] Viewed by Rohr as a three-way mutually self-emptying ethic of love, it is characterized as always having inward and outward flow, one into the other—and, it could be added, into the community of Creation.[7] Peterson describes it this way: “Each member moves with and around the others in a joyful dance.”[8] For contemporary practitioners, “The Christian life allows for no mere spectators to this life of God but pulls us in as participants in the dance.”[9] In this, one can identify a deeply theological foundation for intergenerational formation.[10] Because so much of it rests on relationship, for adoption as an integral part of a worshiping community’s practices, church leadership has to be completely on board with intergenerational approaches.

[1] Lia McIntosh, Jasmine Smothers, and Rodney Thomas Smothers, Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a Twenty-Second Century Church Movement (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2019), xv.

[2] Mark DeVries and Earl F Palmer, Family-Based Youth Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 17,

[3] “SF: What Is Sticky Faith?”

[4] Newby, “Promise and Purpose,” 13.

[5] Briefly, Pelagius saw Creation’s original goodness in creation and every newborn child, and lifted this up as primary, whereas Augustine saw humanity’s basic fallenness, emphasizing infants were born sinful. At the parting of the ways of these two perspectives in A.D. 663-664 at the Synod of Whitby, Roman Christianity (rep. by Bishop Wilfrid, and Queen Eanfled) won and Celtic Christianity (rep. by Bishops Colman, Cedd, and Abbess Hilda) began to fade; or at least got pushed to the margins of Western Civilization at the time. See J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1997) for additional Celtic Spirituality material.

[6] Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 7.

[7] Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016), 90.

[8] Eugene Peterson and Peter Santucci, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places A Study Guide (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 7.

[9] Ibid.

[10] See chapter 4.

The following includes Excerpts from:


Generations X (“Gen X”), Y (“Millennial”), and Z (“iGen”) are not being formed in the faith by mainline protestant congregations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Pacific Northwest as evidenced by their absence. If the church is to survive, either it needs to address this gap in formation of the younger generations or faith itself (meaning traditional Christianity) will have to change, or both. Utilizing insights from generation theory originally developed by Strauss and Howe, this paper will focus on identifying key factors leading to this ministry problem hypothesis and suggest one avenue to address it.


Key Factors

Religious decline has been defined as a problem of reproduction; where, “the faith of grandparents and parents is neither passed on to, nor embraced by Millennials and younger generations.”[1] Today, remaining G.I. and Silent generation members are in what generation theory terms their “Elderhood,”[2] where stewardship is evident as the main focus of their life stage. For the G.I.’s, a “Civic” generation type, conformity was rewarded, and the idea and practice of membership of congregations was encouraged to maintain this way of life.[3] The Silent generation, their successors, were slightly less satisfied with conformity but never the less upheld tradition. They began to adjust and fine tune earlier establishments while still believing them to be important[4], fulfilling an “Adaptive” generation type.

During peak leadership years within these generations, termed “Midlife” by the theory (roughly 44-65),[5] evolving church culture revolved around a different reality than what transpired in previous iterations. “Women’s Circles” and other ministries the church wished to carry out became dominated by a “non-working labor force” made up mostly of women coming out of WWII and leaving their “Rosie the Riveter” roles for household management as male soldiers coming home from the war threw themselves into civic duties and expansion of the capitalist economy. Contextually male church participation became reduced to late night Session or Board/Trustee meetings after the workday and a narrow window Sunday mornings. “Sunday School,” or Christian formation as developed in the United States, (begun in 1824[6]), was heavily impacted by this shift.

Kevin Young, in his doctoral dissertation, wrote “Without adequate identity and spiritual development taking place within adolescence, [today’s Millennial/Xennial/late GenX parents] find themselves in the unfortunate predicament of having to form a child’s faith without their own having been fully-formed.”[7]

No major structural changes have occurred since that time. Key aspects of congregational life such as Christian education and worship even in the past several decades have been based on that original Sunday School model, and have mainly been segregated by age.[8] Even as late as 2017, well after main line protestant church decline began to be documented, congregations continued to stratify along generational lines.[9] Many churches still operate their programs, committee schedule, and governing structure around the assumed reality of this century-old model of religious community life. This is somewhat of a stumbling block to younger generations today[10] and thus for the future of the church. Why is this a stumbling block? Contemporary youth and children are no longer print-centric; which means they are also no longer word…or Word centric. They are keyed into three alternate formational stimuli brought about by the digital age, namely image, music, and narrative (story).[11] Where do they find meaning and relevance, and how can the church engage them?

Engaging the Young

Gen X, Millennial, and the leading edge of the iGen find meaning and relevance for their lives experiencing and responding to immediate and obvious “real life needs” in the world such as hunger, poverty, housing, social and environmental justice.[12] Stewardship, meaning leaving a legacy for others, isn’t regarded much yet as this typically occurs in the Elderhood stage of life. [13] These three generations have a ways to go yet. Conformity and membership of institutional organizations designed by older generations do not speak to the felt need for relevance, and may even feel threatening to the autonomy-seeking of younger generations – especially Millennials and the iGen.[14], [15] Reflecting on Generation Xers and Millennials (and projecting future “peak leadership years” for the iGen), both genders will tend to work full time as their main drive for happiness focuses on personal and financial security, especially for the upcoming iGen.[16] In addition to that, there is, of course, the advent of the internet and the rapidly ever-evolving influence of the digital age. A brief foray examining its effects on generation theory in general as it relates to the problem above is in order.

Impact of the Digital Age on Generation Theory

Some theorists are suggesting the repeating four-part pattern of generational theory with its 22-year cycle originally proposed by Strauss and Howe[17] is unraveling. In light of the progress of the digital age and the apparent recent generational shifts, and especially with the advent of the smart phone, there are some indicators that this is so.[18] Some have argued that GenX was somewhat truncated, with a “Xennial” micro-generation in between the GenX’ers and Millennials.[19] Arguments for recent generations being under 22 years has been postulated by generation researcher Jean M. Twenge. She even goes so far as to suggest the Baby Boom generation is a bit shorter than earlier cycles of the theory, at 18 years. Twenge suggests recent generation segments as follows (she omits the “Xennial” microgeneration): X’ers at 14, Millennials at 14 and an interesting upswing with the iGen at 17, which culminated with those born in 2012.[20] Sarah Brown, quoting Twenge, observes,

Significant shifts in teens’ behavior, attitudes, and mental health began to occur around 2012 which is also the year when, for the first time, a majority of Americans reported owning a smartphone. ‘Most Millennials didn’t own smartphones until they were adults,’ Ms. Twenge writes. Generation Z members, on the other hand, have spent most – if not all – of their adolescent years in the presence of the devices. For this group, she posits, ‘that crucial stage of developing social skills during adolescence was probably being affected by the ‘phone.[21]

In Twenge’s own research, she reports that even at thirteen, iGen members realize how the smart phone has affected human relationships, and some brave souls are reacting against it.[22] Long-term, it remains to be seen if this reaction will continue. It will be interesting to see how the newest generation (mostly children of Millennials, but not exclusively), follows, as they are right around the corner: beginning with those born in 2013 (or 2010, depending on the source), the newest generation has begun to be dubbed the “Alpha” generation in some literature.[23] For that generation, a big question is, what will their upbringing, cultural socialization, and religious involvement be like if they have never known life without digital smart devices in the home or on their person? All of these questions moving forward have bearing on spiritual formation, not to mention physiological changes to the human brain brought on by instantaneous digital connectivity of the current age, which is dealt with elsewhere.[24]

Religious Pedagogy – The Art of Teaching Children and Youth

Ivy Beckwith, in Postmodern Children’s Ministry observes,

The church’s ministry to children is broken. A cursory look doesn’t reveal its brokenness. From the outside children’s ministry looks healthier than ever. But it is broken. It’s broken when church leaders and senior pastors see children’s ministry primarily as a marketing tool. The church with the most outwardly attractive program wins the children and then the parents. It’s broken when we teach children the Bible as if it were just another book of moral fables or stories of great heroes. Something’s broken when we trivialize God to our children. It’s broken when we exclude children from perhaps the most important of community activities: worship. It’s broken because we’ve become dependent on an 18th-century schooling model, forgetting that much of a child’s spiritual formation is affective, active, and intuitive. It’s broken when we depend on our programs and our curriculum to introduce our children to God – not our families and communities. It’s broken when we’ve come to believe that church has to be something other than church to be attractive to children. …And perhaps most importantly, it’s broken when the church tells parents that its programs can spiritually nurture their children better than they can. By doing this, we’ve lied to parents and allowed them to abdicate their responsibility to spiritually form their children. A church program can’t spiritually form a child, but a family living in an intergenerational community of faith can. Our care for our children is broken and badly in need of repair.[41]

Agreeing with this scintillating summary of one aspect of the challenges facing contemporary efforts at formational Christian education isn’t hard. What Beckwith has touched on informs the emerging field of intergenerational formation, which I have termed “intergeneragogy,” which I hope to explore below.

