Sunday, April 02, 2017

Calling All Inter-generational Missionaries

My sister sent me a message the other day through Facebook.  Somehow, she had caught a glimpse of my friend, Josh Husman, doing his thing on Facebook Live.  Josh and I go way back.  We met each other at DePauw.  Josh stood with me in my wedding.  And, to top it all off, we were also part of the greatest Fuller Theological Seminary flag football team ever created, although the actual documentation on this achievement seems scant.  Then again, we did have an Armenian track star lining up for us at wide-receiver, so there is that.

In any case, there was Josh on my computer screen, dressed in his hipster cardigan, standing in front of an elegant and sharp looking backdrop of neon tube lights.  Around him were the obvious displays of a modern worship band:  a drum set, several guitars in their stands, microphones, and a keyboard.  I may have even spied a banjo. 

Josh's story is an incredible story.  In five years, Josh and his fellow servants have seen a church grow from a small plant meeting in an out-of-the-way office building on the north side of Indianapolis to a congregation with four weekly services.  Oh, and it's also moved from that little office building all the way up to the heart of Carmel, Indiana, taking over an old Borders Book Store.  Inside it is now barn-wood and stainless steel and Kuerig machines and Ikea tables.  

Most church plants don't make it.  Like 80% fail.  But, this church - Mercy Road - is more than making it.  It is flourishing, and it is flourishing largely because it is engaging younger people.  Gen-Xers like me, to be sure, are coming to church.  But, primarily, they're hitting it big with Millenials.  I know Josh well enough to know it's more than just a young church.  Tom Abernathy goes to his church.  Yup, that Tom Abernathy.  That old dude from IU Basketball's glory days.  Still, Mercy Road trend's young.  You don't go there if you like choirs and robes.

Which is pretty much exactly like the church I serve, aside from the barn-wood and the worship band and the the neon tube lighting.  We pretty much trend young, if you count 60 as young.  Oh, well, I guess we do have a Kuerig machine.  We even have two!  And we have a projector. 

Anyhow, this explains why just after lunch, I found myself traveling up the road with three of my church family members up to Autumn Glen, one of our resident local assisted-living communities.  

Allie Peabody lives in one of the smaller condos at Autumn Glen.   She's been back there now for about six months, and normally she would make the short trip to our church on Sundays.  However, a few weeks ago she took a weird step, damaging a ligament in her foot.  She didn't think much of it at first.  Allie is tough, and if you want proof just ask her about the time she coordinated a protest to get a "STOP" sign installed at a local intersection.  She mobilized a crew, got everyone into action, and after the local authorities saw she was serious, they relented to her request.  But, time and age have a way of presenting challenges that are even too tough for people like Allie. 

At least, that's what I'm learning now as a pastor to Allie and others like Allie.  Like John McKee, a ninety-year old man who has worked harder and longer than I can even begin to imagine, who still walks his yard to pick up the sticks before mowing his lawn for the first time in the spring.  John is the sort of guy who puts us young whipper-snappers to shame, but recently his back has laid him low again.  He looked me in the eye today and told me he is thinking about going in for his third back surgery.  He's had four bypasses by the way, too.  One time they even went ahead and just replaced a whole artery in his neck because the old one was growing useless and constricting the blood flow to the width of the lead sticks in a mechanical pencil.  So, yeah, individuals like Allie and John, they've seen a thing or two.

When you sit with older individuals these are the stories that will come up.  It used to make me squirm a bit, but I've since grown to see that there is holiness even in this liturgies of illnesses and aches.  Besides, if mortality proves true, there's a good chance I'm headed down this road too.  i

More importantly, if you sit long enough with the Allie's and the John's of this world, you also begin to hear and see another story unfolding, a beautiful and deeper story.  That's precisely what happened as I sat with Allie and a few others in the library room at Autumn Glen.  We moved past the aches and pains.  We moved back in time.  Allie started telling me about killing chickens once a week for the family dinner, lopping off their heads and plucking out all those feathers.  You saw this fire called dignity start burning in her eyes.

To my left, Juanita took up the slack and added her own story.  For a year, she would take the bus all the way up to Indy, get off at the bus stop and walk thirteen blocks to her employment only to do it all over again each afternoon as she headed back for Coatesville.  So when Juanita tells me about her aching feet again in the future, I'll think twice before I write her off.  I can't say I've walked those thirteen miles in her shoes.

There are times I'm wise enough to shut up and just listen, and what I begin to hear is of a generation that isn't so much demanding respect as wondering how precisely the world has moved on so quickly.

But, as I watched these four individuals come alive in that library, this other thought really took control of me. 

Josh's church needs our church.   

And our church needs Josh's church.

For whatever reason, ours is a culture that compartmentalizes almost everything.  Advertising and marketing trends break us into generations.  Churches often follow suit.  Hands down, though, the healthiest young people that I know are the ones who are gaining wisdom from their elders.  Likewise, the healthiest senior adults I know are the ones who are actively interested in what is really happening in the lives of young people.  I don't mean harping or bemoaning on what is wrong with young people.  That is a different thing.  No, I mean those older adults who are still young at heart and longing to pass on their wisdom and love to the next generation.

I am reminded of a couple Anna and me met while we were out in Pasadena.  We were going to this hip church, for - you guessed it - young people.  Hey, we progress in stages, okay.  It was called Warehouse, and by intention it was the exact opposite of the morning service at the big church.  No choir, no pews, no hymn books, and no grand stage.  Everything was stripped down, and to suit the younger audience, church started at 6 pm in the evening.  Young people like Anna and I didn't start filing into until 6:05 pm at the earliest of course, and when we did, there was a worship band leading us through a series of songs to ease us into the service. 

Near the center of the aisle, though, in the middle of the congregation at Warehouse, there was this older couple, probably in their mid-70's.  He was tall with nicely parted hair and khaki pants and loafers.  She wore casual but classy clothes and often had bracelets or jewelry around her neck.  They stood out among the crowd, and at first I wondered if they had accidentally walked into the wrong room, as if they had come for a Primetimers Bible Study, but took a left where they should have taken a right. 

Not at all.  They were here, I came to find out, because they believed it was important to be there for the next generation.  They believed it was important to see how young people were connecting with God and to be there to support this next generation in their faith.

I don't know that they would have put it this way, but they were inter-generational missionaries.

We need more inter-generational missionaries.

We need mature, older Christians willingly stepping out of their comfort zones to befriend and encourage younger Christians.  And we need younger Christians to embrace ministries of help and service to older adults.  We need younger Christians to embrace opportunities for friendship and to claim a mentor in their lives.

We need to find each other because each generation has so much to give to the other.  We need to find each other because separated as we are, all of us languish.  But, perhaps most importantly, we need to find each other because the future of the church in America may just depend upon it.

Josh's church needs our church.

We need Josh's church.

Let's hope we find each other.