Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Last Generation

On this Sunday past I presented to our church what I see as our challenges and our future. I did this as part of our Lenten journey, which theme this year is emphasizing taking responsibility, and which meant this time our conversation described the need for us to take responsibility for our church.

Our challenges are not unlike those facing other churches our size and age. They are mostly demographic -- the numbers are against us -- and they ask how we will respond to the fact that our church is rapidly aging? The upshot of this challenge is simple: In the next ten years we will have many funerals and even more retirements. Add to this the several younger families who have left for the greener pastures of the mega-church and you see how this means that, unless some sort of discontinuous change occurs, I am pastoring the final generation of this 75 year old congregation. It's difficult to reach any other conclusion.

And this is the point with what I closed my message on Sunday morning, saying, even if we are in fact the final generation, we are not called to worry about that fact. Our calling, if we are to be a Kingdom outpost in this small corner of the world, must mean we focus on one thing only -- mission, being found faithful and building the Kingdom of the Christ. That is, loving people, feeding the hungry (and these numbers are growing), and most importantly not worrying to attract people to the church. Instead, we minister to them as we have opportunity whether they ever walk into our building or not.

Often, I am privileged to meet with a man who will soon leave the area to plant a new church in the Southwest. He is excited and full of hope and faith. Usually, for a few hours after meeting with him I experience a time of wondering if this may be a direction that I need to consider. But then I remember my calling here to this blue-collar steel town.

My ten year anniversary at this church is very close, and what is interesting is that in the midst of all these challenges, I have no real desire to be anywhere else. This is a faithful church; a church with a great history of missions and ministry, and a great missional work that is still occurring. So, I am content. You see, these aging people need a pastor, too (even if he is aging as well), and this community needs this congregation.