Having served as the founding pastors of Vineyard Christian Fellowship Boise for the past twenty three years has given Nancy and I a rich sense of reward. As we now let go of our Senior pastoral roles to enter yet a new phase and season of ministry we can’t help but look back at all the Lord has done with deep gratitude and thanksgiving. We give thanks first to the merciful hand of the Lord and also to all the wonderful people who had dedicated so much of their lives to see a vision to build a vibrant life giving church come to pass. It was always our intention to build a fruit bearing church that could one day be handed off to the next generation. It was our dream from the beginning that all the many years of laboring in that Vineyard; the plowing, seeding, weeding, pruning and watering would end in harvest. It was our dream that the Vineyard would grow to maturity and eventually bear an abundance of fruit. That it would be a Vineyard where the next generation could not only enjoy the fruits of our labors, but take it yet to a greater level of fruitfulness.
To view the last two transition Sundays at Vineyard Boise; please click here www.vineyardboise.org/lead-pastor
The question keeps coming up, especially among an emerging new generation of young committed Christians: How and why did Evangelical Christians earn the negative reputation of not only being anti-environment, but of being antagonistic towards environmentalists and their organizations? I have a theory. It’s only a theory, mind you, and it may not be totally correct. I am a classic baby boomer, evangelical Christian (almost sixty-five years old), and because I have always seen myself as an environmentalist (though in the closet at times) I think I have some up close and personal experience with the answer.
Before I begin, let me state first that Christians have not always held a negative position on the matter; on the contrary, throughout our history they have even been the most significant advocates for environmental stewardship. Some of our greatest contemporary (after Christ) heroes of the faith have made powerful exhortations concerning the Christian responsibility for creations care. Let me quote just a few.
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) “These creatures minister to our needs every day: without them we could not live: and through them the human race greatly offends the Creator. We fail every day to appreciate so great a blessing by not praising as we should the Creator and dispenser of all these gifts.”
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) “It is God’s custom to care for all of His creatures, both the greatest and the least. We should likewise care for the creatures, whatsoever they are, in the sense that we use them in conformity with the divine purpose in order that they may not bear witness against us in the Day of Judgment.”
Martin Luther (1483-1546) “The power of God is present at all places, even in the tiniest leaf…God is entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden and in the field.”
John Calvin (1509-1564) “The little birds singing are singing of God; the beasts cry unto Him: the mountains echo His name: the waves and streams cast their glances at Him: the herbs and flowers praise Him. Nor do we need to labor or seek Him far off, since each one of us finds (God) within himself, inasmuch as we are all upheld and preserved by His power dwelling in us.”
So what happened? Why did so many committed evangelical people develop such a reputation of becoming antagonistic towards environmentalism? Here’s my theory.
Like many of my generation I was on the university campus in the ‘60s, and it was here that I think the story begins. As we know, it was a crazy and confusing time, and in many ways the events that transpired helped to uniquely mold what we call today “the baby boomer generation”. We were a confused, scared generation seeking answers to what we perceived as a rapidly changing world. In addition to political scandals, rapid changes in technology (a man had just walked on the moon) cultural and moral shifts, we saw a world that was being negatively impacted by what we perceived to be an escalation of environmental degradation. We became angry and fearful and we were looking for answers. Our dilemma was reflected in our music, our writing and our protests. Everyone responded differently to the confusion they felt; some through denial and withdrawal as a new drug culture emerged, while others went on a serious quest for truth. In that quest many discovered a new kind of faith in God, not the religion many of us had been raised in, but an authentic and radical faith in the Savior of the Bible. This faith that emerged was unorthodox and soon became known as the “Jesus Movement”. It started in places like San Francisco and rapidly spread up and down the West Coast as many of our generation joined Christian communes and house churches. It was a phenomenon that no man could make happen. It was without question a supernatural revival of faith; though on a smaller scale, it was much like those that had happened under the leadership of men like Martin Luther and John Wesley.
