As we get older, the questions we ask about the future begin not just with “what,” but “who”? This is not a new problem. The first Christians expected Jesus to return almost immediately, and most probably in their lifetime. “Succession planning” was not a high priority. They were not thinking 2,000 years in the future!
However, as the years went by, they had to consider how the work would continue after they had gone. They had to consider the welfare of the church after their contribution had been made. For example, in Acts 20, we have the account of Paul’s farewell to the elders at Ephesus. Knowing that it was unlikely that he would ever see them again, he said:
What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job the Master Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about this incredibly extravagant generosity of God. And so this is good-bye. You’re not going to see me again, nor I you, you whom I have gone among for so long proclaiming the news of God’s inaugurated kingdom. I’ve done my best for you, given you my all, held back nothing of God’s will for you.
Now it’s up to you. Be on your toes—both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people—God’s people they are—to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for. (Acts 20:24-28, The Message)
Paul had learned that it is not easy to replace pastors and elders who would put the welfare of their congregations ahead of their own interests. He wrote to the congregation at Philippi, “I have no one quite like Timothy. He is loyal, and genuinely concerned for you. Most people around here are looking out for themselves, with little concern for the things of Jesus” (Philippians 2:20-21, The Message).
Timothy had proven to be reliable. But there was only one of him. So Paul advised him to “throw yourself into this work for Christ. Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!— to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2, The Message).
I see some similarities with our situation today. Thankfully, our ministry involves those who are loyal, hard-working and faithful. But we are aging, as are our people. If you are the pastor of a small congregation of older people, you might wonder about the future—not just what, but who will come after you?
That is why we should all be encouraged by the growth in many of our young people. Not only that, some of our middle-aged leaders have “passed the baton” on to another generation of young leaders, and have moved into mentoring roles. In this way, their experience is not lost, while a new generation of leaders has the opportunity to build their own experience. This is vitally important for our future.
Our GenMin programs (camps, mission trips and young-leader development programs like Journey with the Master) serve as “incubators” to develop the next generation of pastors and other church leaders. We will invite those who show promise for pastoral ministry into our pastoral internship program. We can help them receive a quality theological education through Ambassador College of Christian Ministry (for an undergraduate level diploma) and/or Grace Communion Seminary (for a graduate degree).
Maybe you do not have many, or any, young leaders. However, think beyond your congregation. Our denomination does have an up-and-coming generation of leadership, and we do have a future.
It would be foolish in this ever-changing world to be too specific about what that future will be like. New challenges, new conflicts and new technologies will continue to change the world, as they have in our lifetime. But whatever the situation, I know there will always be a need for men and women who hear and obey God’s call to pastoral ministry.