I have always said I strongly believe that what is good of individuals is also good for churches. Let’s be honest. Older existing churches are in a slow downward spiral of decay while new churches are springing up like wild fire only to burn out quickly. So what is missing? Why are old churches dying and new churches burning out? Why are individual’s in older churches complacent and new believers in new churches are ignited but quickly burn out?
Many people believe that all you need for the church to grow is a new, young, nice looking charismatic pastor with a gorgeous family and that will solve it. All the church needs is someone who looks like Rob Bell, writes like Rick Warren and draws them in like Joel Osteen and all problems are solved. That may be true but what if the real answer already lies within the faith community and the people haven’t even realized it.
What I uncovered through my experiences as a new church planter as well as revitalizing a congregation that is over one hundred fifty years old was actually found in a parallel of the life of Joshua and the life of churches. Joshua was one of the greatest leaders of all time and was called by God to lead the people of Israel during a time of great transition. Moses their leader was dead, God chooses Joshua to lead the people into their destiny that God had promised. The Israelites were transforming from wondering newly free slaves into a great nation. God chose Joshua, Moses assistant, to lead them. When the Israelites arrived at their destination they found that the land was already inhibited. Joshua being a warrior wanted to take the city of Jericho but God had other plans. Joshua had the ability, the experience, the enthusiasm, the expertise, the training and the determination to conquer the city of Jericho. But God didn’t ask Joshua to be the great warrior that he was, God asked Joshua to obey him. Don’t fight just walk, blow some horns, and scream like a bunch of girls.
Like Joshua many new churches have that same vigor. They launch their new church with awesome new shinny programs ready to do battle. Their leaders have the knowledge, the expertise, and the passion but maybe lacking the ability to slow down, listen to God, and obey God in an uncommon way. They rush into battle when battle might not be God’s plan. Even with their determination they are slow to slow down and obey God in some uncommon way. Many new church leaders have prepared for battle when God wants them to walk around, blow some horns and scream like girls. They have determination but maybe lack restraint and wisdom. When God wants you to walk and you want to fight, burnout, frustration, and discontentment quickly set in. New churches are set on advancement when God may intend on relenting.
After Joshua takes the city of Jericho, he goes on a thirty one kingdom conquering winning streak. Joshua leads the people and they take them down one by one. When Joshua is finished he is tired and old not unlike many older existing churches. In Joshua 13:1&2 God says to Joshua: “you now are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” (NLV) Like many older churches, Joshua had done a lot, been through tough times, conflicts, and battles. The church as Christ body is old, tired, and battle worn. God even called Joshua very old but still had important things to accomplish. So are older existing congregations. Many from an older generation are content on sitting back on past victories and relinquish it all to a younger generation. The older generation finds contentment of what they have accomplished in the past. Like Joshua they are old, body covered in battle scars and content on sitting on the sideline. This generation is relenting when God is calling for them to advance.
So what is missing? What is missing for both new churches and older churches I believe is collaboration. Speaking for my generation I must express that young people are crazy, energetic, full of energy, and will try anything. Young people have a deep passion to serve Jesus. We believe in those quiet moments that we really can change things for the better. We feel strongly that we can make a difference in people lives and in our community. But we are missing wisdom and insight. We are missing someone to believe in us. There is this aching hole inside the younger generation that is looking to the previous generations and asking, “Do you believe in us? Do you think we can do it?” Look we may dress funny, yes we may rely on technology for everything, we may talk weird, but you know what we love God the same as you do. I believe there is a younger generation that is looking across our churches and desperately wanting you to say, “Yes! I believe you can do it. I believe in you.” We need you to say, “let us bring our wisdom alongside of you to help you be more efficient. Help you look out for the blind spots that you are too young to notice yet. Help you slow down and listen to God and when to fight” The older generation has something vital to give. We as a younger generation need to hear you say, “I’ve made some mistakes in my life but here is what I’ve learned.” We so desperately need to hear how your marriage survived sixty years, how you made it raising your children, how you survive cancer, how you put your life back together after your spouse died. We need to hear it because where we sit we think you are perfect. The older generation needs to know we look upon you and your life and say to ourselves, we hope we are like them when we are their age. We need you, we need your wisdom, most of all we need your belief in us. I don’t think it is possible for any church new or old to become everything God wants it to become in the future without your wisdom and confidence. To the older generation please hear us; we need you, we can not do it without you. Don’t relent; we must advance the bride of Christ together, side by side, hand in hand, wisdom and vigor with the same love of Christ and the church. We may be old, we may be young but together God has called us for to progress together as one unified body.
Rev Thomas J Henegar is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who has worked both as a New Church Planter for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tennessee. He is currently serving as the Senior Minister of a one hundred fifty plus year old church in rural Southern Illinois. Rev Henegar is a graduate of Memphis Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity Degree and has extensive research and continuing education in new church development and church transformation. He is married to wife Kellie for over 18 years and is the proud father to Abby 17, and Will 13. He only dreams of looking like Rob Bell, singing like Chris Tomlin, writing like Rick Warren and a smile that draws them in like Joel Osteen.