I believe the underlying concern for the unraveling of our culture and the global environment that plagued the thoughts of our generation stimulated the emerging theological emphasis of the Jesus movement. It was called “Dispensational Theology”, and although it had been around for some fifty years, it took on a new life in Christian culture due to its emphasis on eschatology or “the last days” or “end times” events. It seemed to hold the answers to the looming questions, “Where is this world going and what is going to happen in our near and uncertain future?”
Dispensational Theology unpacked Biblical prophecy in the light of the current political global condition. Many Bible teachers and authors emerged providing clear explanation for the fears we felt, while providing logical explanation for the unraveling world condition. One of the most read books that addressed these issues was published in 1970, “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey. It swept through the Christian culture solidifying our belief that the world was in its final throes of death. Lindsey’s book along with many other writings stimulated a series of popular “end time” movies such as, “A Thief in the Night”, “A distant Thunder” and “Image of the Beast” – all focusing on the eschatological issues of the coming of the Antichrist, the great tribulation and the Christian rapture. Although these concepts were Biblical in nature, they were delivered through a human lens that produced incredible fear. In the final analysis, because the world was coming to an end or “all going to burn anyway”, many turned away from environmental issues and simply neglected the fact that God had commissioned his people to care for his creation. Meanwhile, there was still a faction of our generation that deeply cared about the condition of the environment and continued to feel a deep sense of responsibility to do something about it.
At the same time the Jesus Movement gained momentum and books like Hall Lindsey’s dominated Christian culture, secular voices and movements were impacting the non-Christian culture as well. One book in particular that I can recall was “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, published in 1975. It told the humorous but tragic story of a small gang of radical environmentalists who resorted to sabotage in an effort to protest environmentally damaging activities in the American Southwest. The story kindled a new radical consciousness that gave fuel to many emerging environmental groups. In 1971 Greenpeace was organized in an effort to protest nuclear testing off of Amchitka, a tiny island on the West Coast of Alaska. About the same time the “Zero Population Growth” movement began. It established a stronghold on the Yale campus but quickly impacted university campuses across the U.S. and England. Fueling this movement was the strong reaction to a book written by Paul Ehrlich, “The Population Bomb” which was published in 1968.
In 1973 Row vs. Wade, a momentous decision made by the United States Supreme Court to legalize abortion, was put into law and started one of the most heated debates in the history of our nation. While the secular world saw abortion as a means to control an unwanted population, the church saw it as an attack against humanity. In 1977 “Focus on the Family” was established by psychologist James Dobson. Dobson became a leader and powerful voice speaking on behalf of evangelicals everywhere for the justice of the unborn and the sanctity of life. As a result a powerful dividing wall emerged between evangelicalism and secular environmentalism. War was declared and the line between Christian conservatives and secular liberals was drawn in the sand. Quickly the battle entered the political front in an effort to control national policy on issues that touched on the matter of the sanctity of human life. As the war continued to progress through the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, both sides became polarized and seemed to lose perspective. The “Religious Right”, became a dominating force among most evangelicals with a clear agenda to control the political process. They called Christians everywhere to join them on the Republican side of the political table for the sake of electing candidates that would support the evangelical agenda, while the liberals were doing the same thing on their side of the table. The war raged and in the heat of the battle Christians everywhere equated anything that dealt with environmentalism as being in the enemy’s camp.
