Step Aside But Don’t Disappear

With another birthday passing, middle age is mostly in the review mirror. I’m not ancient, but the vigour and enthusiasm of my 20s are MIA. Like me, you might wonder what making a meaningful difference looks like in the years to come.

Quoting the prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost, Peter assures us, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” In Joel’s day, prophesy, visions and dreams were the domain of older, male religious types. With the outpouring of God’s Spirit, Peter proclaimed divine revelation is available to all, regardless of gender, class or AGE. Sure, there’s consolation if you feel your best years are, but more astounding is the news that God works through young adults.

The early luminaries of the Plymouth Brethren, VMC’s spiritual tradition, were quite young when they inspired this movement. Craik, Cronin, Muller and Darby were in their twenties, and the old guys—Bellet and Groves—were barely in their thirties. Thirty seems so young to me now, even though I stepped into my first lead pastor role at age 31.

Why are established church leaders hesitant to engage young adults as leaders? Do we suspect their inexperience will cause irreparable damage? Could it be our dissonance with their methods and values? We may resist passing the baton because we fear displacement and a diminished sense of purpose.

The Old Testament seems to limit Levitical service in the Tabernacle to those aged about 25-50. However, meaningful service continued beyond 50; “They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.” (Num. 8:26). “Retirees” were encouraged to support younger leaders.

According to a recent study, our sixties represent our most influential decade. Having journeyed longer and further, we are well-equipped to support those who are mid-course or just beginning. We can guide, encourage, promote, pray, defend, secure resources, share wisdom, create opportunities, and lend a hand. We can companion in adversity, failure, sorrow, and doubt; and celebrate success. We still have so much to offer in our later decades!

As parents, Sharon and I provided our preschoolers with firm direction and boundaries. In elementary school we added moral reasoning and greater flexibility. Parenting looked more like coaching as our teens made more of their own decisions. Eventually our children graduated from uni, married, and one is raising children. These days, parenting is mostly about hugs and encouragement. Occasionally we share wisdom, though only when solicited.

What if the arc of our influence reflected the phases of parenthood? There is a season for deciding, designing, directing, and doing, but then its time to decrease so young leaders might increase. Can we step aside but remain present in a supportive and lifegiving way?

Ultimately, we don’t entrust the church to young leaders; we entrust young leaders to the Spirit. Whether it’s our dreams, visions, prophetic insights, or those of the emerging generation, it is the same Spirit who inspires and illuminates.

– Mike Stone, VMC Executive Director

Article from Thinking Ahead Spring 2023 (Read the rest of the issue here or PDF)

(Photo: Mike Stone praying for Nat Evans, Lead Pastor, ForestView Church, Oakville, ON.)

Step Aside But Don’t Disappear
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