One adaptive challenge Beckwith does not address, however, is this: In many cases contemporary GenX and Millennial parents might rather leave their children in “expert” care in age-segregated learning environments. Why? In the case of GenX parents, many were brought up with no real firm foundational understanding of the faith of their late Silent and early Boomer parents, much less their dutifully quiet and private G.I. grandparents. In addition to that, Boomer parents who rejected their late G.I. and early Silent parents’ unquestioning lifestyle in the faith were mostly absent from committed single church attendance, and in their vagabond search for meaning have brought up many of their Millennial children also rootless in any single tradition.  This (among other factors) has contributed to the growing prevailing culture of “spiritual but not religious” up and coming adults with a patchwork of religious traditions and beliefs. Thus, ultimately, both Xer and Millennial parents don’t really know how to form their children in the faith, because they are still finding out what they believe themselves!

This, among other reasons, provides difficult layered challenges for faith transmission through generations using traditional models such as age-segregated Christian Education as well as historical parental involvement in passing on the faith. Recent scholarship has begun to identify and experiment with formation using alternative methods of teaching and learning to address this gap. Despite some attempts (such as the “Faith 5” program by Faith Inkubators[42]), it does not adequately address spiritual formation within the whole family, both for true intergenerational formation reasons and for, in some cases, a perceived lack of theological depth.


Andrew Achenbaum writes, “Faith-based communities should do more to promote intergenerational activities in outreach and in educational settings. They should provide opportunities for newcomers of all ages to find an appropriate niche regardless of their date of birth.”[43]

Both Beckwith and Achenbaoum are touching on a felt pedagogical need, without quite teasing out what it looks like, how to get there, and specifically what a “successful” response might be. The emerging field of intergenerational formation seeks to address this. Intergenerational Christian formation (IGCF or IG for short) is: intentional educational and worship formation experiences geared toward engaging multiple generations in a faith journey together.[44]

It is hoped that successful Christian intergenerational formation will be evidenced by development of a stronger body of Christ, an ongoing growth of regular engaging participation in worship, education, fellowship and mission by younger generations, and a deeper developing faith for all ages. Should this prove the case, then applied to main line protestant denominations in the Pacific Northwest such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), intergenerational formation could effect a much needed renaissance, and none too soon.


Specifically in regards to my small church context where a separate Sunday School does not exist, integrating elements of intentional intergenerational formation may be a successful means to draw younger families into the church. I am choosing to pursue this experimentally through combining elements of traditional worship with elements of Godly Play, a Montessori-inspired early childhood religious education model developed by Jerome and Thea Berryman. [45] The result is an alternate learning/worship environment for a mixed-age assembly made up of both nuclear and extended church family relationships. What remains to be seen is whether this is sustainable, and if younger generations engage. What follows is a set of practical examples orchestrating one recent Sunday morning experiment.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

An IG – focused service included setting up an alternative proclamation activity. In place of a regular sermon, a brief scriptural introduction of a topic set up, prepared, and launched in-sanctuary intentional intergenerational small group discussion among attendees. Using text from Luke 15:6-9, discussion questions were offered to the congregation.

Summary Analysis

The alternative proclamation was received very well. In addition to that, a new family happened to visit, bringing three children of elementary school age and one middle school aged child (two older youth stayed home). My own eight year-old son was also involved. All of the children participated in the intergenerational discussion groups. Additional worship modifications included:

  • Alpha Gen boy, aged 8, was trained (by a 92 year old G.I. Gen. member) before service to be the acolyte and fulfilled that role for service
  • Alpha boy, passed the “joy jar” with the day’s worship assistant, (a Silent generation male, 70ish years old) for loose change for missions with each joy shared
  • Alpha boy held the baptismal bowl in his hands while (Gen X pastor) poured water into it announcing the Assurance of Pardon
  • Scripture readers: Hebrew Scripture was read by a female Boomer generation member
  • Psalm reading by a Gen X male
  • Children’s Time: Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth[46] was read up front with the children (all iGen or Alpha) on the steps. All children attending (minus the middle schooler) sat up front to see the pictures as the story was read out loud.
  • Gospel reading by Silent generation female.
  • Sermon: Brief introduction by Gen X pastor then intentional IGF small groups, 5-7 minutes followed by sharing of each group’s discussion
  • Offering/usher: G.I. Generation 92 year-old
  • After Church Visitations: The Gen X pastor and his 8 year old Alpha Gen son visited a Gen X horse boarder, a home-bound early Silent Gen, a Silent Gen mother and Boomer daughter, a G.I. Gen couple, their son (late Silent Gen or early Boomer), his visiting daughter (Gen X or Millennial, not sure which) and his granddaughter (iGen) at their home. Then they had dinner with an early Silent Gen member in her home.

[1] Lia McIntosh, Jasmine Smothers, and Rev Rodney Thomas Smothers, Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a Twenty-Second Century Church Movement (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019), viii, referencing Leonard Sweet, Bring Back the Table (Tabor e-Lab #6), AGS Info., accessed April 25, 2019,

[2] Ibid., 8.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] John R. Mabry, Faithful Generations: Effective Ministry across Generational Lines (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2013), 42.

[5] William Strauss and Neil Howe, GENERATIONS The History of America’s Future 1584 to 2069 (New York: William Morrow & Co, 1991), 56.

[6] “A Brief History of Sunday School,” Ministry-To-Children, October 12, 2009, accessed April 25, 2019,

[7] Kevin Young, “The Efficacy Of Late Antique Spiritual Practices For Family-Based Adolescent Faith Formation” (DMin diss., George Fox University, 2017), 20

[8] Allan G. Harkness, “Intergenerational Education for an Intergenerational Church?,” Religious Education 93, no. 4 (1998): 431–447.

[9] Gordon T. Smith, “Generation to Generation: Inter-Generationality and Spiritual Formation in Christian Community,” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 10, no. 2 (2017): 182–193.

[10] Lia McIntosh, Jasmine Smothers, and Rev Rodney Thomas Smothers, Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a Twenty-Second Century Church Movement (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019).

[11] Leonard Sweet, Bring Back the Table: Tabor e-Lab #6, (AGS Info) n.d., accessed April 25, 2019,

[12] Carl G. Eeman, Generations of Faith: A Congregational Atlas (Bethesda, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011).

[15] Jean M. Twenge, IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017).

[16] Barna Group, Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the next Generation (Ventura, CA]: Barna Group, 2018).

[17] William Strauss & Neil Howe, GENERATIONS The History of America’s Future 1584 to 2069 (New York: William Morrow & Co, 1991).

[18] Jean M. Twenge, IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017), 5-6.

[19] “Xennials, The Microgeneration Between Gen X And Millennials | HuffPost Canada,” accessed November 8, 2018,

[20] Jean M. Twenge, IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017), 6.

[21] Sarah Brown, “How Generations X, Y, and Z May Change the Academic Workplace,” Chronicle of Higher Education 64, no. 4 (September 22, 2017): 19–19.

[22] Jean M. Twenge, IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017), 298.

[23] Christine Michel Carter, “The Complete Guide To Generation Alpha, The Children Of Millennials,” Forbes, accessed April 23, 2019,

[24] “5 Ways Social Media Is Changing Your Brain,” TED-Ed, accessed April 23, 2019,

[40] Kenn Gangel, Ministering to Today’s Adults, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1999)

[41] Ivy Beckwith, Postmodern Children’s Ministry: Ministry to Children in the 21st Century (El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties, 2004), 13-14.