By the early 2000’s change was in the air; at least in what was starting to be called, “The New Evangelicals”. Baby boomers were beginning to reach retirement age and a new generation of Christian leadership started to emerge. Fresh new voices began speaking out calling the church back to its authentic mission of discipleship and evangelism. Politics was not a part of their agenda, but rather a sincere quest for Biblical truth and genuine community. This group had the ability to sort out the forest from the trees, seeing issues like creation care and Biblical justice (especially concerning the poor) as legitimate Christian concerns and values. They separated such issues as “social justice” from “socialism” and recognized that God cared about the sanctity of “all” life, not just human life. They could see that many environmental issues such as the lack of clean drinkable water, the degradation of farmable soil and the rising of ocean waters due to climate change were real issues responsible for killing and endangering innocent people, particularly the extreme poor throughout the developing nations. These issues where no longer perceived as being political, but rather moral. Dozens of new Christian books began to appear on the subject such as “Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action”, “Saving God’s Green Earth” and “Small Footprint, Big Handprint: How to Live Simply and Love Extravagantly”. These published works along with many others have served to illuminate this new evangelical perspective and even bring reformation to the dispensational thought that permeated Christian thinking for such a long time.
It is clear that God is now calling evangelical Christians back to the environmental table, because he is making it clear that he not only loves his creation, but has called his people to lead the way in being the stewards over it. Christians must not only come back to the table on the issue of environmentalism, but also champion the cause of caring for God’s creation, being a viable and united voice for the stewardship of the earth once again.
“i-61”is a ministry that endeavors to provide structure, support and training for church bodies that share a common heart for justice, compassion and mercy ministry both in their local communities and through their international missions outreach. It is a ministry designed to support and enhance the many church planting partnerships that are so effectively expanding the Kingdom worldwide. The following is a seven minute video that explains how i-61 works and what it hopes to accomplish.
An interview in “The New Evangelicals” by Marcia Pally Professor of multicultual studies at the New York University with Tri Robinson, Senior Pastor, Boise Vineyard Church concerning issues of social justice -
TR: When Jesus first started his public ministry he went to his home town of Nazareth. He entered the temple and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to be read before the people. He opened it to what we know today as Isaiah 61. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives…” and so on. It was a well known messianic passage, and after he had finished he announced that he was the Messiah, and that in a manner of speaking Isaiah’s words would be his job description.
The point is, if healing the brokenhearted, setting the captives free and ministering to the poor was his job description then we believe it is ours as well. This kind of ministry is more needed in the context of today’s world than ever. For example, we live in a world where many are held captive to addictions and extreme poverty and even such atrocities as human trafficking. Here at the Boise Vineyard we hold the conviction that Christians must express the heart of God by helping to be part of the solution to human suffering and world crises.
The world is becoming more hostile every day, not just in man’s inhumanity to man, but environmentally as well. In Matthew 25 Jesus exhorted his followers to minister to the extreme poor when he said, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat…” telling them (and us) that to provide clean water for the thirsty is ministry. I never fully understood this passage until my wife and I experienced the extreme poverty in Zambia, Africa a few years ago. It was there that we became aware of just how much of the world’s fresh water is undrinkable, and how it is literally killing people.
MP: Does this reflect a shift in church activism?
TR: I have a personal perspective on why much of the church in America has been negative towards issues of social justice and ministries such as environmental stewardship. I believe the pushback started as far back as the seventies during the Jesus Movement. During that time there was a huge emphasis on eschatology (the study of the end times.) We believed that things like plagues, increased violence and natural disaster were birth pangs of the last days before the second coming of Jesus. We thought that they were just a part of God’s plan. As a result, we put our emphasis on evangelism (getting people to heaven) rather than diving into the crises that caused human suffering.
During that time, some Christians felt that they could better control social change through politics than through ministries of compassion and as a result the religious right was formed. Things rapidly became polarized between what was perceived to be liberal and conservative agendas. Everyone took sides and was willing to die for them. Issues such as social justice and the environment somehow fell on the liberal side of the line and many churches turned their backs on them.
As a pastor I do not believe that telling people how to vote is my job but rather presenting the kingdom of God in such a way that people will want to return to the valid ministry of Jesus. People love our church because we do care for the poor and partner with other agencies that share our conviction on these matters.
MP: What kind?
