I believe the Lord has uniquely positioned boomer pastors at this critical moment in the history of the American church. In spite of the fact that so many of our colleagues have crashed and burned, jumped ship, raised the white flag, or reluctantly retired, we are still the largest group of leaders in the American church today. We still have an opportunity to lead our churches, which are desperately in need of renewal and relevance toward transitional and transformative spiritual action.

The prophet Jeremiah learned the hard lesson that the Lord wasn’t sympathetic to his whining. Elijah had given up and run away, but he learned that the Lord wasn’t through with him, and he wasn’t as alone as he thought he was. The Lord’s challenge to both of those understandably weary men was essentially, “Stop your whining and get back in the game!”

This is going to sound very boomer-like – incurably egotistical – but this is too critical a moment in history for boomer pastors to waste time and energy whining and complaining about how difficult things are for us and how frustrated we are with our churches. This is no time to recite to God how rotten our culture is and evil the opposition. This is no time to run away and hide in a cave. It’s time to get back in the game!

We have always had this inner desire to make a difference and leave our world a better place. We have always wanted to lead our churches to new heights of effectiveness and fruitfulness for the Kingdom. As discouraged as we might be at this stage of our lives and ministries, let’s take heart in the fact that it takes time, opportunity, and desire to achieve those high goals. We still have time, though it’s short; we still have enormous opportunities; and, hopefully, we still have the will and desire to press on in the work of the Kingdom, not for our sakes, but for the sake of His Name.

One of the knocks against boomers is that they are a bunch, albeit an enormous bunch, of spoiled brats, self-absorbed, always whining about one thing and another, never content, restless, and obsessed with a competitive arrogance to leave a lasting mark on society. That last point is at least a sure bet without regard to its positive or negative nature.

Researchers say we have never been a happy bunch. In a 2008 Washington Post article, staff writer, Monica Hesse, writes, “Boomers used to be gloomy because the world needed change. Now, they’re gloomy because change didn’t work out quite as they’d hoped.” She goes on to quote Mary Furlong, a consultant with a California firm that works with companies in marketing to boomers. A boomer herself, Furlong says that back in the 70’s “we were going to build an idealistic culture. We weren’t going to be alone. We were going to leave the world a better place.” We don’t see much hope for that anymore, we must admit.

The Greatest Generation never had much of a chance to exercise their youthful idealism. For them, that was blown away on December 7, 1941. We as boomers have never gotten over ours, and, perhaps, that’s a part of the reason we sound so much like whiners. Things just haven’t turned out as well as we thought they should, and we’re pretty sore about it. Here we are in 2011 with over 10,000 of us turning 60 every single day, our home values have declined and our 401k’s are frightfully shrinking. We resent feeling that the world is spinning out of control at so many levels and so quickly. It’s really not that we mind all the changes. We just want to be the ones making them!

Like our cohorts, we boomer pastors have never lost our idealistic zeal to be world-changers. Our zealous nature has been sorely wounded, but it’s still there. That may be why we are a disappointed and frustrated group as a whole. We might even need to confess an anger-induced depression. But this inherent idealistic zeal just may be the trait the Lord will use to renew the church in America if this boomer zeal is redeemed and refocused on the power and purposes of God. The focus has been too long on how we could change the world. Jesus Christ is the real world changer. Many boomer pastors would do well to refocus on him and remember that He’s the church builder. We’re just the tools.

A lot has been made of the fact that baby boomers are the offspring of the Greatest Generation – that generation that so heroically and courageously endured the Great Depression, so eagerly fought and won the war against the powerful forces of fascism and imperialism, preserving America and the world for freedom. Not through yet, they followed those feats with hard work, creating for themselves and the country and period of economic prosperity. And then this greatest of all generations filled up their newly acquired , three or four bedroom suburban homes with 3.5 children, or about 78 million, born between 1946 and 1964.

I was one in that “swarm of locusts” that descended on the country, a cloud so thick that it blocked the Sun from shining over America. We hungrily devoured the crops of prosperity, turned the culture on its head, and now are sending America into economic ruin as we approach retirement, draining the “system” of its resources. At least, that’s te way some perceive the impact of this unique generation. This seems somewhat harsh to a boomer, but not all criticism of the boomer generation is unjust.

Our parents came of age in the midst of global tumult. We came of age in the midst of superficial domestic tranquility that soon erupted into a full-scale rebellion. Coming out of the Great Depression and a great world war, our parents embraced the virtues of peace and prosperity, which, at some point, we interpreted as shallow, empty, and hypocritical. Our parents believed they had achieved a pretty decent world. Somehow, we thought we could make it even better. The Greatest Generation never thought of themselves as heroic world-changers, but they were. Conversely, in all our egotistical idealism, we believed we were going to change the world and envisioned an unprecedented ticker-tape parade when our job was complete and our laudable labors celebrated. It’s pretty clear that nobody is going to put on a parade for my generation. Do I sound disappointed?

It has been noted that pastors may retire from the pastorate, but they never retire from the ministry. I can think of many examples of men whose life and ministry affirm this general truth. One man in particular comes to mind. He is a member of the Greatest Generation, nearing his 90th birthday, and still driving himself to preaching engagements regularly. Many boomer pastors have reached retirement age. The rest of us are getting there quickly, and many of us are disappointed and discouraged because we haven’t had the kind of positive impact we had hoped for. In fact, we approach these current critical days in our lives and in American church history with a disturbing knowledge that the American church is in crisis. We can’t help but wonder if we have missed our chance to make an important contribution, or if there is still an  opportunity to have a say in the future of the church and God’s movement through history.

