Differences

by Jon Weatherly 

When asked to be an elder, I only knew one thing about the job for sure: I didn’t know what I was doing.
 
That might seem like an odd thing for me to say.  After all, I had a Bible college degree, two seminary master’s degrees, and a doctorate in New Testament studies.  I was a genuine expert and had the papers to prove it.
 
But I knew that eldering mostly involved things for which I had no special training.  I knew that elders had to make personnel decisions, like HR professionals.  I knew that they had to make facilities decisions, like real estate developers.  I knew that they needed to make communication decisions, like marketers.  I knew that they needed to act sensitively toward people in crisis, like counselors.  I was none of those.
 
And so at my first meeting, I began to learn a lesson that I’ve continued to learn since: God calls us to service together, not as individuals.  Church is group work, and so is eldering.
 
Among our elders were the very kinds of people I mentioned above, people with knowledge and experience in areas that I lacked.  Some had professional skills, some had life experience, and some had what I could only call God-given insight.  Together we still didn’t know everything, but together we knew much more than we knew separately.
 
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:4–7
 
Paul’s familiar words apply to the church’s elders as well as the church at large.  The power of God’s Spirit is exercised through the elders together, the church together, exercising the gifts each has received from the Lord.
 
So that realization changed how I operated as an elder.  It meant that I listened much more than I spoke.  It meant that when I did speak, it was often to learn more from my brothers, asking them for their perspectives on the issues that lay before us.  It meant that I approached even the matters about which I thought I knew something with greater patience and humility, remembering that all of us were relying on one another, learning from one another.  It meant that a good elders’ meeting was not one in which I got my way, but one in which I saw others apply their wisdom to everyone’s benefit.  Over time I pray that it brought a greater measure of wisdom to my own life as I learned from the accumulated wisdom of others.
 
And in retrospect, I realize that we learned another lesson about serving together.  The Spirit of God empowers us in our differences, but not so that we will go to one of two extremes.  The first extreme is insisting on our individual empowerment by always finding reason to disagree.  But the second is just as dangerous and sometimes harder to recognize: standing together in conformity to exercise autocratic power.  Sometimes elders are tempted to “stand together” to bend people to their will.  But the love of Christ enables us to see the different gifts and perspectives of elders as reminders to act in love toward one another and toward all in the Lord’s church. 
 
My ecclesiastical forebears insisted that the leadership of the New Testament church was always plural, never the responsibility of one person.  Their disappointments with kings and bishops drove them to read the New Testament with an eye to the plural pattern of leadership.  The answer they found reflects the very nature of the church as the Spirit-empowered people of God.  Our differences overcame my weaknesses.  Working together, a church’s elders in their diversity lead the army of Christ against which the gates of hell will never stand.

From Unanimous … to Unity

by Stuart Jones 

Do you remember playing Red Rover on the playground?  There were two teams lined up across from one another separated by a span of a few yards.  With arms linked together, one team would yell, “red rover, red rover, send Johnny on over!”  And with all the speed and energy he could muster, little Johnny charged out from his team toward the human wall.  If he broke through, he got to return to his team and take one of the other team members with him.  But if the line held and Johnny couldn’t break through, Johnny was now a member of this powerfully unified team.

In the life of the church, there will be moments when the leadership will need to stand together, arms linked, on a decision or a spiritual stance.  We tend to call this “unity.”  But is that all there is to unity?  Unity is more than defining the party line and holding to it.  Unity is more than voting on a decision and accepting the outcome.  Excitement, ownership, investment and trust among the leadership give unity its real traction and power.  Reaching a unanimous decision often requires time, treasure, and talent.  Not receiving true “buy-in” that goes deeper and beyond the simple acquiescence of “toeing the party line” is a recipe for failure.  So how do we differentiate between unanimity and unity?