TR: We work with groups like the Boise Rescue Mission and City Lights (a women’s shelter.) These are Christian groups, but we also work in the local jails and prisons. We have worked with agencies like the Forest Service, Fish and Game as well as a secular environmental conservation group. I was asked to speak at this conservation group’s convention a few years ago even though we have clearly been on opposite sides of the abortion issue. They recognized that I authentically cared about the importance of the environment and overlooked the thing that polarized us.
I don’t want to be perceived as their enemy even though we don’t see eye to eye on every issue. I have even met with our local ACLU leader here in Idaho. I do tend to get angry at the ACLU because I believe they have been illogical about many things I am passionate about. But, I also discovered that by spending some time together we could agree and connect on many other important issues. They care about people, but because of their misconception of who Jesus is, they have seen the Christian church as irrelevant to their cause.
This country was founded on the Christian faith but we are clearly a secular nation now, and to be effective we need to understand it. I do believe every Christian should vote. I think it is an American responsibility, but I never tell our people who to vote for. I believe if they have God’s heart they will figure it out for themselves.
I, for one, would hate to lose my freedom to openly express my faith in a nation that once honestly meant it when they said, “In God we trust.” The truth is that the way things are going, I fear even losing our non-profit tax status. This would really damage our ability to care the poor to the degree that we do. I will admit that there are probably some churches that may not deserve it. Churches were originally granted non-profit status because they were the nation’s welfare agency, and if we are doing what Jesus called us to we still would be. Honestly, I do believe we can do it much more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of government agencies because much of the work is done by volunteers with a heart to serve those in need.
In the case of receiving grant money for specific outreach ministries, it has mostly come through other Christian organizations. But, the largest portion of our financial provision is collected in our Sunday offerings. As stewards that are accountable for the funds we have been given, we have learned to operate with little to no waste. We try to use every penny wisely because we have so few of them.
MP: OK-you don’t take government funds so that you can preserve a religious approach in your ministries. Is that the same for co-religionist hiring?
TR: If we had to hire people who didn’t share our values, it wouldn’t work. We do what we do because of a biblical mandate and a heart to serve God. Outside of that, we would have little motivation.
MP: If someone has your values but isn’t in your church?
TR: We have teachers in our elementary school who aren’t members here and neither is one of our accountants, but they do share our faith in Christ. And, though not on our church payroll, we have worked with Jews and Catholics alike on the environmental issues and have more than once asked a Jewish Rabbi to lead us through a Seder service.
MP: You have said if we take abortion off the table…
TR: …then we can focus on other things. Please understand that abortion is a huge factor for us, especially when it comes to choosing who to vote for. But, I also see that the environment is killing people, especially young children. Over 80 percent of infant mortality in the developing world is water-related. For me that is a ‘sanctity of life’ issue also. In fact our i-61 Ministry–formerly called “Re:Form,” www.i-61.org– has been trying to work on every front. (“i-61” stands for Isaiah 61.) There are seven circles in i-61: world hunger, health, environmental decline, human trafficking and social injustice, illiteracy, corrupt leadership and spiritual deadness. We are in the process of building schools and ministries to prepare people to work in all seven areas. It is our desire to be a model for churches across the country who share our heart for these things. Many pastors are afraid of these ministries because of the stigma of liberalism–which is really crazy in my thinking since they are all so clearly biblical issues.
MP: Do you partner with groups to reduce abortion?
TR: We do, but only those that share our heart to minister in the compassion of Jesus. We actually provide facility space here on our campus to one such agency. But, here is the thing. We believe it is an injustice to tell a young girl who is pregnant, broke and scared not to have an abortion if we’re not willing to stand with her through her crisis. At the clinic we house, Stanton Health Care Clinic, they provide not only counseling but also pre- and post-natal care for those women (many young girls) who find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy. Through the services provided at the clinic, they lovingly take these young girls by the hand, walking them through the entire process, while providing invaluable support to them as they choose the path of bringing a little one into the world. In the past, many have done otherwise when confronted with this type of situation, and all in the name of Christianity. Unfortunately it may not have expressed the love of Jesus but rather a spirit of condemnation.