What do you think?

So much has been written and chronicled concerning the baby boomer generation that few people get excited about any mention of this much heralded and often maligned group of Americans. Perhaps no other generation has been put under the microscope, analyzed, and dissected more than the baby boomer generation. This inordinate amount of attention has yielded countless books, articles, and research papers. I suspect many people have grown so weary of this subject that they avoid the subject altogether.

I might have been one of those until it occurred to me in recent years that baby boomers make up the largest percentage of senior pastors in the evangelical church. After all, the hallmark of this generation is its sheer numerical size. That being the case, it is not surprising that boomers are so prevalent among the senior pastor crowd. I am a part of that crowd, and I’m interested in the role we have been given by God to play in the future of the American church.

With so many of us still in positions of leadership and influence, and with the American church in a state of crisis, there is a lot we can do and a lot we must do. One thing we most surely cannot do is surrender in defeat or despair. Not now! Not ever!

What do you think? Do boomer pastors have anything to say about the future of the American church? Can we play a role in the renewal of the church and the restoration of the church’s influence in our current culture? What could, what should that role be? I’d love to explore this with you.

To be continued…

About ten years ago, I joined a friend of mine on a mission trip to Cuba. My friend had built a very close relationship with a group of pastors and churches in the western part of this island nation. I was assigned to one of those churches in a small town and was immediately received by the young pastor and his wife who welcomed me with open arms into their home for a week, and what a week it was! I was overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of the people.

The main church building was right next door to where the pastor lived. It was a small, beautiful structure, typical of the island architecture, but in need of repair and badly in need of paint. This was true of homes and buildings all over Cuba. Outside of Havana, practically everything needed painting! Another thing that strikes a first time visitor to Cuba is the feeling that you are in a time warp. Everywhere you look, you see old Fords and Chevrolets. I felt like I had stepped back into the my childhood days in the 1950’s. Cubans who were fortunate to have a vehicle usually drove one of these pre-revolution cars. It was amazing to see. I was told that they kept these relics running by finding parts wherever they could from other old cars. It took a lot of “wheeling and dealing” and no little amount of ingenuity to keep these rolling museum pieces going. Occasionally, you would see an abandoned car on the side of the rode, stripped of everything, its empty frame rusting away.

In Cuba my eyes were opened to so many things about the church. The believers in Cuba, like other believers in so many areas of the world, worried little about material things. The government there didn’t make things easy either. For example, new construction for church buildings was almost unheard of. But new churches were springing up everywhere in the form of house churches. While I was there, I preached at four different house churches in the area in addition to the main church. There was an excitement and a sense of true joy among the believers that was so refreshing to witness. As I talked to my host pastor, I learned that their focus was on reaching people and discipleship. He told me of plans for more house churches starting soon. The movement of God and the work of the Holy Spirit was evident. It was so close to what we see in the book of Acts, and so far from what we see in the American church.

In this period of transition for me, I’ve taken a step back from my thirty plus years in the thick of the American church to do some soul searching, reflection, and study, and what I see in the American church is a lot like the Cubans and their cars. We spend a lot of time and effort just tweaking an old system to keep it running. In American, we live in a time warp. To a large degree, we’re still doing church like we did in the 1950’s and 60’s. The world and culture has changed so much, but here we are in 2011 looking like an old Ford or Chevy. We’re still running somehow because we’re pretty good at finding replacement parts when something breaks.We just keep overhauling the old system when what we need is a new system altogether.

No doubt the revolution of 1959 has devastated Cuban society in many ways, but, in time, the church has emerged with new life and vigor. This is a testimony to the promise of God and the prevailing mission of the church. The church is man’s connection to God’s redemptive mission by his grace and call to join him. I believe in the church, but I believe the church as many of us have known it is broken down. After a while, despite our “wheeling and dealing” and despite our cleverness and ingenuity, the church of the 20th century will be no more than an abandoned car on the side of the rode.

There are hopeful signs that a new church movement is underway in America – a movement in which believers are Kingdom-focused and churches are more concerned about mission than maintenance.

Ruins and Rebuilding

August 24, 2011

Surrounded by gravestones and standing tall and defiant, are the ominously beautiful brick remains of Biggin Church, just outside the city limits of Moncks Corner. The history of Biggin Church is one of tragic events, natural and man-made. The building was erected in 1712 as the church of St. John’s Parish, an Anglican congregation of early prominence. Among its vestrymen were General William Moultrie and Henry Laurens, key figures of the Colonial period and the American Revolution. The first building was destroyed by fire in 1755 and rebuilt in 1761. It was burned again by the British during the War of Independence and rebuilt. It was ransacked by Union soldiers and striped of its interior fixtures and valuables during the Civil War. Finally, it was destroyed by a forest fire in 1886, never to be rebuilt again. The Biggin Church ruins remain today as a monument of sorts to the sad history of a promising center of Christian worship and work that didn’t last. One supposes that the parishioners made the decision that rebuilding wasn’t worth it and moved on to others places of worship.

While new churches are being built and new congregations are forming are things to celebrate, I pray that parishioners in older churches will recognize that their churches are worth rebuilding. The fact is there are many churches in ruin today. Their buildings are just fine, but the life has gone out of them. We desperate need new churches, but we desperately need to rebuild and renew our existing churches as well. We don’t need more monuments to the past. We need more “living stones” being rebuilt and renewed to advance the cause of Christ.

(Adapted from Past, Present, and Forever)