[42] Faith Inkubators, “FAITH5,” FAITH5, accessed April 29, 2019,

[43] Andrew Achenbaum, “How Theory-Building Pompts Explanations about Generational Connections in the Domains of Religious, Spirituality, and Aging” in Kinship and Cohort in an Aging Society From Generation to Generation ed. Roseann Giarrusso and Merril Silverstein, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).

[44] This definition, proposed by the author, is a combination of several aspects of the developing field of intergenerational formation. For a more thorough grounding, Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross wrote Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community, and Worship (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2012).

[45] Jerome Berryman, Teaching Godly Play: How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children, Rev. and expanded. (Denver: Morehouse PubCo, 2009).

[46] Douglas Wood, Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth, (Cambridge, Mass: Candlewick, 1999).

A Path for Transformation of Spiritual Leaders

The following academic essay received an “A-” grade.  It could still use some tweaking.


 This paper seeks to build a model for systemic change

Building this model is best described in the nature of a blueprint, with multiple sheets laying one upon another to piece together a fuller picture of the process of systemic change; the completed blueprint applies the three-fold path of mystical reflection[1] to read through each layer. Foundational pages for this blueprint will be founded upon walking a labyrinth using the lens of pilgrimage. First this paper will address an understanding of the purpose and intent of utilizing a labyrinth as a spiritual discipline and the four stages of pilgrimage, then move to an actual “walk” through the labyrinth, each “turning” an encounter with concepts from this semester’s readings. Together, they will form a multi-layered blueprint for systemic change, where ultimately each layer of the blueprint will be combined for an integrative approach to understanding, engaging, and describing systemic change as a transformative approach to pastoral leadership and congregational spiritual growth.

A visual image of this labyrinth is provided in Appendix A. Each of fourteen “turning points” will correspond to a layer in the blueprint, which will describe another facet of this semester’s readings, illuminating points of potential learning and guiding the way forward. Labyrinth and Pilgrimage are the two lenses, placed one on top of the other, which form the foundational page of the blueprint for change. It may be helpful to notice the overall journey is also a model of orthopraxis: shaped as a circle quartered by a cross and incorporating a chiastic structure superimposed upon a journey that is constantly in motion – in another sense, this is a metaphor for ministry itself.


A labyrinth offers a purposeful walk on a single circuitous path to the center and back out again. This pattern is conducive to deep spiritual reflection. Some can find this in diverse unstructured locations such as a walk along the beach, hiking a mountain trail or elsewhere; but others sometimes need a more well-defined path. The Labyrinth can be the structure that guides one’s physical footsteps while simultaneously the Holy Spirit guides one’s spiritual footsteps. This ancient walking meditation is found across multiple faiths and cultures. This paper will adapt the Christian use of the “three-fold path” of purgation, illumination, and union[2] to fit the double metaphor of labyrinth and pilgrimage for a congregational system and leader in that context.

Purgation – Walking into the labyrinth

This is a time to let go of distractions and enter sacred space. It is time to take stock of life, to offer confession and to sincerely seek the power and presence of God. As a spiritual discipline, is a time to focus drawing closer to the heart of life and faith. Guiding Questions below are adapted from St. Stephen Presbyterian Church.[3]

Guiding Questions:

  • What needs to be left behind as the sacred space is entered?
  • In what way(s) do participants need to be cleansed and forgiven in the process of journeying inward and approaching God?
  • What is of concern to the community or pastor?
  • What question(s) need to be brought before God?
  • What holy gift(s) would be helpful to receive right now?
  • How best can participants prepare their hearts as they approach God?

Illumination – Resting in the center of the labyrinth

This is the time of lingering in the center of the labyrinth. This is a time of openness and receptivity. It is an expectant time anticipating, receiving, and resting in that which God has to offer.

Guiding Questions:

  • What is God saying in this time?
  • How is God’s word being received?

Union – Walking out of the labyrinth

This is the time of walking back into the world in union with God. Having received a gift from God, whatever that may be, congregational life together awaits. Following the same path outward that was walked inward, this time walk illuminated and in union with the divine message. Often this movement is one of appreciation and gratitude. The goal of the process is to emerge changed by the experience, where the Spirit of God accompanies the participant away from intentional sacred space and with the participant into ordinary space. As a regularly practiced discipline, it may take some getting used to, but can offer quite a rewarding practice.

Guiding Questions:

  • What messaged was received and how might one be changed because of it?
  • What is it like to be in the presence of God?
  • How does it feel to be accompanied by the Spirit?
  • How can participants best respond to God for that which has been given?
  • What preparations need to be made to return to ordinary space after this time?


The stages of pilgrimage are separation, crossing the threshold, transformation, and reincorporation. As Sarah York tells us in Pilgrim Heart[4], pilgrimage is not just about leaving ordinary life; it is about moving from ordinary space into sacred space and back to ordinary space.

Step One: Separation. A pilgrim leaves the familiar for the strange; in this case, standing at the entrance to the Labyrinth preparing to leave the familiar behind and to experience something that might be wholly new.

Step Two: Crossing the threshold. Pilgrims move from ordinary time and space into sacred time and sacred space. Pilgrim space is universal: all the barriers and labels that we gather in ordinary life become irrelevant (for example, race, economic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith tradition, etc.). For Labyrinth walkers, as soon as the Labyrinth is entered, the threshold is crossed.

Step Three: Transformation. Once across the threshold, the heart of pilgrimage has begun. It is not unusual to come up against all manner of barriers preventing an ability to hear the voice of the Spirit. Distractions are normal. If a distraction leaps to mind, gently lay it to rest for picking up again later. Each is dealt with (or not) in the process. The time spent in transformation is: an inward journey influenced by outward forces that often involve tension and release, purging and illumination, or, the three-fold path of mystical reflection.

Step Four: Reincorporation. When the labyrinth walk is finished, the pilgrim approaches the entrance for the second time. This time, coming from sacred space and entering ordinary time and space. What is gained during the pilgrimage hopefully becomes integrated into the ordinary. This is the application stage both for congregation members and pastoral leadership.


Orienting on the Incarnation 

Framing the entire process within the liturgical season of Advent, consider this Biblical witness:

1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…”

10… the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” …

19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

Luke 2, selected verses (NRSV)

“Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart;” that is the one line she gets in the most cosmic event possible – the incarnation of God. Churches across the country have begun to celebrate Advent and Christmas liturgies, and yet here is the first person to be affected by the most incredibly life-changing event the world – indeed all of Creation – has ever known. God came to Earth in human form!

This is the foundation of the story of the Christian faith, a story and a journey that ultimately transformed the world, and even yet transforms many lives in a deep and meaningful way. This journey of soul and spirit, oriented toward the story of the Incarnation, has motivated Christian worshipping communities for two millennia. For some, it is a costly journey, but still they come, step over the threshold of faith, and enter.

External Influences and Internal Transformation

In the labyrinth pilgrimage journey described below, there are fourteen 180-degree turns (can also be used as stations of the cross) and seven circuits. Three “outer” paths and four “inner” paths can correspond to outside influences and inner transformation of both a congregation on this journey and the pastor of a congregation seeking to implement change. These seven paths surround a center rose with six petals (see attached design, Appendix A); each of the six petals could be areas to further engage the six major influencers as described by Grenny, et. al.: personal motivation and ability, social motivation and ability, and structural motivation and ability.[5]

In the words of John Doan, “Wealthy or poor, famous or unknown, Wayfarers [travel] the Pilgrim’s Way as equals. In becoming a Wayfarer (Pilgrim), a person [trades] the personal security of family and friends for a journey in which daily concerns [surrender] to each step….”[6]

Into the Labyrinth

Walking through the first turn, a fellow pilgrim on this path is encountered; Dallas Willard, in his Divine Conspiracy, critiqued contemporary churches saying they are, “somewhat devoid of teaching on the Kingdom of God.”[7] Transformation of congregations and pastoral leadership make for examples of a church that exhibits a truly “kingdom living” kind of agape love.[8] Church involvement should exhibit authentic care for one another and in service to the community. Willard hopes for this as an authentic expression of God’s Heavenly Kingdom – a vision the church needs to hold out in front of herself at all times.

