A letter to leaders of established churches...
Carpe manana - Seize Tomorrow. Somehow this mindset needs to sink in to every leader of every church in America. Pastors and leaders of established churches (churches more than one generation old) often have property assetts and paradigm liabilities. The paradigm liability has to do with the predisposition to favor history and preservation of form over emerging life. This new life always brings with it the cultural values of a new generation, and with it, new values and priorities for the church. If I, as a 49 year old, insist on preserving the values and priorities of my generation, I will miss the chance to offer input into the church of tomorrow. That's why every leader of established churches should be a student of youth culture at some level. What are the songs of emerging generations and leader? What are the films? What are the values and priorities.
New churches are too often the result of new leaders feeling disenfranchised by established leaders, who hold the strings of power, and too often insist that the emerging generation replicate the forms of previous generations as a precondition for sharing resources. Such a mindset is one of several easy ways to alienate emerging leaders. And so, I humbly offer what I consider to be important priorities if we who lead existing churches are to pass the torch of leadership to a new generation in any meaningful way:
1. Be a learner first, a teacher second. I love to learn what young people listen to, what they watch, what they value. They are my teachers. It's vital to see that the motivation for such learning has nothing to do with some superficial attempt to be relevant. To the contrary, the learning comes from the acknowledgement that the emerging generation has strengths where my generation has been weak. This is particularly true with respect to their commitment to authenticity, relationship, and the elevation of image as a means of communication.
2. Lay worship forms on the altar. What constitutes worship? That question should be asked, and answered anew, with each generation. My younger friends have values with respect to worship that are often different than those of my chronological peers. When such is the case, the burden of flexibility should rest with the older folks (though there are some conditions to that, which I'll address in another letter later next week). An older man in our congregation visted our evening worship a while back and said, "This certainly isn't the way I worship... but don't even think about stopping this" as he looked around at the 20-somethings gathered together. That's the attitude that's needed if the resources of established churches are to be effectively transferred in the coming years.
3. Work together - People in their 20's are serving as our church leaders alongside people in their 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's. Such a context provides the mutuality of ministry that is absolutely vital to passing the torch effectively.
I count it an incredible privilege to shepherd a community that is intergenerationally engaged. We could do better than we do. But there aren't many effective models around, and I, for one, am grateful that our leaders practice these principles. The fruit of that includes a diversity of generations, and music, and ways of relating and doing ministry, all working together for Christ's purposes. Lacking these practices, countless established churches are graying and dying.