The Divide Between the Kid and Adult Tables

The Divide between the kid and adult tables

Daniel Greenhouse Kim     |     JULY 16, 2019     |    4 MIN READ

Imagine you are a teenager. It’s Thanksgiving Day at your grandparents’ house (it’s always at your grandparents’ house). Although your family is quite large, there aren’t any kids your age because your parents are a lot older than your aunts and uncles.

So you semi-play with your younger cousins, watch TV, or check your phone. Thank God you have that phone, but you do wish you could be somewhere else. You can’t wait to get your license and car, but you know your parents would force you to stay, even if you did have a means of escape.

Dinner is served. Everyone stands around the table, and after your grandfather gives a prayer of thanksgiving, your younger cousins run off to sit at the kids’ table. You look at your mom and she says, “Go and sit with your cousins. I’ll bring you a plate.” You pause for a second, but then you nod and half heartedly head towards the kids’ table.

Fast forward five years. It’s Thanksgiving Day again, and your back at your grandparents’ house. It’s good to be back home because the food at your dorm cafeteria sucks. But more than that, this is your first time back home after leaving for an out-of-state college.

Dinner is served. But this time, your mom motions towards the adults’ table and says, “Hey come sit with us.” You hesitate, but quickly realize that you’d probably be more out of place with your younger cousins.

After grabbing a plate, you sit down with the other adults, but things couldn’t be more awkward. You realize you’ve never actually held a meaningful conversation with any of your aunts or uncles. In the past, they would make small talk with you, but it would mostly be about school. Actually, it was always about school. Throughout the meal you can’t help but feel that you don’t belong, and you wish you could be back at the kids’ table.

In the years to come, Thanksgiving Day at your grandparents’ house has turned into a day that you dread. You still go, but it’s only out of respect for your parents. But hey, at least the food is good.

This scenario parallels a precarious situation that many churches face. Adults view adolescents like little children, seating them at the youth ministry table, but then expect the teenagers to join and assimilate once they graduate from high school. But the reality for many high school graduates is an adult congregation that is completely foreign from what they experienced in youth ministry.

The problem lies in the fact that students inevitably feeling like they don’t belong. The local church that they attend is not their church. It’s their parents’ church. There is no bridge to help them cross that gap nor do they have opportunities to be active participants in shaping ministries at the church.

But this problem goes beyond organization of the local church itself. It’s also the adult congregation that fails to grasp the greater vision of the beauty of the body of Christ that is united under the headship of Jesus.

For those of us who confess to know the beauty and power of the body of Christ, we must become burdened by the biblical directive to raise the next generation to know the Lord.

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4)

The onus lies with us to proclaim Christ and share his goodness from generation to generation. And us does not just mean the youth group directors, pastors, or teachers. It means all of us.

For if we understand God to be our Father, then we must also see that these are his children. We must make the paradigm shift from thinking that we are only obliged to the kids in our home, to understanding that we are responsible for the next generation. They are all our kids.

Continuing with the aforementioned Thanksgiving scenario, some believe that the solution is to find an adult who could care for the child to help him or her adjust to sitting at the adults’ table. We could equate this to a youth worker, who acts like an aunt or uncle. This can be effective, and has been effective to a certain degree. However, the truth is that in a good, healthy family, children are known, accepted and embraced by all members of the household. How much more then, should we who are called to the family of God, know and care for one another?

Both the youth and adult ministries need to build bridges between the two congregations. This can be in hosting more cross-generational events, having cross-ministry worship services, mentorship, and more.

The church’s tasks are to share the responsibility of raising the next generation to know the Lord and to bring different people and generations together as the body of Christ. Let us strive for this so that we can finally all gather around the banquet feast of Christ -- the one table that we will be seated around.

Daniel Greenhouse Kim is husband to Julia, and father to Emma and Kate. He is currently serving as the education pastor for the youth ministry at Bethel Church in Irvine, CA. His passion is to serve the youth, and strives to build them up in Christ during their most formative years. His hope is that the church will share the burden to serve our youth, and prays that we may come together as one family to disciple them. He studied economics at UC Berkeley, earned his M.Div. from Gateway Seminary, and is finishing up a M.A. in pastoral care and counseling from Talbot School of Theology.