Real unity is formed through the trust and appreciation that exists among leaders.  If the interaction among leaders is limited to a once-a-month elders’ meeting, the “red rover lines” are weak.  The on-boarding process for elders must share the same value and weight that Paul presents in 1 Timothy 3. Paul starts his thoughts with “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).  When part of the leadership process includes meaningful applications and interviews, we raise the felt value of the position and begin significant, deep relationships with the individuals who do, and who will, comprise the group.  But that is only the beginning.  When we make time among the leadership for socializing, retreats, conferences, etc., we galvanize our leadership relationships.  It is during these moments, void of votes, decisions, and “business,” that true unity is born.  In these moments we learn each other’s stories, history and idiosyncrasies that become such valuable elements of our leadership team.

This depth of unity is further strengthened in times of corporate prayer.  Elders’ meetings must involve defined moments of prayer beyond the opening and closing of a meeting.  Elders are the spiritual leaders of the congregation.  Part of the way we value each other is by praying for and with one another.  Unity is formed as we pray for each other’s families, health, career conflicts, financial concerns and moments of celebration.  Whether it’s during the elders’ meeting or during a weekly prayer time separate from the elders’ meeting, unity grows when we celebrate and care for each other through meaningful, heartfelt moments of prayer.

We can see unity on display when leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder, locking arms.  But unity is not formed in those moments.  Unity grows and becomes real when we know the lives of those with whom we stand, when we know them as the unique creations God intended for such a time as this, when we know them through times of laughter and conversation outside the conference room.  We build unity by holding each other up, lifting each other up, rejoicing with one another in prayer.  

“Unity” is not a vote or decision.  “Unity” is a strong and powerful team of people that God has put together, moving in the direction He has clearly defined.  What could be stronger?  It is that kind of strength and unity that will call people to join the line – and not to break through.

Power, Authority

By Rick Justice

Recently, I twice taught a course on servant leadership for TCM International Institute.  They were held at two locations in Asia.  During the course, we came upon the concepts of “power” and “authority.”  I paused for my translator to translate, and in both sessions, they stopped, looked at me and asked: “Can you describe the concepts to us?  We don’t have a word for that in our language.  We don’t have words that differentiate ‘power’ from ‘authority’ in our culture.”

Scripture does differentiate power from authority.  Remember Paul told the church at Colossae: “For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:9-10, emphasis added).  So I had the students look up the reference in their Bibles.  Now, either their respective translations simply transliterated* the Greek terms, or the translators used such an arcane word that the concepts of power and authority were foreign thoughts to them.  You see, their cultures think of leadership only as the exercising of power.  Sadly, that aspect of culture has leaked into their expression of church leadership as well.

That experience caused me to pause to consider two questions.

First: How often do we, as Western church leaders, also confuse these two concepts?  James Hunter (The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader, WaterBrook Press, 2004) tells us that ‘power’ is the ability to force others to do what we want because of our position or strength; ‘authority’ is the skill to get others to willingly do what we want because of our personal influence.  Power works but it always damages relationships.  Power works when it is present and strong.  When the power is absent or weak, behaviors are not changed for long.

The second question: How often do we resort to power when we could accomplish the same thing using authority?  Sometimes church leaders need to use power (e.g., when defending the flock from harm), but Hunter reminds us: “ … whenever I am called upon to exercise power, that is usually a bad day for me as the leader.  Why?  Because my authority has broken down and I had to resort to my power.”

So, how about our leadership?  Do we rely on power or authority?  Do we limit the use of power to rare instances when it is truly necessary?

As we continue to shepherd the congregation for which we are responsible, let’s encourage each other with the words we find in Jude 24 and 25: “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”  (NIV, 1983) 

*transliteration: the representation of one language’s word in the script/characters of another (i.e. “baptism;” Baptizo was an ancient Greek term that became our English word “baptism” over time.)

People Power

by J. Michael Shannon 

Linus once told Charlie Brown, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” 

Sometimes, we all need a break from people.  That may especially be true after coming off an intensive week as many of us just have at the NACC.  But if we “can’t stand people,” we’re in trouble in church work.  Churches are full of people.  The world is, for that matter.  Nearly everything we do in life is dependent on us being able to manage relationships with each other.  No great thing is ever accomplished without cooperation.  No one person can perform all the tasks that need to get done – especially in the church.  When a congregation succeeds, it’s always the result of the labor of many.  