Taking the second turn: Generations X, Y, and Z are especially sensitive to authentic expressions of this care and love that a church community could extend. If it does not, they will not come – experiential “kingdom living” is needed for these younger generations to engage the Christian faith experience. They also need moderate to liberal socio-political views, which reflects their embracing of compassion for others. Churches with these views embedded in their DNA as congregations should do well.[9]

Taking the third turn, Christine Pohl and her work Living into Community meets the pilgrim on this path of congregational authenticity for intentional transformation. She outlines four practices: gratitude, promises, truth-living, and hospitality. Such prerequisites for systematic change outline a model for kingdom living. Consider each briefly in light of the transformation of leadership and congregational culture:

Gratitude, at the fourth turn, is an outside force that has significant impact on a person’s inner state. When someone expresses gratitude, one’s feelings of self-worth are elevated, resulting in a limbic response[10] in the affective sphere, and a personal connection between the one expressing gratitude and the once receiving it. Continuing on to the fifth turn, the next practice would be promises. Keeping promises made is another key vital behavior[11] impacting personal relationship between two people, which also feeds back into a potential for truth-living gratitude in both parties. “Gratefulness to God and gratitude for life can strengthen persons for the long journey toward wholeness and justice,”[12] not to mention hospitality and a long obedience in one direction.[13] The community thrives when gratitude is at the forefront of its witness.

The fifth turn on the path brings the pilgrim to consider Hunter’s desire for influence within the culture, and living out a real presence of Jesus at all levels of society – but specifically the elite, who hold institutional power of the establishment,[14] which is the current rudder sailing the ship of Western Civilization in America. The sixth turn in the labyrinth pilgrimage might be a point to pause and consider which of two potential responses to Hunter might fit best for the pilgrim.

For those who can enact a chameleon-like infiltration of the political and cultural elite, this is a needed systemic transformation of the current political and cultural milieu. For those who cannot, another response to contemporary times might be to walk away from current self-serving political elite, instead becoming one with those practicing faithful living in the ordinary, average, and underserved sectors of this society. This choice leads to sacrificial leadership such as Shackleton exhibited with the Endeavor[15] as well as, in this case, loving those who need it most and in need of God’s all-inclusive love since current culture excludes and loves them not; for example, refugees, immigrants, and undocumented migrant workers.

The seventh turn on the path considers transformative change from another perspective…power and space. This turn also leaves the outer labyrinth rings, represented by external influencers and sends the pilgrim deeper into the center of internal transformation. Ask: Is it possible to not be seen as seeking personal gain when utilizing one’s mantle of power (ascribed or innate, either way)?  Can both a shadow leadership (eighth turn) and sponge kind of leadership (ninth turn)[16] go hand in hand? Perhaps; pause on the tenth turn then walk slowly along the midway (fourth) circuit to consider where what is next from multiple angles…leading further inward, the turns will come more rapidly now as the pilgrim nears the center.

When one’s actions reflect directly a communal other-centric compassion, then the love of God shines through as true power should, embracing shadow leadership (eleventh turn). When there is a task to be done to bring the whole community forward (twelfth turn), then sponging up leadership (thirteenth turn) for a time helps to squeeze it back out as needed (fourteenth turn – which leads into the very center of the labyrinth and the center of contextual challenges for both a congregation and a pastoral leader seeking for transformative change).

Pausing in the middle, this is the crux of transformation. This is the crucible of ministry leadership[17] and a central question for systemic change. Often times, when a congregation reaches this point together, they require the specific leadership of pastoral professionals trained in transitional ministry.[18]

Professional Transitional Pastors (Interim Ministers) re-frame central contexts for congregations: what kind of leadership is needed for them to take their own journey into and through the stages necessary for forward movement into transformational systemic change? On one hand, they will have to grapple with leaving the comfort of the status quo, facing a denial, moving forward through confusion and coming to innovation before being able to rest again for a time in comfort.[19] On the other hand, transitional pastors and congregations both are called to hold one another in this place of waiting, this center point of illumination before unitive action can be taken. Ultimately, both hold one another in mutual “Advent,” as it were, preparing for the birth of something new: the next chapter of ministry for the congregation, and also perhaps for the pastor.

On the Way Back Out

What is the most loving thing to do in/with/and for the church? How can it best witness the existence of the heavenly kingdom present but not yet fully realized in its context? How shall each of the pages illuminated so far in this blueprint come together for the fuller picture of systemic transformation for future chapters of the church and its ministry going forward? What is the picture of the future church and how can that vision inform present decisions and actions, as delineated by the change process?[20]

Ultimately, the labyrinth is a metaphor. Here it is used as a tool to access multiple layers of understanding systemic transformation (although it also hints at personal transformation for pastors). The next step in the journey, both physically and metaphorically, is a return; reincorporating illuminations into movement from this sacred reflection time and space back into the ordinary time and space of day-to-day ministry.

Some clear steps forward in reincorporating this paper’s reflections will include implementing transitional ministry training insights with the six influencers of Grenny’s model outlined below.

Personal motivation – Is there a personal gain/reason involved for leadership in undergoing change?

Personal ability – Does the leadership have the ability to lead change?

Social motivation – Is there a collective push to engage and invite positive healthy change to the current accepted modes operandi?

Social ability – Does the congregation have the skill set needed to engage and invite positive healthy change?

Structural motivation – Is there structure in place that supports positive healthy change for the local congregation?

Structural ability – Is there an embedded ability within existing structure to engage and invite positive healthy change for the local congregation?


Physically walking a labyrinth can be done individually or in small groups. Individual pilgrims may encounter others on the path. In small groups, people will walk behind, in front, alongside, towards, or away from one another depending on the location in the labyrinth. This is often a metaphorical message in and of itself. Some pilgrims may walk slower, some faster. Some may stop and stand still when something occurs to them they wish to ruminate on more deeply.           

Metaphorically, the labyrinth is similar to a pilgrimage of inner transformation. Different resources than the ones applied above in this example paper may be utilized depending on the specific hoped-for transformation of congregational life together. These would be determined by the staff/volunteers facilitating the process and the hoped-for change.


Part of why the author-pastor suspects he is not currently successful with enticing regular attendance from younger generations is his own lack of ability to carry out ongoing daily relationships with them in the community since he lives 90 miles away and functions like a “circuit rider” rather than as an integral member of their community. Current Sundays are a deeply socialized systemic reality with two driving forces behind it: an itinerate preacher, and an aging comfortable congregation.

Implementing Change

The congregation as a whole could benefit from a move to a more intergenerational assembly. Systemically, at least two different directions are available and within the pastor’s ability to influence. First, with his blessing, the congregation has elected to support continue training of a gifted lay-leader from the community for all the roles and responsibilities implicit in the role of pastor. For the congregation’s denomination, this is called a “Commissioned Ruling Elder” (CRE hereafter). With completed training and commissioning, a CRE can officiate all pastoral roles normally reserved for ordained clergy, and become, in effect, a “local pastor.” This kind of position was originally designed specifically for small rural churches that cannot afford an ordained clergy person to be an installed pastor; this is well within the range of the current pastor’s influence and his regional governing body to oversee. Once a pastor and local church leadership “signs off” a person for this training, the regional governing body then becomes responsible to evaluate the person’s gifts and abilities for ministry, determine what additional training (if any) is needed, and provide guidance to the CRE applicant for her or his training. However, training takes time (perhaps a year or two).

Systemically, the congregational demographics have moved upward without attracting as many younger generation people. Even with a transition to a local pastor (of similar age to the low-end of the current average demographic), the congregation usually only has children attend when they are brought by grandparents. What the pastor has observed and from conjecture, during the past 4 years of the itinerant preacher’s ministry to the congregation a, “Oh, good, we got a young man to preach for us, now the young people will come!” mentality (which is a fallacy) is still functioning in the background, and the pastor has not fulfilled their dreams.

Thus, a second question to consider both immediately and for the next year or so is: “What can the incumbent do as an itinerant preacher to spiritually feed this church?” This is in the realm of doable, as their written requirements of the pastor are clear, and feedback has been positive. But the next step, to provide systemic change, means something else has to happen.

