Stuck in the Middle (Part 1)

by Rick Chromey 

Gen X is the “Jan Brady” of American generations.  For elders in the local church, this is a significant insight to understand.  How we view a generational cohort impacts the way we lead, the decisions we make and the legacy we leave.
 
Jan was the middle Brady Bunch sister, stuck between the popular, beautiful Marcia and the innocuous, precocious Cindy.  Jan was constantly trying to fit in, speak out and move up in the family dynamics.  She created new personas, chose compliance and voiced dissidence.  Nothing worked.
 
In fact, as a middle sister she was frustrated, hurt and angry.
 
Gen X (born 1961-1981) knows that feeling well.  We’ve grown up as a cultural “Jan Brady” between two great American generations.
 
As kids of the 70s and 80s, Gen X watched the Boom Generation (born 1943-1960) relish their popular status in American culture.  These post-WW2 “Spock” babies were celebrated Disney kids – donning coonskin caps and Mickey Mouse ears – who later fueled a rock ’n roll era that produced beatniks, Black Panthers, Jesus freaks and flower children.  Later, the Boomers enjoyed a 1980s Reagan economic renaissance fostering yet another moniker: yuppies (Young Urban Professionals).  They also found Jesus and seeded a megachurch movement that reimagined American Christianity.
 
Everything the Boomers did was big – and the shadow cast was long.

The problem is Gen Xers grew up beneath a different American psyche.  Gen X was labeled and libeled as slackers, goonies, exorcist kids and bad news bears.  Abortion and divorce tattooed this 70s and 80s generation as did their lot as children of the latchkey and daycare.  Consequently, Gen X has always nursed a cultural chip on their shoulders.  Gen X was widely defined as cynical, lazy and snarky; they’ve always felt like an outsider.  To a breakfast club generation, reality bites.
 
And then those innocuous Millennials came along in the 1980s.
 
Like precocious Cindy, this “baby on board” generation (born 1982-2004) was everything Gen X wasn’t. They were wanted, protected and venerated.  With a cultural blessing from Hollywood to the White House, the Millennials could do no wrong.  They were suckled on Disney, celebrated as “Spy Kids” and enjoyed “Home Improvement” family ties.  The church showered Millennials with the best in children’s and youth ministry programs, events, curricula and facilities.
 
And now older Millennials are assuming church leadership roles.
 
So what do these generational contexts mean to you as the leader of a church?  Actually, quite a bit.  Take a look around your eldership.
 
How many are over the age of 56?  These are your “Marcia” Boomers.
 
Do you have any elders younger than 35?  These are “Cindy” Millennials.
 
The rest in the middle, in their late 30s to early 50s, are the “Jan Brady” Gen Xers.
 
From my long observation of churches in America today, if your church is under 300 members and at least 15 years old, chances are, the majority of your elders are Boomers.  Rural churches tend to lean towards Boomer elders too.
 
Larger churches that were birthed pre-2000 tend to lean Boomer while emerging churches of the past decade tend to have Gen X and even Millennial elders.
 
All of these generational contexts are critical to how an eldership leads.
 
A primarily Boomer eldership will be more neo-traditional whereas a Gen X eldership will be more progressive.  The Boomer eldership views change as a necessary evil, while a Gen X eldership views change as inevitable.  Millennial elders, if they have a seat at the table, remain in the minority but they view change as constant. They are quite comfortable with fluidity and nothing is sacred.
 
Boomer elderships possess an optimism that engages and attracts younger Millennial leaders. To the contrary, Gen X elders carry a cynicism that drives churches to think outside older formats, including the “mega” models popularized by the Boomers.
 
As the Boomers age, and it’s happening quicker now, they are beginning to step down as elders. The problem is, in many American congregations, the Boomers are the only ones left. Many U.S. churches do not have a strong Gen X or Millennial population in their church and it’s created a leadership vacuum unlike anything we’ve seen in three decades.
 
As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changin.’
 
He’s right.
 
We’ll follow this up with a Part 2, digging deeper into what it all means.

Partnership

by Todd Thomas 

Throughout the years there have been some pretty famous and successful partnerships that have literally changed the world.  A few that come to mind in recent memory are Bill Gates & Paul Allen at Microsoft, Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak at Apple, Larry Page & Sergey Brin at Google, Bill Hewlett & Dave Packard at HP; even Batman & Robin as crime fighters – and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention peanut butter & jelly! 

While I jest on those last two, my point is that partnerships are important and essential when it comes to being effective, especially in the local church.  For the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to be partnered with my fellow Elders working together so that our church can be effective in reaching people and creating a healthy community that people want to be a part of.  I am blessed to be on a team of Godly men who are united with the desire to see Jesus preached and lifted up in our community.  But this kind of atmosphere didn’t just happen.  It took intentional, deliberate partnership. 
 
The Apostle Paul thanked the Philippians for partnering with him in spreading the Gospel through their practical and financial ministry to him.
 
Philippians 1:3-6 (CSB) 
I give thanks to my God … because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
 
In a similar way, Sebastian Christian Church’s eldership decided to partner with e2 because of our belief in their ministry to equip elders – and whole elderships – to “lead well” in their respective churches and help create healthy environments so that the Church can be as effective as possible.
 
