A year ago at this time I wrote an open letter to Harold Camping congratulating him on exercising the wisdom to step down from his ministry following several errant end-of-the-world predictions. While it may seem harsh, I then addressed a few other letters to Christian leaders I felt should do the same. I feel the need to share those again, but this time around I want to follow up with some other material which had appeared here earlier the same month.
Dear Pat Robertson,
I have always greatly respected you ever since reading your early biography Shout it from the Housetops as a much younger Christian. You don’t know this, but one night while you were still in the old Spratley Street Channel 27 studios, I was in your office and sat in your chair; and the next day was privileged to watch The 700 Club from the control room. You’ve played a big role in my life and taught me much about both faith and media.
But like the letter above, I’m wondering if perhaps it’s time to step back from the microphone and the camera and allow God to work through others. Remember that story in Shout It… where you were doing a telethon and God told you to, “Get out of the way”? Well, perhaps we’ve reached a similar juncture. Many of your recent pronouncements have been unusual to say the least, and I suspect even some of your staff are concerned. You built a great broadcasting network and a great university, and you’ll always have my respect for that. I just want to see the story end well.
Dear Jack Van Impe,
You have been relentless in your pursuit of relevant television ministry, especially where the prophetic writings of scripture intersect with the pages of the local newspaper. Your awareness of current events coupled with your Bible knowledge have given you a unique voice among Evangelicals.
But lately, you’ve been somewhat seduced by the writings of Noah Hutchings, who I guess is also trying to stay attuned to what’s going on in the world, but has lately focused his attacks on other Christian pastors, writers, organizations and ministries. You know, we need to be discerning to some extent, but we can’t spend valuable television airtime attacking each other, especially in a public forum. You’ve run a good race, but perhaps it might be time to step down before it all ends badly.
Dear Fred Phelps,
By now you’ve seen the above three letters, and you’re probably thinking that I’m going to advise you that perhaps it’s time to step down as well, right? But really, step down from what? Your ‘organization’ consists of only a handful of mostly family members, and truly gives new meaning to the term, ‘a tempest in a teapot.’
While you are semi-skilled at getting media attention — which says more about the need of print and electronic news organizations for the sensational than it does about the content of your message — the scope of your ‘tribe’ represents such an infinitesimal percentage of Christians in the United States that it’s amazing that even the most news-hungry reporters still bother sending a film crew. You’ve had more than your fifteen minutes of fame, and every American with either a television or a newspaper subscription knows who you think God hates. It’s too bad you never considered using your immense media platform to actually preach the gospel; the story that begins with, “For God so loved the world…”
Serve God When You’re Young… and Ready
I’ve written before, including this article, how increasingly, so much of what goes on in the modern church is a young man’s game. We often tell teens and twenty-somethings that they need to “maximize their impact for God” while they are young. And certainly, when it comes to serving in tropical rainforests, helping out in the high arctic, or ministering in communities located at high elevation, you want to have youth or fitness on your side.
But I’m also reminded of the number of times those opportunities were afforded to me — especially those where a church turned their worship time or pulpit time over to me — where I honestly didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have anything close to resembling the wisdom of age, and I’m still not sure I do. But I do know that I wish I had known then what I know now.
So here we have a dichotomy between offering ministry experience to the young and inexperienced, and then denying the older and wiser those same opportunities because all the time-slots are full.
However, I also have to ask myself if I would be that older, wiser person if those early opportunities to fall flat on my face had not been offered to me. So…
To the young:
- Take the opportunities as they present themselves. Paul told Timothy not to allow anyone to look down on him because of his youth; but
- Get all the training and preparation you can get for each individual assignment.
- Know what ministry roles not to accept because of lack of spiritual fitness in that particular area, or lack of Biblical understanding.
- Get connected with an older — the older the better — person in your faith community who can mentor you in specialized ministry positions, as well as a general mentor for your overall spiritual journey.
To the old(er):
- Yes, you have more experience and can do a better job. Now get over it. The chain of grace isn’t constructed that way. In some institutions, maybe, but not a fully functioning organic church.
- Find young people who are teachable and are willing to be mentored. Meet them halfway by learning about and connecting with their culture, their technology, their family situations.
- Mold and shape them through encouragement, not criticism. Avoid the “in my day this is how we did it” type of stories, and instead, use non-directive responses, i.e. questions.
- Become a translator. Not a Bible translator, but someone who takes solid spiritual concepts from past devotional writers and Bible commentators, and asks, “How would the next generation communicate that same idea?”
Those are my suggestions for today, and you should listen to them, because I am older and wiser, and if you don’t, I’m calling the pastor and telling him that everybody’s doing it wrong and instead, they should all listen to me.
Seriously, I do think there’s something here worth considering. Does your faith family give equal weight to encouraging the next generation and appreciate the wisdom and experience of older participants?
The graphic above is from a book on inter-generational ministry, the other side of the coin, how churches can reach a wide variety of ages. Read more on this topic from Zondervan author Dr. Jeff Baxter