Some of the qualities that define a leader are the ability to motivate people, utilize their gifts, and marshal their resources.  Nehemiah illustrates this for us.  Even though the needs of Jerusalem – rebuilding the wall especially – were heavy on his heart, he knew there was no way he could do all that needed done by himself. 

Nehemiah first got permission from his king to go about the task God had laid upon his heart.  No doubt, Nehemiah’s faithful service gave the king a good reason to grant his request.  Nehemiah found favor in the eyes of Artaxerxes.  The king even seemed to take a genuine interest in what Nehemiah wanted to accomplish.  Not only did he give Nehemiah permission, but significant resources as well.  Our cultivation of good manners and courtesy will allow some people, even some outside the church, to help us with our task.  Nehemiah marshaled resources. 

Nehemiah also knew he had to motivate God’s people.  He did this by having a plan and challenging people.  People can be expected to react or respond to a plan, but they don’t craft one without the guidance of a leader.  It is the leader’s job to set the agenda and the goals; the people’s job is to amend and adopt them.  The vision Nehemiah cast for the people of Jerusalem was a great challenge – it seemed nearly impossible.  But the people responded and rose to the challenge, perhaps because of Nehemiah’s careful planning, and perhaps because of his enthusiasm. 

Notice his willingness to work side by side with the people.  Sometimes leaders do not receive respect because they insulate and separate themselves from the hard work and labor.  Nehemiah was, in today’s terms, a player/coach.  That is not a bad model for a minister, elder, or deacon. 

The satisfaction of seeing the walls built was not motivation enough, and Nehemiah knew this.  He helped motivate the people by allowing them to work near their own homes.  Each man was vitally interested in his own home being protected.  That personal buy-in kept the people going when the labor got discouraging. 

Finally, Nehemiah knew the ultimate reward for volunteer laborers – words of thanks and commendation.  Too seldom do we give words of commendation in the church.  Maybe this is because we have been erroneously taught that to work unselfishly means to work without thanks.  They are not the same thing.  Very few people in the church are paid anything for the labor they give.  The least they can expect are words like “well done,” “thank you,” and “we couldn’t do this without you” from their leaders.  Many people are convinced, but would never admit it out loud, that they are inept, have failed, and are not making any difference.  Our words of encouragement can keep them going and build them up for future service as well. 

We must cultivate our people power because we desperately need people.  The old saying is true: “It is never too heavy when we all lift together.” 

A New View

by Jeff Metzger 

How do we picture ourselves as elders?  Maybe it’s time to change the way we view our job as leaders in God’s church.  In John 10:42-45 Jesus clearly challenges us to a new model of leadership.  Jesus’ way of leadership is not about authority and control.  It is about serving others in love and imitating His life of sacrifice.  

That’s why it’s not surprising Jesus never used “boss” or “manager” to describe our role.  That’s a misplaced paradigm.  Jesus’ favorite description for his church is “flock.”  And the dominant biblical picture for spiritual leadership, painted across 500 pages of the Bible, is a shepherd and his sheep.  What do shepherds do?  They lay down their lives to feed, guide, protect, care for, and rescue the flock! 

So that’s our challenge.  We step out of the board room and into the pasture.  Imagine the scene.  Feel the breeze.  Look around.  Smell the grass.  Smell the sheep!  We have some wet grass stuck to our mud- and dirt-streaked sandals.  This new perspective changes everything.  In the pasture, our role is not about the institution.  It’s about the people and their well-being. 

People are fed up with institutional oversight.  They have that at work!  In God’s family they want something much better.  They want our loving, caring, mature example.  They want a spiritual parent and guide, helping them grow up and get safely to Jesus. 

