As churches, denominations and Christian organizations transition their leadership into the next generation, those of us age 55 and older ponder the legacy we are leaving. How can we best encourage and strengthen those who are coming after us? Here are some ways we can be intentional in doing so.
Pray for them.
Prayer cannot be our last resort, but must be our first. The generations below my own will continue to face an increasingly vicious cultural backlash against many foundational biblical principles we hold sacred. My generation is struggling to grasp the massive cultural shift that has occurred in just the past decade, as we see our children and grandchildren now coping with an anti-Christian culture. One of the challenges for the younger generation is the temptation to compromise on these moral issues to gain a greater audience for the gospel message. We must pray fervently for them to have a holy boldness, to lean into the power of the Holy Spirit, and be fully committed to God’s calling on their lives.
Listen more. Talk less.
The more you listen, the greater your connection to the one speaking. (“Be quick to hear and slow to speak…”, James 1:19). We earn the right to speak into others’ lives when they realize we actually care about what they think. Ask questions, listen to their stories and their perspectives. Listening opens up hearts.
Go out of your way to encourage and exhort.
No matter how confident they appear, we know everyone has insecurities and needs affirmation. Rather than focusing on what we don’t like, we should emphasize things we DO like and affirm them. We must be purposeful and seize every opportunity to do this as much as possible.
Give some grace when there is disagreement.
Taking Dr. Al Mohler’s view of “Theological Triage” is helpful for both generations. Using the word “triage” which is from a French word that means “to sort”, Dr. Mohler takes a concept familiar to us in the medical world and applies it to the theological one:
Today’s Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.
As I observe my generation, I’m not so sure we do this very well (including myself). What we perceive as missteps is often them seeking to reconcile truth with grace in their now post-modern context. For example, some younger pastors/leaders are looking for ways to minister to the LGBT communities where they live, providing a space where friendships and conversations about the gospel can be birthed. This is a difficult road to navigate, but they are not shying away from it. Can my generation appreciate the struggle those on the front lines of our culture find themselves in? Can we differentiate between theological issues and methodology? They are seeking to demonstrate agape love for the sinner while firmly upholding biblical truth. They will make some mistakes (just like we did), but if there is a genuine desire on their part to live out the gospel without compromise, can we encourage rather than condemn?
Yes, there are things we would do differently but there is also a bold declaration of the gospel message!
There are fearless men and brave women with an unwavering commitment to fighting the social evils in our world despite the real risk to their own lives!
There is a movement among young families in our own denomination to live out the gospel among unreached people groups living in the “uttermost parts of the world”!
These are things we MUST admire, affirm and celebrate.
We need to share our own struggles and joys with those coming behind us.
Authenticity is highly valued by this generation. We shouldn’t avoid sharing lessons we learned the hard way, or from our own missteps. I have benefited enormously from older women who have quietly spoken to me of their own private sorrows and doubts. Their wise words and examples strengthened me. And I know for sure that I need mentoring at this stage of life every bit as much as I did in my twenties and thirties.
Let go of the baton, but run alongside and cheer this generation on.
Now is not the time to stroll off the track and take a seat in the stands. The baton we are passing is the message of the gospel, the good news, and how we deliver it to the next generation is crucial. We can’t afford to lose one minute in passing it off.
Which of these needs resonates with you?
Published June 15, 2015