Frankly I am saddened that there have been some from our camp that have operated out of an antagonistic judgmental spirit. We must stick to our convictions but we need to teach our people to embrace and operate in the fruits of the Spirit – love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control. It’s not just what we say, but also the heart in which it is said. I am grieved at the mean-spiritedness that often comes through some of those who have airtime. Sometimes I think Christians perceive these people as apostles rather than the radio and TV commentators that they really are. We as Christians should be in the trenches serving the broken world instead of reacting and arguing with those we disagree with about the reasons and causes of the crises.
Concerning politics it would be great to see a movement evolve with the righteous values of the conservative right blended with the idealism and heart for the poor of the liberal left.
MP: What does that mean in practice?
TR: That’s the hard part isn’t it? Here is the deal. Change requires what I call a ripple effect. For example, I tell people, “We will never change the global environment if we don’t first change the environment of people’s hearts.” One of the main characteristics of becoming Christ-like is to become others-centered. If I authentically have Christ in my heart, I gain a new worldview. I see others as more important than myself. I clean up the toxic waste in my heart and it affects my thinking which in turn changes my motives. I no longer have the idea that “I want mine and I want it now” but instead desire to preserve things for the sake of future generations. I tell people if you want your kids to value environmental stewardship tell them to clean up their rooms. First our attitudes change then our practices change. We paint our houses and mow our lawns as much for the sake of our neighbors as for our own satisfaction. As we care about our own world around us, eventually we begin to care about the planet for the same reason. It all has to start in the heart. That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to the only thing I know of that changes hearts – and that’s Jesus.
I do struggle with things like the current [Obama] administration’s stimulus package simply because I don’t think it’s going to be good for future generations. In the long run, I think it will simply bring more future financial bondage. Personally I think it would be better to sacrifice now in an effort to deal with our national debt rather than to impose that on our grandchildren and their children. It’s just not forward thinking.
MP: What would you say to a gay couple in a stable, loving relationship?
TR: A gay relationship is not what the Bible spells out as being stable or right. For that reason it’s not okay for me, but then neither is any adulterous relationship. It’s like divorce; the Bible says God hates divorce, but what we must understand is – he in no way hates those who are caught in it. He so loves them that he sacrificed his life for them. He just hates the stuff that takes away from wholeness and spiritual and emotional health. That’s Isaiah 61, “He came to heal the broken hearted.”
MP: What about conscience-based social service refusal?
TR: I believe it is absolutely wrong to not allow doctors the right of refusal to perform abortions if it goes against their convictions. For one thing we will lose many good doctors if this is forced upon them. Many will opt to give up their practice if they are made to go against their religious and ethical convictions when it comes to the sanctity of life and preserving it.
MP: Teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools?
TR: I used to be a secondary school science teacher before I entered the ministry. I taught it both ways and let my students make up their own minds. I think that’s part of the intellectual process. I for one actually came to my belief in God through science. I can’t see how anyone can closely look at the creation and miss that fact that there must be a creator. Darwinism is a theory. The Bible is based on faith. When a theory attempts to undo or disprove faith, that’s a problem for me. The fact is, though, from my own experience I believe God is much bigger than the bias of a teacher. If parents and the church are doing their job effectively children will eventually discover the truth concerning God and the universe no matter what the world throws at them.
MP: Moments of silence in schools?
TR: Honestly I think in this day and age prayer in schools is a non-issue. A family has to take their responsibility seriously when it comes to teaching faith and values. When I sent my kids to public schools I sent them to get an education. Frankly I didn’t want non-Christian or even nominal-Christian teachers leading them in prayer or teaching them the Bible.
MP: Religious symbols in public places?
TR: It’s ridiculous to take those away. A framed copy of the Ten Commandments in a courtroom is a statement that our country cares about justice and was established in Godliness. If nothing else, it is an historical document. It is another case of the small loud minority imposing their prejudice on the majority.
MP: What about other religions having their symbols?