Our role as shepherds flows from this – God is our Shepherd!  Our work flows out of the nature of God.  In Acts 20:28 Paul told his close friends plainly, “Be shepherds of the church of God.”  That’s why we are to …

  • Be a model to the flock who finds out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:10).
  • Be a leader to the flock who always moves people toward Jesus (1 Peter 5:1-5).
  • Be a cheerleader who constantly encourages and equips the flock for ministry and maturity (Ephesians 4:10-14).
  • Be a spiritual parent caring for and teaching the flock like a father cares for and teaches his children (1 Timothy 3:5ff).
  • Be a teacher to the flock by knowing, loving, living and sharing the truth while refuting falsehood (Titus 1:9-10).
  • Be a prayer partner on call to pray for the flock and anoint the sick (James 5:14).
  • Be a watchman who guards against danger and watches out for the flock like a vigilant, sleepless sentry (Acts 20:28-30; Hebrews 13:17).

Now, let’s step back into the board room in our minds and look around.  Bosses and managers manage buildings, budgets, personnel, and programs.  They …

  • Call the shots, make the decisions
  • Withhold permission
  • Control and order people around
  • Think for other people
  • Legislate in matters of opinion
  • Grease the squeaky wheels

For too many church leaders this is how they spend the majority of their “shepherding” time.  But, none of these things are what God calls elders, shepherds, overseers to do.  Making these things our primary, or even partial, role is not what Jesus intends church leadership to be! 

The way we see ourselves matters!  We may never have been near an actual sheep in our entire life, but Jesus wants us to see ourselves as a shepherd.  

Shepherding is people-work, not meeting-work.  It is mostly about relationships.  It’s about helping people grow into the character of Christ and serve the cause of Christ.  

Imagine what it would be like to view ourselves in the mirror and see shepherds smiling back!  Can you see it?  Be it! 

Return, Remember, Rebuild

by Jim Estep 

We often relegate the notion of “thanksgiving” to a day on the calendar, one specific time that we pause and take an account of God’s blessings.  But in the Old Testament, thanksgiving was regular and even habitual.  The Hebrews cultivated a spirit of thanksgiving throughout their history.  In fact, one whole category of the book Psalms is thanksgiving, (107-150 are replete with the theme), recounting the blessings of God to the Jewish people.
 
Nehemiah was a man of thanksgiving.  Jerusalem had been destroyed by Babylon in 586BC, and after 70 years away, the Hebrews’ release from exile must have been greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm.  But it would also pose great challenges.  Nehemiah was a leader who was given the task of overcoming some of the greatest of these challenges; in the midst of them, thanksgiving to God was always present in his life and work.
 
Nehemiah 12 mentions “thanksgiving” four times as he recounts and engages God’s calling on his life.  First, he gives thanks for the return.  Nehemiah was the leader of the third group to return from exile, and verse 8 highlights the songs of thanksgiving for those who were now able to return to their homeland, Judah, after generations away.  They felt profound thanks to God for being home.
 
Next, he remembers their history, singing of them as well.  Verse 24 even speaks of responsive singing between two groups, “as prescribed by David the man of God.”  Later in the text (verse 46) he recalls, “For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph …”  Thanksgiving is part of remembering the past, embracing it, continuing its traditions.  That was especially true for the Jews, having lost them for 70 years of exile.  They were finally free to reclaim them.
 
Third, thanksgiving is given specifically because of the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.  Having been destroyed decades before, the daunting task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was completed in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15).  Later in the book it was time to dedicate them to God with thanksgiving.  Nehemiah 12:27 says the Levites dedicated the walls “with songs of thanksgiving,” acknowledging God’s provision.
 
As we lead God’s people, thanksgiving has to be a perpetual practice for us.  (Yes, we even go beyond the occasional inclusion of “Blessed Assurance” and “Count Your Blessings” during worship!)  Let’s lead the church to times of deep thanksgiving:  returning to the foundations of our faith, helping our brothers and sisters remember our heritage, and always pointing them toward building a future that is stronger and healthier than ever before.  Amen!

