I was called to serve as the pastor of a small, South Carolina Baptist church when I was 23 years old. There were 12 people in attendance on my first Sunday there. We were an aging church in a shrinking community with diminishing finances and several years of zero baptisms. If something didn’t change, if there wasn’t an infusion of youth, we were a generation away from extinction.
We dedicated ourselves to reaching future generations. Soon there were children everywhere. They were noisy, rambunctious, and sometimes dirty. We were teaching children, feeding children, and we even filled the choir with children. Vacation Bible School became the highlight of our year. Before long we were baptizing again, and the church appeared to have the hope of a bright future.
It was about this time that one of my older members confessed, “Pastor, we really don’t want this. We say we want to grow and reach the next generation, but the truth is they’re noisy, dirty and disruptive. Too many things are changing. We just want to go back to the way things were.”
I’m afraid we often feel the same way. We’re all for engaging future generations as long as it doesn’t make us uncomfortable along the way. Equipping and calling out future generations is tough work. It can make us uncomfortable because it means change, and sometimes it is noisier and dirtier than my preferences demand.
However, if we are going to overcome the obstacles associated with an aging denomination, shrinking cultural impact, years of diminishing CP receipts and declining baptisms, we must be serious about inspiring and equipping the next generation of leaders. The late Warren Wiersbe said, “The church is one generation away from extinction.” But there’s a little more to it than it that ….
We have to start letting the next generations lead.
I’m often reminded of David’s encounter with Goliath. Remember that the army of Israel was at a standstill, terrified by the threats of the giant. David showed up to bring his brothers a care package and determined that he’d face the giant in battle even if no one else would.
Immediately, older soldiers started trying to talk him into changing his mind. When they couldn’t change his mind, they tried to force him into Saul’s armor and David couldn’t even move. If he had been forced to go into battle wearing Saul’s armor, he would have certainly been defeated. All he needed was an unwavering faith in God’s Word and the presence and power of God’s anointing in the battle.
As we engage future generations in our common calling, we can’t force them into Saul’s armor, or my armor, or anyone else’s armor. God has given these next generation leaders everything they need to fight the battles that lie before them, and demanding that they constrain themselves to my preferences will hinder, not help. They need us to model an unwavering faith in God’s Word, and they need for us to help build that same faith into their lives through personal discipleship. And they need us to pray for the presence and power of God’s anointing in their lives.
Will you join me in engaging future generations of leaders to join us in the task of taking the good news of Jesus to every life, beginning in South Carolina and extending to the nations?