SCC has benefited from e2’s ministry and partnership.  Through the teaching and training that we have received, we are seeing our church family grow, and lives transform for Jesus as we make an impact in our community.  Thus far, we have been able to host two leadership summits for area churches led by Dr. Johnson.  It has been incredibly valuable for those who participated.  We want to continue to be a church of influence.
 
Like Paul was grateful for the Philippians, we are grateful for the ministry of e2 and look forward to our continued partnership with them.  I encourage you and your church to support the ministry of e2 both in prayer and financially so that together we may be an encouragement to their ministry and help make their mission as successful as possible for the glory of God.

Barnabas

by Larry Travis

Every minister has the responsibility of replacing himself in ministry.  We must be concerned about those coming behind us.  We must ask the questions:  Who will be the next leaders?  Who will be the next preaching ministers, the next youth ministers, the next worship leaders?  Who will be the next elders in our churches?  This need strikes at the core of who we are as leaders, as men and women who want to the church to grow and the Gospel to be shared with the whole world.
 
Today this is a challenge. Ministerial attrition ranges between 50-60%.  Some Christian colleges report attrition from their ministerial classes as high as 71%.  Many ministers are burdened by debt, conflict in their churches, a lack of support, and many feel they are “doing ministry” alone.  Most have no one to turn to in their time of need.  Most are not being trained and encouraged as they continue ministry.  Most of the Christian Church Bible colleges are struggling to stay open.  Fewer and fewer of the best young men and women are listening to the call to join full-time, vocational ministry.  The challenges for the church are not only real but they are immediate.
 
There is no single answer to this dilemma but there is something that every minister can do.  Each man or woman can take under their wing a younger minister and be their mentor.  
 
We have Biblical precedent for this.  Elijah mentored Elisha.  Jesus mentored the disciples.  Barnabas mentored Paul.  Paul mentored Timothy.  But it’s not just about discipleship.  It’s not just about training and learning the ministerial craft.  It’s about learning from each other.  It’s about gaining support and help and love … knowing there is someone beside us as each minister takes on the challenge of leading God’s church.  This is at the heart of the newly formed Center for Church Leadership that is based in Cincinnati under the leadership of Dr. Tim Wallingford.  Over 500 churches are a part of the network.  A new ministry initiative of CCL is beginning this month, called The Safety Net.  There will be 50 men who will be willing to take calls from ministers who need prayer, a friend, an advocate in the ministry.  This program can be for every minister because the best ministry is done in community with others.
 
So ask yourself.  Who are you praying for every day in the ministry?  Who are you calling to encourage?  Who are you taking to lunch?  Who are you walking beside to make sure they will stay the course in ministry?  Ask yourself:  who will take your place?  Who will be the next to fill the pulpit?  Who is your church sending to Bible college to be trained?  Who is being mentored so they will take up the mantle of leadership in the future?
 
In Proverbs 27:17 it says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  No minister can mentor everyone, but each minister can, at least, mentor one.  Who is it for you?  
 
When will you begin?

What I’d like Elders to Know

by Darin Mirante

In my almost year and a half of being in the role of lead pastor, I have been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by eight elders who are constantly there for me.  I have a group of elders who don’t just keep me accountable, but keep me encouraged.  They are not just leaders, but friends. We don’t meet just to plan and discuss, but to also share life and a meal.  Our partnership in ministry is deeply personal, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
 
We all understand we are a team and that what we GET to do is an absolute privilege.  Every single person at the table comes with a posture of humility, because we are all in tune with our lack of competency, fully dependent on our availability and God’s guidance.  We recognize our need for each other.
 
For me, the greatest attribute an elder can have is simply the ability to “be-with.”  An elder who chooses to walk alongside me and link arms in both ministry AND in life is an incredible gift.  I am surrounded by elders who are in the trenches with me, having no desire to be “above the fray.”  We really are in this together.  They’ve got my back and I have theirs.
 
Every Sunday, after giving the message and our worship time over, I walk out to the lobby and see multiple elders approach me, smile, put out their hand, and say “great job.”  This means the world to me.  They are pulling for me.  They want me to succeed, not just for the church, but for me.  They love me and they sincerely like me.  

That’s a big deal.
 
The elders that surround me are some of my greatest cheerleaders.  Knowing they are always for me helps me preach better on Sunday morning and sleep better on Sunday night.  Their constant encouragement and affirmation allows me to be fully present with my wife when at home and totally at rest when away on vacation.  I’m continually reminded that I’m not in this alone.
 
What I wish elders knew is how much we as pastors value their emotional support and encouragement over their knowledge, advice, or even accountability.  Those things are necessary – great, even – but what lifts our spirits and keeps us going is not more strategy or vision, but more “walking with.”  My greatest challenge is not in needing help with my head, but my heart.  My heart is what brings insecurity, uncertainty, and exhaustion.  An elder’s encouraging word, and most importantly his presence, is what truly fills me up.  

I have eight men in my life who are walking alongside me in the greatest responsibility of leading God’s church and the question they ask me the most is, “How is your wife doing?”  Such a simple question, but it reflects their heart and the priorities they have in mind when they think about me.  
 
Simply put, they care.  My elders are a beautiful gift and a daily blessing to me.  They make me better in all the ways that matter most.
 
If you are an elder reading this, choose not to live above the fray focusing more on presence in meetings over presence in life.  Choose to walk with.  If you are a lead pastor reading this, always lead with gratitude and humbly recognize the elders God has put in our lives for such a time as this.  We GET to be a gift in each other’s lives.  May we lean on each other well.