What I Wish my Elders Knew about Me

by Rick Grover 

Let’s face it.  The relationship between elders and a senior minister is tricky.  When I started as the senior minister of East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, one of our elders told me we had to learn to dance together without stepping on each other’s toes.  Indeed.  It took time, patience, humility and a lot of communication, but I can honestly say our elders and I are now doing the waltz together. 
 
You can too.
 
When I talk with senior ministers around the country, I hear a similar story: “I wish my elders knew __________ about me…”  Here are five of the most common “blank fillers” ministers wish their elders knew about them.
 
1. I wish my elders knew me personally and not just professionally.  Our relationships cannot completely center on the church’s wins to celebrate, conflicts to resolve, staff/volunteer issues, or finances.  I know that I work much better when I know we are friends and we’ve got each other’s backs.
 
2. I wish my elders knew I am for them and not against them.  I know I get defensive at times, but “we’re on the same team,” and I’m playing to win with you, not to boost my individual stats.  I want to learn from you and share with you.  Forgive me for the times I spout off about my “wonderful” vision and get frustrated when I feel like you’re holding things back.  Thank you for leading with faith, and with a healthy dose of caution.
 
3. I wish my elders knew how hard I work at preaching, leading the staff, visiting the sick, “marrying and burying,” witnessing to the lost, discipling the saved … and still protecting time for my wife and kids.  Someone once told me it must be nice to work one day a week.  It took effort not to hit him.  I know that you, my brother and elder, are working very hard in your career and in leading our congregation well.  Thank you for acknowledging that I am, too. 
 
4. I wish my elders knew how much I love the church.  I really do.  I want to see the church grow in healthy ways, and I get just as frustrated as you do when the church is plateaued or in decline.  My work here is not just a job.  I love the people I serve, even when a few of them get under my skin. 
 
5. I wish my elders knew how hurting and alone I feel at times.  While it’s not my intent to complain, there are moments when I just want to throw in the towel.  I’m sure you have felt that way before.  If I can’t be vulnerable with those who hired me and can fire me, to whom do I talk about these moments?  Fellow elders: ensure that your preacher participates in a pastors’ covenant group where we can let down every guard, talk about how we’re really feeling, encourage and support each other, and let brothers look into every dark corner of our souls.
 
Elders, as one of these senior ministers who wants to know you better and be better known by you, thank you for fulfilling your role of shepherding, teaching, and caring for the flock. 
 
Your task is difficult yet rewarding.  It is demanding yet enriching.  It is burdensome yet fulfilling.  Thank you for getting to know your preacher.  Thank you for encouraging him, praying for him, and letting him know we’re in it together.  All you need to do is learn to dance without stepping on each other’s toes.

Streamlined Decision Making

by Jerry Harris

Churches regularly wrestle with their speed and agility in decision-making.  This is especially true with churches that utilize a church eldership that is wholly separated (structurally) from the church staff.  Everyone has an opinion, some informed and some uninformed – irrespective of whether it’s coming from paid staff or lay leader.  

While everyone fits in the body of Christ, Paul teaches us that our individual location and function within that body is highly specific.  There are just some things that others do better than us – and vise-versa.  It’s true for decision-making too; one leader’s opinions will be more informed and gifted than another’s, depending on the topic at hand.  

God designed the Church to run more like an organism than an organization.  Just like the human body, Christ expects His body, the church, to operate according the gifts and abilities of its parts.  The problem arises when, in the church, decision-making is accomplished by committee after hearing each opinion equally.  This might sound fair to our Western ears, but it isn’t the way Jesus designed His Church to operate.  Leaders often don’t shine as brightly as they otherwise could because everyone wants to, or at least is expected to, weigh in on every subject.  Not only does this slow down the decision-making process, but the entire exercise is confused by opinions that aren’t beneficial to the body moving forward. 

In an effort to get a laser focus on this, we did a leadership exercise early on at the Crossing. Before an annual strategic leaders’ retreat, I asked each elder to write down what he saw as the greatest strengths of the others there.  Those papers were turned in to me ahead of the retreat to be compiled.  