What/how can the pastor feed their spirits in preparation for changes their next (local) pastor will be asking them to make if they are to grow more than 1 or 2 persons a year, as well as add attendance in a multi-generational direction? Applying the insights and pedagogy of pilgrimage outlined by this paper, a creative solution may arise. Likely, it will mean the itinerante will leave once the CRE has received the go-ahead to practice. Important areas of ministry revitalization and transition will need to be illuminated, taught, and implemented.

Appendix B contains the 500 word practical application for the author’s ministry context. Appendix C contains practical considerations that can be used both in physical labyrinth walking as a spiritual discipline for children and youth and as for those who wish to engage metaphorical spiritual contemplation.

Compiled, edited, and freely shared by the author from multiple resources through professional associations (Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association or PCCCA; Association of Presbyterian Church Educators or APCE; and the Certified Camp/Retreat Leader Network hosted by the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship National Office of Camp and Retreat Ministries, these were offered for publication in the National Council of Churches outdoor ministry curriculum “New Earth Resources,” now out of print (“Got Spirit?” Chalice Press, 2011).


Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. Revised and Updated ed. edition. New York; London: Riverhead Books, 2006.

Barton, Ruth Haley, Leighton Ford, and Gary A. Haugen. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. Expanded edition. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2018.

Grenny, Joseph, Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. Second edition. VitalSmarts. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013.

Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. Cary, UNITED STATES: Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 2010. Accessed October 3, 2018.

Lewis, Thomas, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon. A General Theory of Love. Reprint edition. New York: Vintage, 2001.

Morrell, Margot, and Stephanie Capparell. Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer. Reprint edition. London; Santa Rosa, CA: Nicholas Brealey Intl, 1998.

Morse, MaryKate, and Leonard Sweet. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2008.

Peterson, Eugene H. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.

Pohl, Christine D. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us. 11/20/11 edition. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2011.

Seemiller, Corey. Generation Z Goes to College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Westervelt, Rob. “DMin Presentation 2018,” November 3, 2018. Accessed November 7, 2018.

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God. 1 edition. San Francisco: Harper, 1998.

York, Sarah, and Thomas Moore. Pilgrim Heart: The Inner Journey Home. 1 edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

“Transitional Ministry Workshop – Menucha Retreat and Conference Center.” Accessed November 27, 2018.

Wayfarer: A Celtic Pilgrimage. Audio CD. Valley, 2011.

APPENDIX A: Menucha Rose Garden Labyrinth

Menucha labyrinth


Practical Application Addendum


For the next calendar year, the author hopes to teach and implement labyrinth walking as a spiritual practice. With the introduction of the use of labyrinths as means of prayer, he will also hope to implement some of the elements of transitional pastoral ministry leadership in preparation for an eventual change of pastoral leadership at the local level. There are seven elements of change utilized by transitional ministry practitioners clustered in three movements. The movements are insight, action and progress. The elements in each are, in order, trust, insight, and purpose (insight movement); action (action movement); and leadership, communication, and progress (progress movement).[21]

Addressing each briefly, in the author’s context and application, trust has been and is continually being built. For four and a half years the congregation and the author, as pastor, have established a working relationship that allows for some experimentation in worship styles and interpersonal engagement with scriptures in lieu of sermons. This has begun to assist with thinking of doing things differently. The next step is to continue to offer community involvement such that they also trust the experiments and participate in them. This is as far as the author has begun to work these out in context.

Some insights have come to light with this process of experimentation. First, the congregation is most comfortable as a traditionally liturgical worshiping community. Experiments outside the realm of traditional are met with some interest and engagement, but not one hundred percent. Reflecting a typical change process, when faced with something new and different, there is a strong gravitational pull back to traditional. To progress, denial must be worked through to confusion before innovation can take place. [22]

The biggest issues often come down to, “Who are we?” “What is our purpose?” When these get answered, in the next step of application, a new “ministry direction” can be expressed and pursued. With this comes realized actions, the next step. Actions, inspired by previous steps of seeking identity and purpose, engenders revitalization, which impacts the kind of leadership needed to carry out a new vision. Key in this process is more than vision casting and engaging in vital behaviors.[23] Here the homeostasis of a congregation’s culture also has to be addressed.

A new vision must be witnessed in real authentic behaviors, as well as communicated over and over as the new normal, and progress must be noted, celebrated, and evaluated for continued implementation toward new life. Progress forward also takes into account parts that don’t work. These become learning lessons for all involved, and a feedback loop for leadership (both pastoral and lay) as the new vision for ministry unfolds.



It is an opportunity. Walking the labyrinth provides an opportunity to be attentive to God’s presence in new and fresh ways. For many, the labyrinth is a new tool but even for those who have experienced it before, each entry into the labyrinth can be an opportunity to encounter the divine in a new way. Allow the rhythms, movement, and silence of walking the labyrinth to help your contemplation and nourish your imagination to life.[24]

It can become a spiritual practice. Walking the labyrinth can be a one-time event, but it can also become a part of a regular spiritual practice.

It has many purposes. One great feature of the labyrinth is that it provides a place for a variety of spiritual exercises. The labyrinth is a journey that can help us get to many destinations. Christians can use the labyrinth for many purposes. Some examples include:

Prayer: if you wish you may use the labyrinth as an experience of prayer. Instead of sitting with bowed head, you simply walk and allow the prayer to happen.

Presence: the labyrinth may be the place at which you experience the presence of the triune God. A time of “union” with Christ is possible

Discernment: it may be that you bring a very particular concern, decision or request to the experience of the labyrinth. The labyrinth can be the place where you seek divine wisdom and guidance.

Metaphor: at times the labyrinth is useful as a metaphor for living. Reflection on your experience of the labyrinth can tell you something about your life.

It is without judgment. There really isn’t a “right” way to experience the labyrinth. While these suggestions can help guide you in your walking, they do not insure a particular experience or outcome. Like entering the biblical text when reading scripture, each time you enter the labyrinth is a new opportunity for an encounter with the living God. Let the Spirit move according to its will rather than your own. Let go of your “planned” outcome. Sometimes it will seem that nothing has happened or the experience has “gone wrong.” If that is the case, accept the outcome and explore its meaning for you. Trust that the Spirit of God has spoken even in the unexpected or confusing outcomes.

                                 Additional Suggestions for Walking the Labyrinth


Take your shoes off. This is consistent with the biblical image of standing on holy ground. As this labyrinth becomes for you a place of prayer and holy encounter, allow yourself to walk on it in socks or barefoot. For practical reasons, this also helps to take care of and preserve canvas labyrinths.

Maintain the quiet. It is important that the labyrinth remain a peaceful and quiet place, though not a silent one. Often music, like the kind of music from the Taize community, accompanies and enhances the experiences of the labyrinth. The labyrinth is not a place for conversation. Feel free to talk with others about your experience of the labyrinth outside the Spirituality Center.

Pause at the entry into the labyrinth. You may choose to take a deep breath or say a silent prayer to begin your journey. Allow what comes naturally to guide you.

Take your time and walk at your own pace. You don’t need to rush it or prolong it. Take it at a tempo that feels right.

Follow the path. Allow yourself to be guided and to trust. The beauty of the labyrinth is its singular path that leads and allows you to focus on the experiences of walking without worrying about direction. Submerge yourself in the experience of walking a spiritual path.

Rest when you need to rest. The path is a long one and will ordinarily take 20 minutes to complete. Turning points are good places to pause out of the way of others. The center of the labyrinth also provides a place of rest. Be mindful to those waiting to get into the center when there are many people on the labyrinth.

Be Considerate of others. Remember that you are not alone. Many times there will be several people walking the labyrinth at the same time. Though the path may seem narrow, there is plenty of room. Feel free to walk around others or allow them to walk around you. You can also step slightly away from the path, noting your place, and then return to it after another has passed. Also, as you wish, you may acknowledge the presence of others with eye contact, a nod, or an embrace. Always be respectful and considerate of those who share the journey.

Finish the labyrinth in a way that seems appropriate. As you exit the labyrinth you can breath a long deep breath, silently say a one-word prayer or simply depart.

Debrief your experience, either singly or in community, offering thanksgiving for what has been or may yet be shown you through the experience. Record your thoughts for later reflection.

