4 things living in a multigenerational community has taught us

July 25, 2018

It was 2001, and our friends and family probably thought we were crazy. We were newlyweds, only 16 months into our marriage, and we bought a house—with my parents. We installed a kitchen downstairs and were fully autonomous, but I still cringed with worry that people would think we couldn’t grow up and live like adults.  

It was a synergistic move because we were able to combine incomes and buy a home in a more expensive area that was closer to church and work. Yes, we were doing something highly unusual in our area; we were choosing to live in a multigenerational community with my parents.   

We had our share of discussions about social and emotional boundaries, and thanks to my husband’s ninja spreadsheet skills, we had the financial guidelines in place. But it wasn’t until our first child was born five years later that we realized how much we needed this kind of community. Entering motherhood was a messy, gnarly experience for me. My parents were right there, available if we needed them, yet not butting in while we figured things out. They delighted in our son as only grandparents can. The spontaneous date nights were amazing. We felt like geniuses of the first order!

The richness of a multigenerational community

We live in a culture that has largely lost its sense of a multigenerational community. The old sit secluded in their nursing homes while young moms sit isolated at home with their babies. Despite the flare of social media, our brains are not getting the interaction they need for real joy and fellowship. Our churches even have divided services to serve preferences for music and styling. However, a total lack of integration between the generations does, indeed, cost us something.  

Here are several things this rich experience taught us about a multigenerational community:

  1. It strengthens our sense of identity. It reminds us of who we are and where we came from. In many cultures, being an elder is a position of great esteem. They hold the stories from generations before and have the skills to teach the younger. In his collaborative book, Joy Starts Here, Jim Wilder states it this way, “Children have the most energy; adults have the most power; and the elderly have the most time.” We need all three to build our communities, churches, and fellowships.  
  2. It strengthens the brains of our children. We experienced this acutely in our son with autism. Scientific research is shedding light on the importance of bonding in the first years of life. Research shows that a child’s brain “lights up” when someone is glad to be with them. Joy grows the brain! This “joy strength” sets a baseline for life and enables a person to do hard things, regulate their emotions, and move forward in maturity. For more information on this topic, see Wilder’s book Joy Starts Here.
  3. It strengthens our marriages. One doctor I spoke with said that the modern mother isn’t prepared emotionally or socially for motherhood. What important job doesn’t require an internship or training? Yet without multigenerational interaction, how will a young couple learn how to communicate, or a mother and father ever be prepared for the daunting task of parenthood?  
  4. It provides greater context for the stages of life. Our sons lived out their daily lives while their grandfather (who was also their pastor) died of cancer in their basement. Though it was difficult to expose them to hospice and death, it was an essential part of their grandfather’s testimony. They watched him suffer well and trust the Lord through every step. This experience gave them greater resiliency, depth, and faith.

How you can implement a multigenerational community

So, how can you begin to implement a multigenerational community in your church and family? Her are a few suggestions:

  1. No matter your age, delight in the youth of your church or family. They need you! Give teens important things to do. Adolescence, as a group, only began around the Industrial Revolution, when there was a season of life after childhood but before adulthood. It’s important that we give them opportunities to channel their energy and passions for the Lord.  
  2. Don’t google every question in life. We deprive the elderly of a purpose each time we ask Siri. Asking an elder provides the context for relational interaction. Also, take your kids to visit the elderly, and allow them to build joy together. Mine the treasure of their life experiences.  
  3. Invite those from your church who are in a different age group over for a simple dinner. Enjoy each other’s company. If they are believers, you already have the greatest and most important thing in common. This interaction between generations benefits everyone. If you are a parent of young children, it will model to them that you value the elderly, and that will pay off when you are the grandparent. If you are an elder, it gives younger generations the opportunity to learn and grow from your experiences.

Seventeen years into our living situation, I can see God’s kindness and provision. I wouldn’t have chosen for my son to struggle with autism or for my dad to suffer and die at the age of 69, but because of God’s sovereign plan, the widow has a home with laughter and purpose. The overwhelmed mother has support. The worn out parents have the space to breathe and remember why they love each other. And the children have growing brains and spirits, knowing they are delighted in by multiple generations.

In John 17, Jesus prays for believers. His prayer is that they may be one so that the world will know that God sent him. Our unity as believers has a major effect on how people see Jesus. Our chesed (loosely translated from hebrew as “sticky love”) matters. We live in unprecedented times where the chasm between generations can seem insurmountable. May Christ be our all so that the greatest connections we experience are with those who also share his mind and heart, not necessarily our age bracket.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24