At the retreat, we had the elders sit in a circle, put a chair in the middle of the room, and one by one, each elder sat in the chair.  

Once seated, I read to each elder what had been written about him.  It was wonderful, encouraging, affirming, and humbling.  After the comments were read, all the leaders gathered around the elder in the chair and prayed.  Each elder broke down as he humbly received the praise.  

There were two very important things that became apparent through the exercise: 

First, we saw that in one or two areas, each leader was especially equipped and gifted.  We realized that we each had a specific role inside the leadership and that our opinion was vital in specific areas.  This did not mean that opinions in weaker areas were useless.  It did, and does, mean that God has provided us a well-rounded team, with each part of the team having more insight than others in specific matters.  Recognizing this, we work more like an organism, not an organization, reaching decisions quickly.  

Second, we saw that God had given us great talent in nearly every necessary area when we viewed ourselves as a body rather than a committee.  It was awesome to see that God had already provided all we needed to make great, highly competent decisions.  Discussion also streamlined as each leader gave the weight of opinion to the leader or leaders with recognized expertise.  This also has the entirely Biblical effect of affirming each leader as we rely on the gifting, equipping, and expertise of each part at different times.  

John Wooden, the great basketball coach, was often heard saying, “Be quick, but don’t hurry!”  Operating as a body makes the church quick to move, pivot, adjust, release resources, and to trust each other while they do it.  It accomplishes all this without feeling frantic as deadlines approach, or feeling insecure because insufficient time was spent on a particular subject. 

There are dozens of “one anothers” and “each others” in the New Testament.  God has provided for us, especially through fellow Christ-followers – and we can trust His provision in our leadership’s decision-making process.  Lean on your fellow leaders, and watch our Father do the remarkable.

Power of One Another

by Gary Johnson 

I’m writing to you this week from India, where I am part of a team working with Dr. Ajai Lall and Central India Christian Mission, in Damoh.  One of the highlights of the trip has been the dedication and distribution of our original series of books – Answer His Call, Reflect His Character, Lead His Church and Enjoy His People  in Hindi!  Through our partnerships with CICM and LATM (Literature and Teaching Ministries/Joplin, MO), several thousand of these books are now available in the largest language group of India, (and the fourth-largest language in the world).  Dr. Lall said, “The books will help leaders understand and fulfill their God-given role in the church, as there are no such books available in Hindi about this subject. Evangelical churches throughout India don’t have a manual to train their elders to strengthen their ministry.  These books will cater to the great need and fill the gap of this great ministry.”  While here, it was our privilege to help begin the distribution of these books to elders in Central India. 

Our ongoing partnership with LATM has been a great blessing to e2: effective elders in that they have made it possible for our literature to be translated into five languages to date, (Russian, Polish, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu), and they have now begun the process of our first translation into Spanish!  In Eastern Europe, TCMI has been using the Russian and Polish editions in their church leadership courses, and Colegio Biblico will soon be doing the same in Mexico. 

As we pray and further develop our work among elders, the Lord continues to reveal to us that e2: effective elders is not a ministry, so much as it is becoming a movement that began in the Midwest, has moved into different regions of our country, and is now moving around the world.  In fact, Ajai and I have begun planning an Elders’ Conference at CICM’s location in Damoh for February 2019 that will host 1,000 elders from India and six neighboring countries.  This is only possible through the principle, and indeed the deliberate practice, of one another

When we read the New Testament, there are over fifty uses of the phrase “one another,” “each other,” etc.  God wants us to do life in relationship and partnership with one another to advance His kingdom, both near and far.  We are better, stronger, and wiser when we help one another in the name of Jesus. 

We are grateful to the many churches who have become ministry partners with e2: effective elders.  Because of your investment in this ministry as one of your missionaries, you are literally serving elders across the country and around the world!  Your investment in these men will enable them to lead the Church more effectively, and when that happens, the Church grows. 

