FirstLife Blog

An Intergenerational Church

Posted by Jim Decker on with 1 Comments


I first walked into the sanctuary of First Baptist Knoxville in the fall of 1976. I had just moved to Knoxville to complete an Administrative Residency at Fort Sanders Presbyterian Hospital (as it was known then), as a requirement for my master's degree in healthcare administration. In many respects, however, I was just going through the motions. Thinking that my time in Knoxville would only be for one year, I wasn't very interested in establishing roots in the community, and that included affiliating with a church congregation. Now, some 42 years later, I find myself not only an engaged member of the Knoxville community, but I also consider First Baptist Knoxville to be my church family.

Granted, my tenure at First Baptist hasn't been continuous over those 42 years. I moved from Knoxville to middle Tennessee in the mid-1980's, only to return 17 years later. But piecing together the years before and after that time away, I have now been a member of First Baptist going on 25 years. I've seen First Baptist from multiple points of view and have participated in or witnessed a variety of First Baptist programs and activities at various stages of my life. As such, I feel that I have first-hand knowledge of the "Inter-
Generational" opportunities that First Baptist has to offer.

During that first year in Knoxville, my church attendance was, at best, sporadic. I wasn't exactly sure where I belonged. Since I was technically a graduate student, I would occasionally visit the College Sunday School Department. I made a few friends, but because I was working full time in a hospital, and spending virtually no time on campus, I had a difficult time developing close relationships. Nevertheless, I was impressed by the vibrancy and energy of that group.

Things really began to change for me in the summer of 1977. As my one-year Administrative Residency was coming to an end, I was pleasantly surprised by a job offer from Fort Sanders to remain full-time on the administrative staff. When I accepted the job offer, I also made the conscious decision to become more active and involved in the life of First Baptist. This involvement came in the form of the newly-formed First Baptist Singles Department. Not only did I find a group of Christian friends with common faith, values, and beliefs, I also found a whole new world of social opportunities. I still have fond memories of those competitive basketball and volleyball games in Trentham Hall, as well as camping trips, mountain hikes, and fun days on the lake. Several within that group still currently serve in leadership roles at First Baptist.

My involvement in the Singles Department then led to new opportunities of service in other needed areas of the church. Sometime around 1980, I was asked if I would consider teaching a Sunday School class in the Youth Department. The suggestion was that I "team teach" with a female teacher in a class made up of 10th-grade boys and girls. Wanting to be of service, but unsure of my qualifications, I reluctantly accepted the assignment. While challenging, this experience gave me a better appreciation for the preparation necessary to teach a Sunday School class, and taught me the true meaning of the phrase "actions speak louder than words." I found myself in the position of a role model for a group of teenagers. To this day, I still can't say that I lived up to those expectations.

Although my Sundays for the next few years were spent teaching in the Youth Department, I continued to socialize with my friends in the Singles Department in order to maintain those important peer relationships. And it was during this period of time that my future wife came into the picture, which led to even more significant changes.

Michelle Pickens had grown up in the church and her family had been members of First Baptist her entire life. She and her siblings were involved in various programs of First Baptist from cradle roll, through kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and high school. Her father was a loyal and faithful member of a Men's Sunday School Class until his death a few years ago. Her mother has also been a dedicated member of a Sunday School Class as well as a member of the Golden Notes. The irony of how Michelle and I met, and the interesting connections that led to our meeting, are too intertwined to explain here. But, suffice it to say, First Baptist played an important role in the development of our relationship.

We were married by Reverend Bob Money in the sanctuary of First Baptist Knoxville on August 27¸1983. We immediately joined the Young Married Sunday School Class, also taught by Bob Money. Our tenure with the Young Married Class was short-lived, however. Nine months later, we moved to middle Tennessee when I was presented with a career opportunity as CEO of a community hospital just outside of Nashville. We left Knoxville with mixed emotions but were excited about my job opportunity and Michelle's new career as NICU Nurse.

In 2001, we returned to Knoxville when I accepted a position with the Baptist Health System of East Tennessee. After being away for 17 years, it was apparent that much had changed, but some things remained the same. One area of consistency was the vibrant ministry of First Baptist Knoxville. For Michelle and I, however, the biggest change centered around our family. While in middle Tennessee, we had celebrated the births of our three children and had seen them begin to grow and develop. It was important for us to find a church home which provided activities and programs for our children, in addition to our needs as adults. When we returned to Knoxville, our children were ages 10, 13, and 15... one each in elementary, middle, and high school. Fortunately, our expectations were met at First Baptist, and within a few months, our kids were actively involved at all three levels.

Michelle and I found a couples Sunday School class which made us feel welcome almost immediately. Certainly, we re-kindled friendships from our previous years in Knoxville, but we also expanded our circle of friends by meeting new people and developing new relationships. In some ways, joining First Baptist the "second time around" helped to make our move back to Knoxville feel somewhat like a homecoming.

After being back for a few years and becoming more involved in church activities, a bit of "deja-vu" came into play. Much like the opportunity that was presented to me years before to teach in the Youth Department, I was asked if I would consider teaching a 10th grade Sunday School class. At the time, our youngest daughter was still in high school, the other two having graduated and moved on to college. Much like years before, I was somewhat hesitant, but ultimately agreed to teach the class. This time, however, my "team teaching partner" was my wife, Michelle. For the next few years, we taught in the Youth Department, but this time it had a different feel to it than before. I suppose the fact that I was several years older and myself a parent, coupled with the fact that times had changed and youths' interests had changed, posed particular challenges. We probably learned more from that experience than did the youth who were in our class.

Mid-life has a way of putting things in perspective. After four years of teaching in the Youth Department, Michelle and I decided it was time to go back into a traditional couples class. Ironically, there were several other couples in our same age group who had come to the same conclusion. Out of this common bond, and with the encouragement and persistence of several interested parties, the Midway Sunday School Class was born. This class is comprised of individuals who have reached the "midway" point of their lives and share a number of common challenges. A significant number of our class members have been, and continue to be of service to the church in numerous capacities such as teachers, deacons, council and committee members, choir members, and leaders of various programs and activities. We have a faithful and active class, and in some ways, serve as an important "Inter-Generational" bridge among multiple age groups.

As stated earlier, my involvement at First Baptist has afforded me multiple opportunities to experience various church programs and activities from different generational perspectives. I have been fortunate to serve as a First Baptist Deacon for over ten years, and two of those years as Vice-Chairman. I have been Chairman of the Finance Committee and Chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee, and was recently asked to serve as a member of the Interim Pastor Search Committee. I see these as opportunities to be of service to our church, irrespective of generational delineation. In fact, such opportunities further help to illustrate the fact that First Baptist Knoxville is truly an "Inter-Generational Church."


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Wanda Edmondson Sep 5, 2018 3:10pm

Excellent article. Have watched Jim and Michelle through the years and love the Deckers. Our son was one of those guys Jim taught and mentored. Thanks.


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