[1] Lauren Artress, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice, Revised and Updated ed. edition. (New York; London: Riverhead Books, 2006). 28

[2] Ibid.

[3] Association of Presbyterian Church Educators Annual Convention, 2009.

[4] Sarah York and Thomas Moore, Pilgrim Heart: The Inner Journey Home, 1 edition. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001).

[5] Joseph Grenny et al., Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second edition., VitalSmarts (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013).

[6] Wayfarer: A Celtic Pilgrimage, Audio CD (Valley, 2011), Jacket notes.

[7] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God, 1 edition. (San Francisco: Harper, 1998). 58

[8] Ibid. 182

[9] Corey Seemiller, Generation Z Goes to College (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2016).

[10] Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, A General Theory of Love, Reprint edition. (New York: Vintage, 2001).

[11] Joseph Grenny et al., Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second edition., VitalSmarts (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013).

[12] Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, 11/20/11 edition. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2011). 48

[13] Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015).

[14] James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Cary, UNITED STATES: Oxford University Press USA – OSO, 2010), accessed October 3, 2018,

[15] Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell, Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, Reprint edition. (London; Santa Rosa, CA: Nicholas Brealey Intl, 1998).

[16] MaryKate Morse and Leonard Sweet, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2008).

[17] Ruth Haley Barton, Leighton Ford, and Gary A. Haugen, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, Expanded edition. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2018).

[18] Scott Lumbsden, Heide Husted-Armstrong, Eliana Maxim, and EJ Lee, “Elements of Change,” Tmworkshops.Org, accessed November 27, 2018,

[19] Rob Westervelt, “DMin Presentation 2018,” November 3, 2018, accessed November 7, 2018,

[20] Ibid.

[21] Scott Lumbsden, Heide Husted-Armstrong, Eliana Maxim, and EJ Lee, “Elements of Change,” Tmworkshops.Org, accessed December 5, 2018,

[22] Rob Westervelt, “DMin Presentation 2018,” November 3, 2018, accessed November 7, 2018,

[23] Joseph Grenny et al., Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second edition., VitalSmarts (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2013).

[24] From labyrinth resources picked up at a conference (PCCCA or APCE) sometime in the past 12 years and in my file on labyrinth facilitation – Turnitin identifies it from Presbyterian Church (USA) Youth Triennium materials; but I couldn’t find it on their site.

The following academic essay received an “A” grade.  It could still use some fixes…

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is one of the mainline Protestant denominations of Christianity. In the Pacific Northwest, it has often been on the leading edge of ecumenical discussions. In the middle of the 20th century, it grew exponentially in influence and adherents. Today, it is shrinking along with other mainline Protestant churches. This paper seeks to address why through the lens of generation theory.


Generation theory researchers Strauss and Howe identified and developed four stages of life that every generation goes through, and have identified a four-generation cycle that historically up to present have revealed a specific pattern of characteristics.[1] With remarkable persistence in the pattern, the roughly 22-year generational designations, as well as the stages of life inherent in each generation, are outlined below in two tables, summarized by the work of Carl G. Eeman.[2]

First Generation  ………….…………Civic/Hero (GI Generation born 1901-1924)

Second Generation …………………Adaptive/Artist (Silent Generation born 1925-1942)

Third Generation ……………………Idealist/Prophet (Boom Generation born 1943-1960)

Fourth Generation …………………Reactive/Nomad (Generation X born 1961-1981)

Here ends one “Turning” of the four generation cycle.

First Generation ……………………Civic/Hero (Millennials born 1982-2002)

Stages of life in one generation, as per generation theory:

Stage One of life: Youth (birth to 21) ……………..Prime Focus: Dependence

Stage Two of life: Rising Adulthood (22-44) ……Prime Focus: Activity

Stage Three of life: Midlife (45-66) ……………..Prime Focus: Leadership

Stage Four of life: Elderhood (66 + ……………..Prime Focus: Stewardship

The first table also reflects the order of a “turning” suggested by Strauss and Howe.[3]

Two cyclical “peaks” of a particular stretch of societal ethos take on and broadly characterize two of the four generation types, those peaks occurring during the Civic and the Idealist generations. Whenever the cycle returns to a Civic generation, (the current rising Civic generation here self-labeled[4] as “Millennials;” born 1983-2002), their generation’s characteristics shape around half a century’s worth of what the whole of the United States culture looks like, as well as influencing emergent societal behavior of the second half of each century. For the remainder of this essay, generation designations will follow the work of Carl G. Eeman’s particular adoption of Straus and Howe’s theory within church leadership during the midlife stage: Civic, Adaptive, Idealist, and Nomad; and the more recent work of Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais identifying Millennial characteristics in general as they are unfolding. Winograd and Hais use the terms Civic, Adaptive, Idealist, and Reactive (Nomad), [5] following the pattern culminating in a “fourth turning” crisis.[6] Some critique of this paper’s acceptance of Strauss and Howe’s generation theory as presented will be integrated at strategic points.

Focusing specifically on leadership characteristics exemplified by the two youngest “majority” (over 18 years of age) generations in the current four-cycle pattern will reveal the challenges and the opportunities ahead for the church, and specifically the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Pacific Northwest as it is experiencing the “Fourth Turning” in the current four generation pattern. These two generations are “Gen X’ers” (the current Nomad generation type) and “Millennials” (the current rising Civic generation type).[7]

Beginning with an overview of the wide spectrum of ages of people living today, each demographic seems to be drawn to or repelled by specific aspects of what church looks like and acts like when engaging the world. In addition to these differing world views about the church’s place in society, there comes with it an embedded difficulty understanding, communicating, and passing on one’s values about church and church involvement across certain generations, while such communication is easier between others. That difficulty is being played out in the current fourth turning shift between the previous two generations (Boomer and Silent) and the X’ers and Millennials. The result is a lack of generation X and Millennial adherents. How can church be the authentic body of Christ it is meant to be for all the diverse spectrum of people – all of whom are God’s people in the end?

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Pacific Northwest seems to have a corner on the market for one specific group; a group that lived out its life in leadership roles across the board. This group built and maintained civic life as it has been orchestrated for the past seventy years or more. A group that has brought their models of leadership, their understanding of how things are done, their structures of hierarchy, and their world view into the church and set forth to make the church mirror their experience in work and social life. Those seventy years comprise three generations of Americans, the last generation and a half of which are either already in their Elderhood (66+)[8] or just entering it, heading into retirement after completing active years of leadership in society (defined by the stage of life aged 45-66, called “Midlife”).[9]

These are the Silent Generation (Adaptive generation type – all retired) and the Boomers (Idealist generation type – almost all of whom are retired at this point or beginning their plans to retire “in a few years”).[10] Both are poised to pass on their leadership roles in secular circles and, at a slightly delayed time frame the church, to the next slate of leaders rising up in the cycle of generations. They are finding themselves facing an incredibly challenging situation: the next generations that ordinarily would be stepping into leadership roles and “receiving the baton,” to continue the metaphor, are missing in the church.


For the current Elders (Silent generation), even though in their peak leadership years they were good at adaptive solutions, at their current life stage, they are struggling with how to adapt to the vastly different culture and society that has evolved since their time in the lime light. This is a classic definition of an adaptive challenge.[11] Roughly 200 years ago (two cycles of four generations or roughly two-and-a-half human lifetimes ago – called saeculae[12]), we have the example illustrated by Tod Bolsinger of the Lewis and Clark expedition in Canoeing the Mountains.[13] Their place in their Turning was roughly the same location, with an important exception, as our current day Silent generation: they were an Adaptive generation type, however they did the adapting during their peak years of leadership, not as Elders in their society. They were able to employ adaptive solutions to the challenges they faced.

Their Elderhood was marked by the Civil War (a crisis which actually interrupted development of the following Civic generation and gave rise to a hybrid Civic-Adaptive group, the only anomaly in Strauss and Howe’s pattern).[14] For current times, the church is faced with an adaptive challenge as well. The Silent Generation and the Boomers are poised to pass off the baton of church leadership to a missing demographic.

