One morning recently I met with some clergy of retirement age who were angry about changes in our judicatory structure. Loss of Conference staff has left them feeling abandoned. “Who do I call when I have a question?” one of them asked. “Who will write the newsletter?” “What about the Christian education workshops we used to have?” They lamented about traditions and programs that have languished for lack of leadership.
I sympathize with their sense of loss. I remember youth retreats, teacher trainings, and being able to call my regional pastor for help any time.
But the fact is, the money for ministries we valued so much in the past has stopped rolling in. The wider church has suffered even greater financial losses than the local church in recent years. All I could say to my forlorn retired colleagues was, “The wider church is US now. If it’s important that something be done, we are the ones who have to do it.”
I reminded them that this is the way it is done in other churches around the world, and a light bulb went on in one pastor’s head: “I remember back in the E&R Church, the regional minister served a church full time and served regionally as part of his call. The local church had to agree to that.”
What goes around comes around.
That same day, I had lunch with a 27 year old pastor (yes, 27, you read that right). What a contrast. She is brimming over with youthful confidence. “The older generation doesn’t trust us to lead the church,” she said. “But I have full confidence that we can lead. We just need to be given the chance. They need to let go.”
Well, yes and no to both parties, young and old. The Church is not a baton. It’s a vessel, and we’re all swimming in it together. The old have experience and a grasp on the value of tradition. They also have a lot of heavy baggage. The young are confident precisely because they are naive and inexperienced, but they travel lightly and are more nimble in motion.
Different generations of chuch leaders are riding this roller coaster of change with very different attitudes. But if there is to be a positive future for the Church, old and young must both contribute to it, and a lot of trust will be required.
A colleague on the brink of retirement once said to me, “I don’t always trust people. But I always trust the Holy Spirit to work in them.”
Hold on. Let go. Let’s ride this wave together.
Thanks to Getty Images and The Economist for the photo.