I work with a lot of churches, church networks, and denominations. The vantage point of this is the opportunity to see trends and the movement of the spirit of God in the body of Christ at large. On the whole, this vantage point is overwhelmingly encouraging, with the occasional point of discouragement.
One point of discouragement has been the lack of discipleship, leadership development, and raising up of a generation (now 2 generations). But the needle is starting to move a little. As the needle begins to move, it allows us to ask the question, “what is changing?” Out of all the hypothesized reasons for the lack of disciples, leaders, and generational disconnect, what is making a difference now? It might not be what you think.
In the mid 2000s, ministry to the Millennials was all the buzz. How do we plant churches? How do we start businesses? How do we created opportunities for young people to move forward in their passions and ministry inclinations? Support-raising clinics abounded and people fundraised their ministry dreams, took chances, and pioneered new ways of being Jesus in their communities. We cared about Millennials, we cared about our neighbors, and we cared about the 10/40 window.
But then 2008 came and all the loose change we gave to support innovative ideas and ministry passions vaporized. Our hope disappeared with our finances. With the loss of pensions and stock values, dreams of retirement faded. We turned to the lottery of celebrity provided by the internet. And when everyone we looked at on TV had the trappings of being rich and was not visibly struggling, we felt shame in our own personal losses.
In the midst of the struggle, our reaction to the Millennial dissatisfaction with the status quo turned from an innovative spark to a mocking it as a pariah. We let the malcontents leave church telling them that, ‘you can’t love Jesus and hate his church,’ and determining that their commitment to Christ was based on how many times they walked in our church doors. We hunkered down, first to survive and then to dig out. And we forgot the things we loved and prayed for the decade before.
Over the last 10 years, things have been very challenging for most people in the US. But finally this is starting to break open. We have been through the valley of the shadow of death, but I am seeing that change in people’s heart. As we ask pastors why they went into ministry in the first place, they are remembering their passions and visions. As we ask them about their future, we are inviting them to dream again with God.
The difference now is not the power of positive thinking – it is identifying and validating the pain of the last 10 years. It is lamenting about what has been and what was lost. It is grieving the death of our own passions and dreams, so that they may be reborn anew in the light of Heaven. We must acknowledge the pain and the struggle, we must cry out to God for our losses, and we must yield to His vision for our tomorrow. Lamenting, grieving, and remembering has broken open the sky.
Now, in ever increasing numbers, I see pastors who are awakened. I see pastors who have remembered their passions and are dreaming again. And they are bringing others with them. They are looking to create discipleship cultures. They are looking to develop home-grown leaders. And they are caring about their neighbors and the refugees in their midst. The truth is, you can't raise up disciples or leaders while you are in survival mode. You can't pour into someone else when you are focused on yourself. And we have been focused on ourselves for a long time, hoping that positive thinking and celebrity escapism would save us. But the answer, as Jesus demonstrated, is that freedom is on the other side of the valley and that seeds must die in order to bear fruit.
How do we see a church that has a culture of disciple-making and leadership development, which plants churches that plants churches? By lamenting, remembering, coming up again for air, and bringing someone with you.