Posted in church, future

The future of the church

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

You have no doubt heard someone at church say, “We must have a strong children’s and youth ministry.” Why? “They are the future of the church!” Many hours are spent discussing how to attract younger families with children. A United Methodist congregation in Grove Cottage, Minnesota decided to shut down one of its campuses and relaunch that church to reach a younger demographic. Part of that process included asking the current members, most of whom were older, to attend another church for twelve to eighteen months. The approach and the reaction made national news.

The many different sides of that story does prompt the question, “Who is the future of the church?” I think it depends on the context. While children and youth may be the future of the Church, they are probably not the future of our church. You see, they grow up, go to college and move to where they find employment. We pray that they will be a part of the Church at large, but they will not grow up to be a part of our congregation.

Many of the people moving to Florida and our community are older. They are retired. They are tired of northern winters. And they are the future of our church. They are the new members, leaders, voices and teachers in our congregation. Yes, there are young families who move to our area, too. It’s an affordable place to live. But they are not necessarily the majority of the folks who come to visit and join our churches. That’s just the way it is here.

That is not necessarily a negative thing. In the pages of scripture, we find God staking the future of the church on a variety of people of different ages. Abraham was 75 when he got the call to move. Samuel grew up in the church. Moses was 80 when he was told to go to Pharaoh. David was a young shepherd when anointed the king of Israel. Josiah ascended to the throne when he was eight years old. Jeremiah had a job before he was born! Noah was 500 years old when he built the ark.

I love the babies, children and youth of the church. Yes, I am in my element when holding the infants, playing with the toddlers, teaching the middle schoolers, serving alongside the high school youth and praying the graduates off to college or the military. But I am also grateful for those who come with a lifetime of managerial, financial, educational and musical experience that fund, lead and drive the ministry of the church.

It’s ironic that some churches with a strong youth emphasis shuffle their young off to nursery and children’s church. It’s also ironic that those who want young families in church get irritated when the little ones get squirmy, noisy and leave Cheerio crumbs in the pew. Don’t you know how Jesus responded when the disciples tried to keep the kids away?

The future of the church will always be the gathering of people who need to hear the gospel, receive God’s forgiveness and be equipped to take that blessing back to their world. There are no age, height, income or experience restrictions on that experience.

Actually, the future of the church is “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-11).

Posted in future, Ministry

What is your vision? Idk.

One of the hardest questions for me to answer is, “What’s your vision for the church?” Variations on this theme: “Where do you see the church in five years?” “What are your goals for this ministry?” “What direction do you envision for the congregation?”

When I am confronted with the question, I usually hesitate. I have to admit, I have no broad vision for the church. I have no idea where the church headed. I have no idea what we’ll be in five years.

I think I have a hard time answering this question because I easily fall into the trap of responding in a quantitative way. For example, I envision a 25% increase in worship. Or doubling the number of our small groups. Or increasing the size of our Sunday School. Or increasing our mission giving by so much.

To tell you the truth, my vision is much more modest than that. I simply want the gospel to be clearly proclaimed in our worship. I want our parents to raise their children in the faith. I want the Sunday morning worshipers to live out their faith over the next week. I want those who gather for worship to forgive, serve and show mercy to others in school, at work, and in their neighborhood.

Those goals don’t sound like much. Those goals don’t affect our bottom line. They aren’t mentioned in the “fastest growing churches” magazine articles. They aren’t presented in “best practices” conferences. They aren’t impressive at all.

Before I decide what to bet, I need to look at the cards I’ve been dealt. In other words, I need to wait and see who God has added to our congregation before I know what direction we’ll take next.

Many of our newer members are not parents with children. They are grandparents with grandchildren who live far away. Many of our newer members are just retiring from their careers. They will serve the church much differently than they did when they were working and raising a family. Some of our newest member bring with them a wealth of wisdom, experience and wealth to our church. But they have worked hard and love the chance to be “retired.”

What if the future of the church isn’t the young, but those who are older? While we certainly want to bring children up in the fear and knowledge of the Lord, there are time when He builds His church with a much different demographic. Age is an asset, not a liability, in the church.

My vision for the church? Give me a moment or a week or a year. I need for fiddle with the focus and see what God is up to.

Then I’ll let you know.

Posted in Ministry

Now what?

I remember reading somewhere that your most productive years as a pastor come during your seventh through fourteenth years with a congregation. I’m coming up on my fifteenth anniversary at this congregation this year, and my twenty-fifth in pastoral ministry. Hence my question: now what?

Lately I’ve been asking questions like, “Do I have anything left to say?” or “Is there anything they haven’t heard?” Other questions include, “Is anyone actually listening?” and “Are my messages becoming predictable?” How about, “At what age do you begin to lose the ability to communicate with younger generations?” and “Can they tell how much I don’t want to be at this extremely boring meeting?”

In the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, you don’t leave a congregation until you receive a call to another congregation, retire, die, or get kicked out for doing something immoral. I haven’t had a call for over 12 years, am a bit too young to retire, and am trying to avoid the last two. So it looks like I’m going to be here for a while longer, hence the question, “Now what?”

One obvious answer might be, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” Sundays and seasons of the church year will continue to come on a regular basis, and so will planning and preparation for worship and preaching. There will be meetings to attend, visits to make, classes to teach, and special occasions like weddings and funerals. Much is predictable.

But another answer could be, “Do a little less.” By that, I mean be sure to get others in the church involved in teaching, visiting, meeting, planning and preparation. Step back so that the church is more about participating than spectating.

Yet another response might be, “Try something new.” Last year I got to accompany a medical team to Haiti. I stopped writing out my whole sermon and began using a storyboard method to compose my messages. I also began uploading the audio files of my sermons to the Internet. I know there will be some new opportunities this year. I just don’t know what they are yet, so it makes sense to leave a little room in my schedule for them.

I guess the religious sounding answer would be, “What God wants me to do.” Which on any given day could be any combination of the above. In some ways, you don’t know what that is until you get there, so “What’s next?” might be a question I need to ask each day.