Like most mainline protestant churches in the Pacific Northwest, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been very good at becoming inwardly focused. Once established, a congregation in the past became a true community of faith within the broader community. “In-group” members worship together, are spiritually formed together, learn from one another, are present for one another, support one another, lift up one another’s burdens, and celebrate together when things are going well. Within larger churches, there are even programs for supporting those who are not doing so well; the suffering, grieving, and those simply in a tight spot. All of these characteristics were implemented by the last Civic generation.

However, when they reach their their Elderhood, after setting in place all these positive and caring structures for each other and their children, Civic generations often times prefer to co-exist with only their own demographic; which today gives rise to the “snowbird” flight from northern climates to sunnier places during the course of the winter.[15] This tendency institutionalized itself into the current church. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has, as a generalization (so there are exceptions to the rule), become an “in-group” focused on community and maintenance of only one or two generations in the cycle.

What has proven to be consistently challenging for the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination in the Pacific Northwest, is to cast their vision outward – looking outside of the “in group” to the community members not represented within traditional membership; this is especially difficult when half the congregation disappears for three or four months out of the year (membership here is defined as those who join the church by officially placing themselves on membership roles and pledging to be committed to a specific local church both financially and in other acts of service and prayer). Not only is this a challenge looking “outward,” in contemporary times, this challenge includes reaching across the relational divide[16] between the generations.

At a recent PNW regional gathering of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations, during break out sessions the author facilitated a group on membership trends and demographics for the region’s churches, with an eye toward outreach happening for the target audience of Generations X and the Millennials, and to a lesser extent, the older edge of Generation “Z” (13 to 18 year-olds[17]-the next Adaptive generation).

There are 96 churches in the local presbytery (Presbytery of the Cascades). About 30-40 attendees from all across the state were in attendance at this particular break out session, representing about 20-30 churches. Only a handful of those present at the session included Generation X or younger. Two out of the twenty-some admitted to regular offerings for children or youth. One church confessed their “young adults group” was perhaps 50-60 years of age.  The question then becomes, what to do about this state of affairs and how might younger generations fit in?

Generational Characteristics

A closer look at Generation X and Millennial characteristics will assist with both recognizing these groups and, in conversation with current (traditional) church expressions, assist readers with understanding what makes these populations tick, thus also informing readers about what these groups tend to look for and get involved in.

Generation X (born 1961-1981)

Generation X, of the “Nomad” type identified by Strauss and Howe,[18] are currently entering into their midlife years (42-65).[19] This is significant because historically, once a Nomad generation adopts a faith perspective, they do finally embrace it whole-heartedly as society disintegrates around them in the fourth turning.[20] For the purposes of religious settings, they are, as described by Carl G. Eeman:[21]

  • Visually-oriented, so movement and colors in worship are appealing (read, not “mouth houses” –Martin Luther’s critique)
  • Interactive with freer worship styles (rote liturgies are often difficult because older generations “know” responses by heart – Gen X faith community upbringing was spotty, at best (due to Adaptive Silent parents who loved their freedom-and wanted off the hook from obligations of dragging kids to Sunday School). Candle light services are good, palm processionals are good if everyone participates
  • Sermons and “children’s moments” should be interactive and for everyone – for example, Gen Xers will enjoy turning to their neighbor and talking about a point mid-sermon. If the preacher invites feedback a few minutes later and incorporates their observations into the rest of the sermon, it can be particularly effective
  • Silence is suspect. To employ moments of silence in the service, there would have to be intentional education about kinds and modes of prayer conducive to it before an X’er will settle in for the experience willingly
  • A few times a year offer running commentary on the parts of service – why churches do what they do –so X’ers will understand the flow of worship (remember spotty attendance in youth)
  • Avoid religious language and alphabet soup – X’ers won’t understand it and check out
  • Skeptical of religion (again, no commitment during upbringing) to begin with, but converts will embrace it with zeal if they embrace it
  • Classes about the faith community’s core beliefs would be very helpful (as long as it’s interactive!). Other “real life” classes would have even more draw; classes that inform “non-church life” in real ways:
    • Premarital classes with input from married Gen X’er couples
    • Marriage enrichment classes for relationship building (many saw their own parents unhappy and divorced
    • Parenting classes – they will even make common cause with Boomers for the sake of their children: Nomads in general don’t want their children to go through what they went through. They will know what not to do…but will appreciate learning what to do instead
    • Financial organization (self-preservation is important)
    • Home repair and maintenance
    • Mom’s/Dad’s Day Out … working and saving hard, both parents get ready for their first home and child. When the child arrives, an increasing number of X’ers decide to go counter-culture and have one parent “stay home” if at all possible, and this often times increasingly is the Dad. Key to offering this is quality childcare. Children’s issues, needs, and safety are important

Secularly, the Nomad generations have habitually had multiple challenges hit them in the unraveling stages of generational Turning from IV back to I. Thus, they are:

  • Always on the alert for threat to their lives – self-protection comes first, then maybe introspection if they can fit it in – regardless, they develop skill sets in innovation to meet threats
  • Survival is big for them – historically, Nomad generations have had the least amount of economic resources to meet the society’s pressures at the time
  • Bartering has made a come back for this group, as they have numerous valuable skills but little discretionary income. In the same vein, stewardship and tithing is much more understandable when expanded beyond the wallet. Talent and Time are things they have and can offer. Treasure – not so much

Millennials (Born 1982-2003)

Millennials are now at the turning point that each eight-decade-long generational cycle needs. As they rise to prominence and majority by the 2020 election cycle, they will be poised to take over remaking the United States for the next eighty-year cycle. Winograd and Hais identify two points within the eighty-year cycle that heralds an “era;” that is, a period of about 40 years that is dominated by one of the two main “peaks” of generation characteristics. These two peaks in the recurring pattern have been at the Civic generation leadership years and Idealist generation leadership years.[22]

It cannot go unremarked that for each Civic era cycle of leadership, some catalyzing event has to happen that propels society into the era of Civic dominated rebuilding.[23] Previous Civic generations did so in the 1770s (after the Revolutionary War), 1860s (after the Civil War), and 1930s (after the Great Depression). For the Millennials, it remains to be seen what history will tell us it may be.[24],[25]

When Millennials rise to the challenge, it will be an adaptive challenge,[26] and the pattern predicts that adaptive solutions have always emerged in answer to the challenge. Historically, the emerging society produced intensely; rebuilding society and revitalizing that which had been left deferred during the Idealist era just preceding. But they didn’t do so with a clean ticket, and our current Millennial generation is also marked with a cloud imposed on them by older, jaded generations. Glenn Beck, noted media commentator personality, lambasted the Millennial generation as well as the Boomer generation in 2008 on his blog (he’s an early X’er).[27] Dr. Jean Twenge also holds the opinion that Millennials, whom she identifies as the offspring of both Boomers and X’ers, are: entitled, self-important, and ultimately indecisive.[28] Being late X’er/early Millenial herself,[29] she particularly criticizes the Boomer generation for the mess younger Millennials are now faced with fixing.

Adaptive leadership characteristics that will enable Millennials to rise to the current challenge of living into the historical pattern for Civic generations include the fact that Millennials are the first truly “native” generation to the digital age. Therefore, characteristics include:

  • Instant communication and digital networking
  • Ability to ride out the preceding volatility of Fourth Turning[30] change – termed by Winograd and Hais as FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – adopted from the business world)[31] that marks the beginning of every Fourth Turning
  • Riding out the FUD period, a new Civic generation provides the solutions based on their own beliefs and attitudes, whose majority and unity will provide the foundation for the following new civic ethos.[32] Millennials have already determined[33] what they want their years in leadership and their goals for society to look like:
    • Education Attainment (previous Civic Generation created the GI Bill)
    • Green Living, Working, Innovating
    • Wellness and Coverage
    • Entrepreneurship and Social Safety Trampoline (Equal access and Equal Opportunity)
    • America as a World Supporter (High global influence – but for the good of all, not the few)
    • Fiscal responsibility

For the purposes of this paper, what is missing from this list, of course, is any reference to the Millennial engagement with their choice of religious faith. Even the Roosevelt Institute report referenced above, “Blueprint for a Millennial America,” omits religious involvement – the closest mentioned value traditionally included in religious spheres is social justice, found in point VIII: The Millennial Vision for Social Justice and Democratic Participation.