TR: Forcing a population to take down religious symbols is discrimination and the thought of it offends me. Historically every time a government has forced that issue on its population it has lead to socialism, communism and in the end, bondage and pain.
While eating lunch around a small restaurant table in Phoenix during the national conference, I began to share with close friends a dream that my wife Nancy had six months earlier. As I started to speak I was shocked and embarrassed by an unanticipated wave of emotion that both flooded my eyes and choked my words. Just minutes before I had been hilariously laughing about who knows what. But in that moment the presence of the Spirit came unannounced, yet was clearly evident to everyone at the table. It was crazy and I could hardly get through the retelling of Nancy’s dream.
Roy Conwell, Steve Fish and Glenn Schroder have been close friends of mine since the earliest days of the Vineyard. Actually we’ve been more than friends; we’ve been comrades in a quest to build churches and a movement we’ve believed in and sacrificed for. At one point, we worked together to build our region and at other times we co-labored on outreaches in the developing world. Throughout the years we have built a rich relationship of trust. Although we have never used the terminology before, in truth we have become spiritual brothers. As I shared with these guys, I suddenly realized that Nancy’s dream has special meaning and feeling for people like us who have loved the Vineyard and all it has stood for these past thirty years. I guess that is something to be emotional about.
Back to the dream that happened last fall. Nancy woke early one morning and shared that she’d had a significant dream. In her dream she was sitting at our dining room table having tea with an English woman and an Asian woman. As they fellowshipped together the English woman’s nose began to bleed causing Nancy to hand her a tissue and pray for her. At that point the woman looked up at Nancy and said, “I have a word for your husband; go tell him that the brothers are coming.” At that point the two of them joined together and started praying for the Asian woman. All three women began to shake as the Holy Spirit fell upon them.
About a month after her dream Nancy and I were in England teaching a leadership conference. During those few days we made some new friendships and rekindled old ones. Up to that time I had little idea what her dream meant, but during an evening ministry time I felt prompted by the Spirit to share it with the Vineyard couples who were present. Without going into great detail I’ll attempt to share the heart of what transpired.
As we prayed for one another many experienced a deep sense of brotherhood that God was imparting among Vineyard leaders even beyond those present in the room that night. I personally believed God was about to build something new between the UK leadership and the USA churches. One long time Vineyard pastor who was present confessed he had always looked to the American Vineyards for leadership and had never felt like a brother or peer. Some shared that they had known the USA Vineyards had been struggling as a whole and yet because of these feeling never offered counsel or ministry as a true brother might. The bloody nose of the English woman signified to them the struggle many English churches had experienced but that out of their struggle they understood pain and wanted to help not just by ministering to the American Vineyards, but ministering more effectively with them into the world (i.e. the Asian woman).
For me the message that the “brothers are coming” is a great encouragement that goes deeper than simply the UK and America. For me it is something deep God wants to do worldwide. I believe God wants to take the Vineyard into a new season where he is going to draw like-hearted, like-minded leaders throughout our movement together for a common cause. I believe he wants to move us from an association or organization to something more organic and lasting. He wants us to fall in love and join arms in a great quest. I believe he wants to build us not simply into a relational community, but a purposeful fellowship; a genuine brotherhood.
I already see it happening even as I felt it happen with Roy, Steve, Glenn and myself that day around the table in Phoenix. I know that throughout the movement and around the world God is doing this deeper more purposeful work in many of our leaders, both men and women. He is calling us to a common cause. He has tested us as a people over the course of time and through trials of many kinds. For many it has provided relationships of authentic trust and care. We have rejected the politics of organizational government, choosing instead to relate not because we have to but because we honestly want to. We truly like one another, and the connection is contagious.
“The brothers are coming” – this is the juncture I find myself at in this journey called ministry… it is the cry of my heart!
