I hate it when people start talking about ‘passing on the baton’ to the next generation! I’m not doing it. It’s not that I don’t love ‘em and it’s not that I’m insecure, but I’m simply not going there. The only place I can see that happening in scripture is when someone’s about to die! I’m not planning on it so I’m not performing the ultimate plan for it.
If you want to devalue and demobilise a band of believers, then go ahead. Get them to pass on their one solitary baton to some young gun and be left standing on the sidelines simply and dutifully cheering on the next generation. ‘Cheering on’ may be lacking in many quarters of church life but the last thing I want to create with the over 40s is just a cheer squad. You can still cheer while you’re running.
The truth of the matter is this – there is no such thing as ‘the baton’. There is a baton that’s to be held by everyone in their various stages of life development but there isn’t one solitary baton. It’s absolutely true that as we move from say, living in our 20s to living in our 30s, we pass on a certain baton which includes lifestyle, mindset and anointing, but we then take a new baton which includes a new lifestyle, mindset and a new anointing. Everyone has a race to run and everyone has a baton to hold. The 4 x 4 relay baton race analogy of church life falls flat on its face the moment the one baton is handed on. In real church living, another one instantly appears.
It all comes out of our desperation to get younger people into church life. What we really want, however, is everyone to play their part. I can recall one day seeing my Dad dancing to Abba by himself when he was in his 50s. It was at the time when Abba was the hippest thing around. Now that was odd. And it is odd in church life to have people in their different life stages exhibiting behaviour that is not becoming to that particular life stage. Dad dancing should be banned if the Dad is serious about the new season of life he’s now in.
For people in their 20s, going to bed at 10pm should be banned! Sensibility and balance are not words that the iPod generation should understand. Excess is their real middle name, with that excess being channelled into excessive passion for the house of God and the message of Christ. People in their 40s who play guitar in the church band and who aren’t training anyone else up to play along with them (or instead of them) should be banned! If you’re in your 40s, a big part of your role is to impart your skill and wisdom to the emerging generation.
The reason why church life is so mixed up is because worldly value systems have infiltrated the hearts of many. If your church publicly promotes people in their 20s, you’ll usually find a dip in the number of people in their 40s and an accompanying rise of people in their 50s. Without re-education and the introduction of a new value system and a new baton, those in their 40s are often jealous of those in their 20s. They used to song lead, now some good looking 20 year old has got the job. They used to be the Leadership Academy under the optimistic gaze of the Senior Pastor, now a whole new class attends – and guess what – they’re all 20 something. Without a change of mandate, the 40 somethings either …
1. Leave church and join a much smaller breakaway where they’re needed on the drums.
2. Develop a sneering attitude and work against the progress of the new hotshots, or
3. Have a midlife crisis and look for excitement that is outside of the boundaries of righteousness.
Those in their 50s, however, usually have children now in their 20s and so become fans of those in their 20s – that’s if they make it through their 40s, and that’s a big ‘if’. Baton dropping is easy to do. If you add to the dilemma that Mr 40 something knows that his 50 something boss or 50 something spiritual leader is looking to pass on ‘the baton’ to someone in their 30s, then no wonder without proper values and vision, the 40s have become notorious for mid life crises.
The real challenge of church is to guard and promote the transitions between the different stages of life that everyone is destined to pass through. It requires each of us to reinvent ourselves for the new stage of life. Just as a tree loses its autumn leaves in order to gain a new set, everyone who wants long term success must pass on the mandate of the previous life stage and pick up the new mandate and identity of the new stage of life we find ourselves now in.
In the following, I identify 6 stages of life and the lifestyles, mindsets and vision that accompany each of those stages. I also identify the vulnerabilities of each stage. (Much of what I say is broad brush and only selects a few themes related to each age group so relax if it doesn’t totally apply to you!)
STAGE ONE – TEEN YEARS
The catchphrase of the teen years is ‘Discovery Time’. The call is to move from parental belief to original belief and the process is that of discovering God for themselves. Discovering who they really are is fought on a minefield of sexual consciousness, image consciousness and peer pressure. We need more teens in church. We need to give them room to fail, room to mess up and room to rediscover the true essence of Jesus without the trimmings and trappings of our religion.
