While sitting at my desk this morning, lightening struck. Obviously it didn’t literally strike my house but a thought flashed through my mind that was as sudden and startling as a bolt of lightening.
I am no longer young.
I am part of the older generation that can either support or oppose new ideas that come from the young people in my church.
A journey into my past
I have been reading a book by Gary Nelson, President of Tyndale University College and Seminary, entitled Borderland Churches. He describes a group of people that could have been me and the people I hung out with when I was a young adult excited about what God might do through us.
“Putting it succinctly, many people no longer feel that they need to either play the game or even treat the structures as sacred, foundational, and nonnegotiable. They are willing to take on and put off structures that others may feel are written in stone. This does not mean that people are not looking for structure. It means they have become utilitarian, believing that structures should work, being efficient and not cumbersome. (p. 106)
I was a child of the sixties. I wasn’t into drugs or free love like a lot of my contemporaries were but I was still a child of the sixties. I liked the Beatles. I grew my hair long enough for my parents to complain. I was involved in my church and was faithful in my attendance but I very much had the trait that characterized the sixties more than anything else. I was into rebellion. I challenged everything that my parents’ generation did and their reason for doing it.
The fact that something was part of tradition didn’t mean a thing to me. Tradition was there to be challenged. My favorite word during this period of my life was “Why?”. Why does church have to be done this way? Why can’t guitars be used in our services instead of organs? Why?. . . Why?. . . Why?
In my early twenties an older couple in their late thirties (they seemed older at the time) started a church up in their home. My wife and I jumped at the chance to be part of it. The great attraction that they offered was that it was going to be different from the churches we were attending at the time.
The music was different. The sense of family was different. The leadership structure was different. We were doing church the way that God meant for church to be done. Being part of that small church in its early days was one of the most enjoyable church experiences that we have ever had.
As I look back on that experience, the thing that bothers me more than anything else is that mixed in with this experience of doing things differently was a certain amount of spiritual pride, a pride that said that we were a little better than everyone else because we were the ones who had discovered the proper way to do church. We were a little more in tune with God than all those people who did things in the traditional way.
A challenge from church history
I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Ian Rennie when I was a student at Tyndale Seminary. I can remember sitting in his class, marveling at the amount of knowledge of the Canadian church scene that flowed out of his mouth. I wondered how anyone managed to acquire that much knowledge.
In conversation with Dr. Rennie one day he said something that I have never forgotten. He said that the history of the church down through the ages has been one of God doing amazing things through young people and then those young growing old thinking that the only way that God worked was the way he had worked through them.
I thought about that for a few days and then prayed a prayer asking God to keep me from having that happen to me. I vowed that I would never get in the way of what God wanted to do in and through young people.
I am committed to encouraging younger Christians in all that they do even when what they are doing is different from what I did when I was in that radical younger period of my life. I want always to remember that God works differently in different periods of life and I want to get on board and support those people through whom he is working today.
Responding to change
Everything in life changes. Some times it is for the better and some times it is for the worse but life changes. When I was young I would have laughed if you had told me that there is a day coming when all public buildings would be smoke free. I would have laughed even harder if you had told me that I would buy water in a bottle at the grocery store. Smart phones were too far beyond anyone’s imagination even to be included in science fiction. Times have changed and changed radically.
Church has changed as well. Sunday morning certainly isn’t the same as it was when I was a child and a lot of that change, for better or worse, was brought about by my generation.
I want to extend to the generation of young adults today the freedom to define church in light of the culture of today. Over the past dozen years I have had the privilege of working with some amazing people who are in their late teens and twenties. I believe that the church of the future is in good hands. It may not look like the church of the past but we don’t live in the past.
I have a very limited part in defining what that will look like and I’m content with that. My role now is to encourage and support those young people who are going to give leadership to the church of the future. I want to fulfill that role as fully and enthusiastically as possible.