I’m 37 years old, and I’m a new pastor.
Our congregation has a lot of senior saints who’ve been faithful to Christ and our church for decades. I want to maximize their wisdom, honor their legacy, and build on the foundation of all who’ve gone before me. But I also want our church to grow, change, mature, reach our community, and never become the wrong kind of statistic. How do we find this balance together?
At the outset of 2018, I addressed a group of senior adults in our congregation because I wanted them to know how important they are to the life and ministry of our church. Here’s what I told them.
It’s a new year: 2018. Things change fast, don’t they?
Some of you have already put the wrong year on a check or a note or a signature. You wrote “2017,” and as you finished the “7” you mentally kicked yourself and then had to figure out how to turn a “7” into an “8.”
2017 was only with us for a year, but even a year is enough time to settle down and get comfortable. Even a year is enough time to make it hard to change. Even a change we experience every single year—like a change of the calendar—can take time to process.
Old habits die hard—for all of us.
I want to speak with you about change. Not a specific change, but the idea of change. My message to you is simple: I want this group to be on the leading edge of change and growth and a new day in this church.
Far too often, I hear this familiar story about church leaders: they love their church; they love God’s people; they want God to use them. But God’s calling all those members to change. God’s calling them to recognize the dawn of a new day. God’s calling them to jump on God’s train, which is always moving, instead of hanging out in the station of their own comfortable subculture.
Maybe their neighborhood has changed. Maybe their culture has morphed. Maybe some ministries have grown stale. Maybe there are fresh opportunities and horizons that didn’t exist before. And now God wants them to take his eternal truth to new people, which sometimes requires changing.
What happens in these stories? Too often I hear that these church leaders view older saints as walls standing in the way of growth, or at best speed bumps to be tolerated as the younger generation moves toward some fresh vision they believe God has for the church.
I don’t know all the details of these other situations. But I want you to know something about our situation: That’s not how I view you. Not at all. I don’t view you all as a bunch of senior citizens in the caboose of our church, hanging onto the e-brake with all your might. You’re not a wall, or a speed bump, or a backseat driver.
I’ve seen your character. I’ve seen your kindness. I’ve seen your hospitality. I’ve seen your generosity. I’ve seen your love for God’s Word. I’ve seen your love for missions, and I’ve seen your willingness to move to a new location and build a new building 10 years ago, all in hopes that God would use you to touch more people’s lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So I don’t want you in the caboose. I want you up in the engine room, loading the coal of your wisdom and experience and knowledge and passion into the fire of what the Holy Spirit is doing here in 2018 and beyond.
I know it won’t always be easy. We’ll have to get to know each other. There will be things you want to keep that I want to change, and things I want to keep that you want to change. We’ll have to learn each other, and love each other, and always listen well.
But here’s what I know: God is opening a new chapter in our church, and I can’t wait to see all the growth and challenges and changes in store for us. Because I know that his gospel is always built on things that never change: God. Christ. The Spirit. The cross. The truth of God’s Word. Our mission in the world. So even in this new day, amid all that’s changing, we’re still going to enjoy the best of this place God’s been leading for so long.
Since 1933, your pastors have faithfully taught God’s Word. Decade after decade, this church has dedicated herself to sending and supporting missionaries around the world. For almost a century, this church has stood in this city, through all its booms and busts, all its growing pains, all its unimaginable expansion.
And now here we are, in the first paragraphs of a new chapter, remembering the beauty of pages past while looking into the mystery of our future story together.
We have a tremendous legacy. Yet my prayer for our church is that we might view this legacy not as a cozy fireplace to huddle around but a flaming torch to take into the darkness all around us. My prayer is that we might grow together, and serve together, and watch God change us together. And my prayer is that you’ll be on the cutting edge, not the trailing edge, of all that God does here. Because gray hair belongs on the front lines.