STAGE TWO – THE TWENTIES
The catchphrase of the 20s generation is ‘Born to Run’. The 20s is the decade of passion. It’s where the belief of the teen years becomes hardnosed conviction. To successfully navigate this ten year span, there must be a commitment to excess and we must provide a church environment where you can be excessive. There used to be a criticism of those who worked for our church down at our Megacentre – they were called ‘Megaholics’. It was a derogatory term, yet it’s not really an insult at all! That’s the birthright to anyone in their 20s. The flipside is the world’s binge culture of excess. Being the most sexually charged generation, it’s important that the 20s generation finds themselves in the right place at the right time. David sinned because he was in the palace when he should have been on the front line at the time of war. The cutting edge is the only place to be on in your 20s.
STAGE THREE – THE THIRTIES
The catchphrase of the 30s generation is ‘We are the Champions’. These years are the prime years to champion and lead the cause of Christ. The 30s represent the champions of a new age of religion-free Christianity – utterly opposed to past regimes and dogmas. It has its own dogma and no one’s going to mess with it. It also represents the time of intensely raising a family that becomes the true heir of the culture and convictions of the parents.
The transition into the 30s is met hard with the devil’s aim to distract the main breadwinner with an obsession for ladder climbing, and discourage the main child carer with feelings of uselessness and abandonment. The new age needs champions – and this decade of believer is to be just that.
STAGE FOUR – THE FORTIES
The catchphrase of the 40s generation is ‘Pillars of Strength’. There’s a general but by no means universal-transition here from front of house to behind the scenes – just as an actor of the main stage can become a producer of the stage show. Behind every performer is a room of directors, producers and leaders – and that’s the same with the workings of God’s church. The transition from limelight to lowlight can be the hardest to make for some – but it is the most important. Envy of those in their 20s can thwart the process. Insecurity can abound. Yet, if the 20s give passion, the 30s give power, then the 40s are there to give strength – pillars of it.
With less time available than those in their 20s, but more than those in their 30s, it’s important to act strategically, entrusting their wisdom to reliable people who will in turn do the same. Pillars don’t win awards, yet without them the roof would collapse. Let everyone in their 40s rise up and start to carry the weight of the church financially, emotionally, strategically and prayerfully. Quit feeling rejected. Quit quitting. Quit your cynicism. It’s time for pillars of strength to rise.
STAGE FIVE – THE FIFTIES
The catchphrase of the 50s generation is ‘Carers of People’. So often, the badge of leadership is taken off someone in their 50s and placed on someone in their 30s. The main temptation for those in their 50s is to invent ways of being significant once again for God. The temptation is to find a new wave of the Spirit and start ‘Dad dancing’ on it. The strength of this generation is to prove the authenticity of all their years of service by caring and carrying without a label called ‘leadership’. Can you do it? Your maturity should bring about a completeness in your identity in Christ, rather than a loss in your identity as a leader. The 50s is about spiritual parenting, not spiritual consumerism.
The fifties can also be a huge reinvention time that includes some kind of re-education, getting stuff out that was packed away during the ‘young family’ years, as well as making brand new friendships and acquaintances.
STAGE SIX – THE SIXTIES PLUS
The catchphrase of the 60s generation is ‘Guardians of the Vision’. With years of wisdom and love, it’s essential that those in this generation move out in the power of oversight and see it as their role to not just care for the flock, but to see each life stage successfully transitioned into and every part of church life thrive. Without the dogma of those in their 30s, without the workload of those in their 40s and without the particular concerns of those in their 50s, the 60s can provide the wisdom and power to see the entire church flourish.
The strongest temptations are those that lead to a critical spirit that hankers back to the good old days. The expression ‘grumpy old men’ did not come about by accident! Being involved in brand new ministries can also keep the sixty pluses vibrant and fresh as well as full of new challenges and horizons.
Creating a generational church is the clear way to creating a powerful 21st century church that holds all of the strengths that every generation brings. It is our greatest challenge. Most new churches, however, can tend to get younger in age. This is generally a result of both the 16-25 window that gives the greatest evangelistic results out of all of the ages profiles, as well as people’s inability to transition to the next life stage the older they get. Life is long and it’s essential to growth to not just gain people quickly through the front door of church life while losing them quietly through the back door after they’ve completed just one of the six life stages that they were actually destined to complete.
The greatest challenge for each of us is to successfully navigate our next transition time between stages. If we do it well, we’ll model it not just to those in their own transition between the same stages as us but to everyone between every stage and in every transition. The results could be staggering.