A new patient reminded of something important this week. As we talked I learned that this vibrant 67 year old had a passion for his faith and used to be actively involved in the leadership of his church, the largest congregation in town. I was sad to learn that he had not chosen to step away from leadership but had instead been cast aside by a youth movement. The church had hired a new senior pastor in his thirties and over a period of three years he had replaced the senior leaders with younger leaders of his liking. It reminded me of an error of my youth and the tendency of that error to be repeated.
When I was in high school I was a part of a small but active youth group in a small church in Southern California. At that time there were two things about which my fellow youth groupers and I were certain. 1- We were “on fire” for the Lord, and 2- The older people in our church weren’t. Looking back I cannot put a finger on what the basis was for our certainty. We tended to focus on music preferences, worship styles (we raised our hands and closed our eyes when we sang and they didn't) and clothing. I think a more likely explanation was that we had a new young pastor who wanted to make changes and who felt the “old people” were in the way.
As with so many things, time revealed who was on fire and who was not. The pastor left within a few years and the youth pastor was soon gone as well. What happened to our “on fire” youth group? I do not know what became of all of them but I do not know of any who are still actively involved in an evangelistic church today. Maybe those old people were wiser than we thought.
There is a tendency in our culture for younger generations to dismiss and discount the wisdom and experience of previous generations. As with so many other cultural tendencies this attitude has infected the church. We keep seeking new and younger pastors and leaders with “fresh vision” and “new approaches.” Typically this is associated with criticism and a degree of disdain toward the more mature members of our fellowships. When someone older expresses a question or a concern they are often dismissed as hanging on to the past or as being resistant to God’s work.
I go to a church filled with people who have served God for decades. I think of a woman in her seventies who continues to do prison ministry and lead men to Christ, of salesmen in their fifties who consistently pray for and share their faith with their clients, of a woman in her eighties who still goes on mission trips, and of a woman in her sixties who on her own organized an outreach to the homeless in our community. The Church as a whole has sent (and continues to send) missionaries by the score around the world. We have trained leaders over the years that have gone on to impact the world in remarkable ways.
In spite of this rich history, in spite of the presence of so many who do so much for the Kingdom of God with passion and vigor, there are some who would consider a church like mine to be in desperate need of renewal, a renewal that requires fresh vision and new approaches. That many church leaders of today feel this way is borne out in the online description I found for an upcoming pastor's conference-
“This event is an honest conversation about the joys and pitfalls of restoring historic churches. Many churches need to return to their missional and evangelistic roots of decades ago. Partner with pastors that are helping their churches make this much needed turn. The challenge is immense…”
For the people I listed above, it would come as quite a surprise to learn that they need to “return to their missional and evangelistic roots of decades ago.”
It seems that some current church leaders seem to share another trait with my youth group of years ago. We criticized the elder members of our church, but we did not know them. There was no regular interaction, no sharing of time or experience. They may have wanted to give counsel and advice but we did not want to hear it.
Instead of steadfastly pursuing the new, I wonder if a better approach might be for some of these young leaders to seek the advice and counsel of those who have been living missional and evangelistic lives for decades. They may find that instead of new programs and approaches what the church needs is mature leaders who can train others to do what they have been doing for years, mature leaders who are just waiting to be asked.
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