Something has been happening in the youth ministries here in Boise. Our young people are experiencing a kind of life with God that is new and outwardly noticeable. Not only are they engaging with God in a deeper way through worship, but they are evangelizing their friends and voluntarily praying for people on our city streets. Every Sunday morning they fill the front of our auditorium demonstrably worshipping their hearts out. Honestly they have become a source of encouragement for the entire congregation. We have given credit to our worship and youth pastor, Andy Hendley, for building this new momentum because of his commitment to our youth. We watched these positive changes without comment for a while – perhaps because we feared it would be another short-lived serge of zealousness. I can’t express how blessed and encouraged we have been that over time this move towards God in our youth has been consistent and continues to grow in intensity.
The actual word euthanasia comes from a Greek root meaning “good death”. It is defined as the act of allowing something to die without interruption or putting something to death painlessly. It is therefore my thinking that youth-inizing a church or a church movement will require a kind of willful, purposeful, merciful death. In the natural course of life something must die if there is to be new life. This is how renewal happens. Like Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:23) It does bring to mind the question – what seed must die if new young life is to arise.
Before I attempt to answer that question I’d like to share a few revealing statistics from a recent Barna report. Instead of paraphrasing the report I think it may be more advantageous to include a few paragraphs from the report itself as it addresses the subject of aging church movements and the dilemma of non retiring Baby Boomer pastors. (I’ll include some links for further reading.) In one article the Barna study revealed that not only are Christian congregations growing older across the American but not surprisingly pastors and lay leaders are aging as well. One study reports that, “a decade ago the median age of mainline Senior Pastors was 48; today it is 55. That represents a shockingly fast increase, representing a combination of too few young pastors entering the ranks and a large share of older pastors not retiring. Another study by Barna found that an unusually high share of Boomer pastors are refusing to retire or plan to retire in their mid-sixties, and that succession planning is a glaring weakness in most Protestant churches.” [For a link click here]
Even within the local church, Boomers rule the roost. Today, 61% of Protestant Senior Pastors are from our generation. Among the current lay leaders, 58% are Boomers. And if money talks, then we have the floor: 50% of the money given to churches last year came out of the pockets of Boomers. (That’s more than double the amount given by any other generation.)
Unfortunately, we are not good at sharing. If we are the richest generation the world has ever encountered, we are also its most selfish. And we are driven by the one value that defines us and on which we are willing to squander our money: power. We believe so deeply in our decision-making capacity, and we enjoy the control and perks of calling the shots so much, that we have no intention of relinquishing that power, regardless of traditions, expectations, reason or future interests. Except taken from – “Gracefully Passing the Baton” by George Barna. [For link click here]
First of all let me say that in my opinion the functional presence of Baby Boomers in the church is crucial. I am convinced that the church of today must be multigenerational. It is obviously unnecessary for us Boomers to die before God can rise up a new generation of leaders. Yet, as Barna suggested, we must intentionally relinquish power, regardless of our fears for the sake of future interests. The idea of this can be frightening – I’m a Baby Boomer and I know what it feels like to enter the golden years. I have all kinds of fears of my own. Trying to retire in an economy that is failing is scary. As aging leaders we fear that after years of hard work building thriving ministries, leadership teams and facilities, our predecessors might not be willing to work as hard as we have. They may make mistakes due to lack of experience; they may not be able to handle the kinds of pressures that kept us up night after night. We fear that the people who have esteemed and valued our leadership through the years may turn their eyes to another, leaving us feeling empty and devalued. I could go on and on about the reality of our humanness, but the truth is we started this journey on faith and we need to press on with the same heart. There is one thing that is certain even in these times of uncertainty – an offering of a life of service made with a righteous heart will always have the certainty that God is faithful to provide plenty to do, and may even provide an income to do it. The point is – if we Baby Boomers are willing to give up our entrenched positions of authority he will not put us out to pasture.
