Intergenerational Faith Formation

I never imagined a movie could have a tremendous impact on intergenerational faith formation in my church. Then we went to see Marvel’s Black Panther together.

Perhaps you are not well versed (or interested) in the newest Marvel Comic Universe craze taking audiences by storm throughout the Diaspora. But if you have any interest in intergenerational faith formation, keep reading.

Most congregations are multigenerational by membership. Some are intentionally intergenerational. They make their intergenerational character a defining feature of their community life, ministries, and faith formation. These churches make it a priority to foster intergenerational relationships, faith sharing, and storytelling. The incorporate all generations in worship. They develop service projects that involve all ages. And they engage all generations in learning together. For these churches, being intergenerational is a way of life. It is an integral element of their culture. It is who they are!

Black Religious Life and Intergenerational worship

In their seminal text on Black religious life, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya remind us that “one the most important functions that black churches performed for young people was to provide a place where they could meet older adults, men and women, who could serve as role models for them.” At its core, the essence of Black Church, has always been intergenerational.

“Big mama and ‘em” arrive early to the church house, with excitement, love and anticipation, to cook breakfast for families before Sunday School. Then “Old Brother Mister” strums out a soulful gospel tune on the guitar, while “little Johnny” who may have just barely made it out of the nightclub in time for Sunday morning service beats the drums in a syncopated beat that carries the service “into the holies of holies.” Black Church worship has always been intergenerational.

The intergenerational experience that is common to Black religious life makes Black Panther an invaluable resource for faith formation in the twenty-first century. In cinematographic form, the cast of Black Panther accessibly invites viewers into an alternate universe, filled with phantasmagoric images and ideals called Wakanda, which is a healthy example of intergeneration faith community.

Wakanda as a Faith Community

In Wakanda, both the active presence and articulate counsel of elders are imperative to communal flourishing. Queen Mother and Zuri are valued elders who are depicted as bearers and sharers of faith stories that everyone welcomes. Their generation holds truths- personal, practical, and poignant truths- that are critical to the future of Wakanda. Yet the everyday work of Wakanda is led by youth and young adults, who have been raised within the tribal/communal families that make up Wakanda.

Young Shuri is literally the brains behind all technological insights that keep Wakanda running. In Wakanda, youth are embraced for their quirkiness and naivete. They don’t gloss over traditional beliefs about life and death; faith, memory, story and ancestry (and, if we’re honest a lot of patriarchy) are all important to the Wakandan legacy. When external influences challenge this legacy, the future of Wakanda hangs in the balance. It is up to a mighty trinity, led by a young king and two distinctively different and very wise young women who use their gifts, talents and expertise for the sake of their community.

Intergenerational Faith Formation relies on contexts of time with perspectives of hope.

Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way, “no life can be understood from its own standpoint alone. As long as it lives, it exists in living relationships to other lives, and therefore in contexts of time and with perspectives of hope.” 3 Perhaps the success of Black Panther, much like the flourishing of a healthy intergenerational church, occurs when we consider the expansive possibilities in places that honor “contexts of time” and “perspectives of hope” from varying standpoints.

So when I took members of my own congregation to see this movie on opening night, I had no idea that how compelling these themes would be. Organically, this movie avails itself as a fuel for sparking congregational conversations that span the generations. I see children contemplating their own identity in comparison to the onscreen characters. One of our older adults declared, “this movie has been life changing for me.”

These expressions of excitement and openness are ripe with possibility for delving into questions of faith and considerations of the Divine! Isn’t this what we hope to experience as we sojourn with one another in this beautiful journey we call Christian experience?

Not sure how to use Black Panther (or movies in general) in your intergenerational faith formation?

Consider the following ideas:

First, encourage families to watch movies together and talk about faith related themes that emerge.

Next, Do you have young people who are excited about technology? Do you have older members who are relatively clueless, but interested in the newest gadget? Consider hosting a lunch and learn with a technology emphasis where youth demonstrate how to navigate a smart phone? Social media app?

Finally, Learn more about Vibrant Faith resources to encourage intergenerational faith formation.

Author: Reverend Shonda Nicole Gladden


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on skype

Planning Center

As ministry leaders, we face a unique challenge—the repetition of programming. It doesn’t matter how inspiring and powerful your worship

The Jesus Net

Earlier this week I met with a friend who’s recently moved into the lead pastor role at his church, after