Stuck in the Middle (Part 2)

by Rick Chromey 

In the early 70s, Scottish band Stealers Wheel had a radio hit titled “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  There were clowns to the left and jokers to the right but the singer was still “stuck in the middle.”
 
It could be Gen X’s generational theme song.
 
As we explored last week, Gen X (born 1961-1981) is “the Jan Brady” of American generations, growing up sandwiched between the two great American generations of the older Boomers (born 1943-1960) and the younger Millennials (born 1982-2004).  Stuck in the middle is never easy and Gen X has grown up a bit chippy and grumpy.
 
As elders of local churches it’s critical to understand the generational dynamic of your congregation.  As you survey your church do you see a predominant generation?  If you’re like many churches today you’re probably seeing more gray, white, blue and no hairs.  In my studies of churches in the past 35 years I’ve noticed when the average age of a church exceeds 50 that it’s a potential sign of decline.  Healthy churches mirror the contextual age of their community and unless you’re in a retirement community you need to stay below that age “watermark.”

Which brings us to another sobering generational truth:  while the fast-graying Boomers are finally retiring and the 20- and 30-something Millennials play their entitlement cards (with some success), Gen X is now getting passed over.
 
It’s very evident in the job market.  The Great Recession (2007-2012) hit Gen X the hardest.  The emerging digital and cyber economy shuttered middle management and ended industrial-era employment.  Many 40-something Gen Xers lost full-time jobs and never got them back while Boom elders worked past the traditional retirement age of 55.  To survive, Gen X downsized, moved, and chose bankruptcy.  Unlike the Depression generation, who eventually recovered, in a post-modern, post-industrial world Gen X can read the writing on the wall.
 
In the church this truth is equally evident.
 
The Boom generation first tasted leadership (as elders) back in the mid-1980s thanks to a leadership vacuum left by the retiring G.I. Generation. Many elders were still in their late 20s and early 30s when they assumed eldership. These young Boom leaders launched an ecclesiastical revolution, sparking the infamous “praise versus hymns” worship wars. Boomers, particularly in megachurches, reinvented Sunday morning into an “event” where PowerPoint, bands and pulpit-less communicators took center stage.
 
Like good middle children Gen X complied and applauded these ecclesiastical cosmetic changes, then waited in the wings for their turn.  By the 1990s, as Boomer senior ministers still held tightly to their pulpits, frustrated Gen X youth ministers launched a new “emerging church” brand that featured hipper music, better visuals and TedTalk sermons. The reason was simple: Gen Xers (unlike the Boomers) were AWOL from church and they wanted to get their peers back.

During the 2000s, a new reality emerged: the Millennials shocked everyone and left church altogether (becoming known as the “nones” for “no spiritual affiliation”). A decade later, Gen X grew restless and is now leading a new absentee cohort known as the “dones” (as in “done with church”). In many congregations Boomers are now the predominant regular attenders—aging fast and passing away.
 
The best solution is to reenergize Gen X, but that’s not happening.
 
Instead the American church is passing over Xers for the younger Millennial creating both angst and anger. Furthermore, countless older Gen X pastors, still capable and desirous, are tragically overlooked to lead as elders or hire as preachers or staff.
 
The Boom-led congregations want youth and Gen Xers no longer fit the mold. Meanwhile Gen X-led churches are also hiring Millennials, even over their own peers (more affordable and moldable).
 
Gen X is caught in a proverbial catch 22.
 
So what can elders do?
 
First, aim for balance in your leadership and church staff. If one generation is dominant, there’s room for change. Second, survey the generational attitudes of your congregation. What’s the older Boomer wanting? What’s Gen X thinking? What’s the younger Millennial seeking?
 
It’s also time to think differently about Gen X altogether, especially those 50-somethings who’ve been out of work for awhile. They may be your best hire. They’re experienced, willing, capable and enthusiastically affordable.
 
Yes, Gen X is getting long in the tooth but that doesn’t mean they’re done or can’t lead a church to its best days. Ben Merold proved that idea wrong.
 
The “stuck in the middle” Jan Brady generation just wants the chance.