While church growth and big churches have been heavily promoted in recent years, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many churchgoers felt lonely and isolated. They couldn’t name a single person from their congregation with whom they had an intimate relationship. Real community was and still is lacking.
Things were different growing up in my Black church. Multiple generations of entire families shared the pews. My maternal grandmother, who passed this past summer at age 95, was the “mother” of the church—the same church where she was baptized, where she remained in service for all her days and where she sang with her siblings, her children and their children. That was a strong community. That kind of legacy is rich and rare today in a society that is far more mobile and thus more disconnected. I’m not suggesting we have to stay in every relationship or church situation, but we need to value the old way of committing to stay.
While we all work, serve and minister in different ways, the longer we do this important kingdom work, the more we realize that some of the teachings and practices of old are still applicable now and will be in the future. Acclaimed poet Maya Angelou once said, “When you learn, teach.” If we have unlearned or devalued the ways of old, then we cannot teach them to the next generation. And if they don’t learn these ways, they will not reap the benefits or pass them on.
What are some of these old ways? The sacred practices of relationship building; hospitality; loving and helping neighbors, especially when times are hard; committing to a place and a people; and passing on the wisdom of the elders to the next generation. I believe that our young people need these practices now more than ever.
This year my nonprofit, Leadership LINKS, Inc., is celebrating its seventh anniversary. We are not just a ministry, but also an intergenerational community. Together, we have chosen to reflect on God’s word to Moses as he was about to transition, and as Joshua prepared to succeed him in leadership. “Moses commanded [the elders of Israel]: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festivals of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess’” (Deut. 31:10–13).
These instructions, celebrations and teachings were passed down in community from generation to generation, so no one would forget the Lord or his ways.
I love innovation; it is one of the purposes of our nonprofit work. And yet, as innovators, we must become a people who do not forget the old ways.
Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is the visionary founder of Leadership LINKS, Inc. and the author of A Sojourner’s Truth and Mentor for Life.