Sequoia Farming

Giant Sequoia trees, CaliforniaA little over five years ago I accepted a staff position at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego with the title Pastor to Generations. I was not a member of CABC at the time, but I knew of it. It was one of Southern California’s original megachurches. Sadly it went through some tough times and there was quite a bit of turmoil, division, staff turnover and a huge decline in numbers. Once a church of more than 4000 attendees on a given Sunday, it was down to about 600 or so when I joined the staff.

CABC never had a Pastor to Generations before. We invented the title and to this day, most people have no idea what I do. I explain my job by saying that I help promote and facilitate intergenerational discipleship—that is, I try to help older generations pass their faith on to younger generations. This is a key part of our senior pastor’s vision to unify the church, strengthen families and make more and better disciples. I spend most of my time coming up with and implementing programs to encourage and train parents and bring the generations together.

This has not been an easy job. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. And after five years, I wish I had a little more results to show for it. I wish I could report that CABC has become one big happy family and that all the older people love the young people and vice versa. I wish I could report that the majority of parents are making disciples of their kids. I wish I could report that the declining numbers have stopped. I can’t report any of those things. Despite our best efforts, progress has been extremely slow and at times seems to be stuck in reverse. Too many people still don’t get it and others just don’t want it. Discouragement pops up like wildfires. I’m coming to realize that results in generational ministry are no less elusive than they were when I was in youth ministry. I always said that youth ministry is a lot like Sequoia farming and apparently the same is true in generational ministry. I have a feeling that it’s going to take a lot longer than five years to see the vision for intergenerational discipleship truly take hold and produce health and growth at CABC.

But wait a minute. Some good things have happened over the past five years. When I compare where we were then with where we are today, I do see something that looks like results—maybe even something that looks like success! I see parents and kids worshipping together in the same space at the same time every Sunday. I see people of all ages coming out for our weekly beach nights at La Jolla Shores. I see a number of families, young and old people serving together in Mexico on a mission trip. I see almost half our church showing up for an intergenerational retreat focused on community-building. I see dozens of parents attending a 12-week Spiritual Parenting class (the video series featuring Michelle Anthony). I see our church adopting a new children’s and youth ministry curriculum called tru (Cook Publishing) which practically requires parent involvement. These things could not be seen five years ago.

So I feel better now. These are baby steps, to be sure, but they are signs of life. They may not produce the kind of results that satisfy the bean counters and naysayers, but they are all good things and have moved us a little closer to becoming the church that God wants us to be. As someone smarter than me once said, “We aren’t called to be successful, just faithful.” I am trusting God that his call upon my life will produce good fruit in his time if not mine.

How do you think results should be measured in generational ministry?

(This article was first published in NxtGenJournal.)

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