Five and a half years ago Nancy and I made the decision to embrace a seven year plan to hand off our senior pastoral role to a qualified successor. It was an emotional decision for three reasons: first, we didn’t feel old or ready to retire; second, we truly loved our church and our work; and finally, we honestly had no idea how we would sustain ourselves financially. In addition to these reasons the only senior pastor transitions I had previously witnessed were for the most part full of conflict and sorrow. My desire was to do this in such a way that I wouldn’t have to leave the church in order not to impose a threat to the new pastor. Our family has four generations attending Vineyard Boise and nearly every meaningful friendship is part of the church as well. We knew we would need a strategic plan to make this transition succeed; and that it would take time so as not to interrupt our culture or momentum in a church our size. My heart was that when my successor took over the congregation would have already accepted their new pastor and trust that I would not be jumping ship. Obviously the first step was to choose the right couple. I wasn’t looking for a clone of myself, but certainly someone who shared my heart to make authentic Christian disciples. Nancy and I found that couple in Trevor and Andrea Estes, who first started attending the church as young singles shortly after Vineyard Boise was planted in 1989. Telling the story of this methodical transition with the Estes couple is worth a paper of its own – perhaps “Youth-inizing the Vineyard – Part II”. For now, however, my only point is that if we are to youth-inize the Vineyard something must die.
Change is scary. Change threatens people. Many leaders avoid real change simply to avoid conflict. Tweaking an organization can’t fix things that are really broken; it requires true change. It is only change that can kick-start the kind of momentum many Vineyards are presently longing for. [An excellent podcast on this subject by Andy Stanley is called “Gaining and Sustaining Momentum”.] [For link click here]
I can’t say for sure, but I think it just might be our conviction to keep the church young, and our serious commitment to turn over the senior role to a younger couple, that has stimulated the new youthful serge of life we are now experiencing. As our youth group continues to grow and the Sunday school fills with the small children of new young families, it has caused me to wonder if God is honoring our sincere effort. I don’t question that our young people love both Nancy and me, but I think they see us more as grandparents now than those they can directly relate to. When I speak of the Jesus Movement or tell stories that took place in the 90’s their eyes glaze over as they wonder if I’m really from the same planet. As much as I try I can’t understand their culture. They’re amused at my ineptness when it comes to technology, and can’t believe my lack of desire to be on Facebook. They laugh with endearment at my jokes and quirkiness, but they really get Trevor’s humor much better. He speaks their language and understands what it’s like to raise young children in an uncertain and changing world. They respect my life experience, and the wisdom and compassion it has cultivated. Thankfully that part will never change. But, more and more I think I am being perceived as an aging grandparent. The church needs Boomers because the world needs grandparents – but grandparents are not meant to demand the primary position of authority in the family. Parents do that. As grandparents, however, we have earned not only the right to be respected but the freedom to do less of what drains us and more of what we feel impassioned to do. It’s the parents’ job to be the disciplinarian and to be on call 24 / 7. It’s the grandparents’ privilege to love the grandkids, but not every minute of every day.
To youth-inize the church, Baby Boomer senior leaders must be not only willing to die to their primary positions of security and authority but must relish the anticipation of new horizons. They must reinvent themselves much as a healthy grandparent should take pleasure in their changing role in the extended family. It’s a crucial moment in the American church and a crucial moment in the Vineyard. It is time for our generation to be as courageous and radical as we once were in the days that we first signed up for this movement. The question remains and must be asked: can we do it or maybe more importantly, are we willing to do it?
After experiencing the impact our “Rooted in Good Soil” small group video series had on over a hundred smalls groups in the Vineyard Boise, we decided to make it available to anyone who shares our desire to enhance the discipleship process in their own church. For those who have already read the book, you know that “Rooted in Good Soil” takes the reader on the journey of the authentic Christian life, starting with brokenness (good soil must be cultivated and broken before planting) and ending in the abundant harvest Jesus speaks of.
This eight week video series will provide the small group facilitator everything needed to cultivate meaningful discussion and ministry. The following is a preview of the first session.
For resources and information please call the Vineyard Boise bookstore, (208) 377-1477, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org .