Winograd and Hais identify for this generation, “Their fundamental beliefs about religion, marriage, and child rearing will play an important part in how Millennials shape America’s social institutions for at least the next half-century.”[34] Specific data about Millennial involvement in religion can be characterized by survey data on current beliefs.[35] How this plays out for the future of the church, or religious life, under the Millennial midlife years of leadership will most likely include these characteristics:[36]

  • Belief in God – but outside the box of traditional (older) generational consent
  • Bible is, at the least, a reflection of God’s word (at the most literal)
  • Spirituality is important, official membership in a religious body/institution is not important
  • More tolerant, less driven by cultural issues that divide (ex. Homosexuality)
  • More driven by a “live and let live” approach, rejecting orthodox and doctrinal beliefs
  • Multi-faith marriages will continue to rise
  • Adoption of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims to add to the current acceptance of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews as mainstream faiths


If, as this paper suggests, the lens of generation theory adequately informs current church leadership of the adaptive challenge facing them (and specifically the Presbyterian Church (USA) here in the Pacific Northwest, then adaptive solutions will need to be made. The adaptive challenge, as identified by this paper, is to bring Generations X, Y (Millennial), and Z into the church in ways that allow them to accept it as a spiritual home. It means church will need to look different, including a greater appreciation for pluralities, ecumenism, egalitarianism, interfaith dialog and even multi-faith family blending. All of these will need to be taken into account in spiritual formation.

As Millennials come of age and become the majority generation (by 2020 election time), a truly “great” opportunity will open up in front of all sectors of society as their creative minds come into play shaping and reshaping, crafting and re-crafting, perhaps even resurrecting a society ethos which will, as each Civic generation has done, possibly even make additional strides toward that ultimate reality for which we pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 NRSV).


Barna Group. “Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z.” Barna Group. Accessed January 25, 2018.

Beck, Glenn. “Trophy Kids.” Glenn Beck, n.d. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Bolsinger, Tod. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Kindle Edition. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2018.

Eeman, Carl G. Generations of Faith: A Congregational Atlas. Bethesda, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002.

Howe, Neil, and William Strauss. Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. Rev. ed. New York: Quill, 1992.

Howe, Neil, and William Strauss. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. 3rd ed. New York: Vintage, 2000.

Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice, 7th Edition. 7 edition. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2015.

Pew. “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. February 24, 2010. Accessed April 24, 2018.

Price, Jim. “What Is the Crash Generation?” Roosevelt Institute. Last modified April 29, 2013. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Roosevelt Institute. “The Blueprint for the Millennial America.” Roosevelt Institute. Last modified October 21, 2015. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Roosevelt Institute. “The Millennial State of the Union.” Roosevelt Institute. Last modified February 1, 2011. Accessed April 23, 2018.

Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Rev. ed. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 8th ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Twenge, Jean. Generation Me – Revised and Updated: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Rev. ed. New York: Atria Books, 2014.

Winograd, Morley, and Michael D. Hais. Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011.



One question was asked in this essay that requires immediate consideration.

  1. How can church be the authentic body of Christ it is meant to be for all the diverse spectrum of people – all of whom are God’s people in the end – and how can it do so when the next generation of leaders is missing from the church?

That is really two questions, but one answer lies in the twining of the two. A revitalized (resurrected?) church can become the authentic body of Christ, with all the diverse spectrum of generations and their characteristics, if it can reflect the values and ethos of the current rising Civic generation. It is the opinion of the author that the church has mirrored the societal value structures in each of the two “peak” times in the four-turning pattern of generational shift. Thus, during the peak Civic years (second turnings) church growth, rising membership, and church planting has occurred. During the peak Idealist years (fourth turnings), church programing diminishes, membership shrinks, church plants close. More research is necessary to further explore this hypothesis.

If the author is correct, than to mirror another golden age of the mainline protestant denominations, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Pacific Northwest specifically, the church must adapt to the challenge of recreating itself after the values implicit in the rising Millennial ethos. Subsequent with the last Civic (GI Generation) generation’s rising to leadership across the spectrum of the culture of the United States of America, the last “peak” years of the mainline protestant church soon followed, resulting in the rapid expansion and church plant era of the 1950s.

The peak years of leadership for the current Civic generation (Millennials) will begin roughly around 2027; however as a generation demographic, they will already have a majority voice and vote in 2020 elections. This is a prophetic call to action to all Millennials: get out and vote! Make your voice heard loud and clear! Be prepared to give your life to implementing the vision set forth in the Roosevelt Institute “Blueprint for the Millennial America” and resurrection will indeed be a term historians can use in the distant future of USA generations yet unborn. The country needs you.

Consequently, so does the church. Your leadership ethos, whether you are aware of it or not, reflects some of the greatest attributes sought out by adherents to a “still more excellent way” (1Cor. 12:31 NRSV): you reflect God’s love. If you are ready to assume the challenge, then enter the doors of the church with your heart in hand, ready to enact and realize the virtues of your vision for life in community with God and neighbor, and remake the church to be the hands and feet of Christ, the body the Spirit needs to touch, teach, and transform people from the inside out, as well as transform society from its doldrums to the rising heights of another golden age. While some of the older generations may see it as your destiny, you don’t have to see it that way (indeed it might be hard to accept “destiny” as a real concept in the first place), but if you simply live out your values, choose to share your gifts, and implement love of neighbor in all that you do and across all sectors of society, you will naturally live into what others have been waiting for; and indeed, for some it cannot begin soon enough.

[1] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, Reprint edition. (New York: Quill, 1992)

[2] Carl G. Eeman, Generations of Faith: A Congregational Atlas (Bethesda, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002)

[3] William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Reprint edition. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

[4] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, 3rd Printing edition. (New York: Vintage, 2000)

[5] Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011)

[6] William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Reprint edition. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

[7] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, 3rd Printing edition. (New York: Vintage, 2000)

[8] Carl G. Eeman, Generations of Faith: A Congregational Atlas (Bethesda, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002)

[9] Ibid.

[10] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, Reprint edition. (New York: Quill, 1992)

[11] Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice, 7th Edition, 7 edition. (Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2015)

[12] William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Reprint edition. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

[13] Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, Kindle ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2018)

[14] William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Reprint edition. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

[15] Carl G. Eeman, Generations of Faith: A Congregational Atlas (Bethesda, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002)

[16] It is the opinion of the author that this is a technologically-driven divide, but that is outside the current scope of this paper.

[17] “Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z,” Barna Group, accessed January 25, 2018,

[18] Neil Howe and William Strauss, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, Reprint edition. (New York: Quill, 1992)

[19] Carl G. Eeman, Generations of Faith: A Congregational Atlas (Bethesda, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002)

[20] ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011)

[23] William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Reprint edition. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

[24] Namely the 2008 “Great Recession” followed by the surprise “win” of the Trump Administration in the 2016 election year and subsequent troubling trajectory the United States of America has begun to follow. In the absence of a major world war or civil clash this seems the most likely prerequisite crisis for the current Civic generation (unless said election catapults Western Civilization into its next catastrophic world or civil event). See next footnote.

[25] Tim Price, “What Is the Crash Generation?,” Roosevelt Institute, last modified April 29, 2013, accessed April 23, 2018,

[26] Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice, 7th Edition, 7 edition. (Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2015)

[27] Glenn Beck, “Trophy Kids,” Glenn Beck, n.d., accessed April 23, 2018,

[28] Jean Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before, Rev. ed. (New York: Atria Books, 2014)

[29] There is building research suggesting a “Xennial” micro generation between Xers and Millennials; which the author suspects Dr. Twenge is a member of as she began writing Generation Me at 32 years of age, published at 34, concluding the revised edition in 2014 ten years later)

[30] William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Reprint edition. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997)

[31] Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011)

[32] “The Millennial State of the Union,” Roosevelt Institute, last modified February 1, 2011, accessed April 23, 2018,

[33] “The Blueprint for the Millennial America,” Roosevelt Institute, last modified October 21, 2015, accessed April 23, 2018,

[34] Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011) 193.

[35] Becka A. Alper, “Millennials Are Less Religious than Older Americans, but Just as Spiritual,” Pew Research Center, November 23, 2015, accessed April 24, 2018,

[36] Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America (New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2011) 205-208.