In many church traditions the season of Epiphany is also the time when the church revisits its priority on missions, this because of the encounter of the Middle Eastern astronomers/wise men with the infant Jesus. That encounter has become a link with the other religions and regions of the world far beyond the realm of Judaism, and reminds us that the Christian faith is for every people group/nation/ethne in the world. And, to be sure, the Christian faith does now have a communal presence in a large number of these nations.

Forgive me if I insert here, however, a question that gets too often overlooked: Why is it that the church doesn’t look missiologically at its own emerging generation, and especially as that generation emerges within the Christian community … and then forsakes it all in adulthood? What is it that these younger persons see, or fail to see, in the older generation that sends them, so often, looking elsewhere for their hope and meaning and relationships.

The psalmist prays: “Even when I am old and grey do not forsake me, O God, ‘til I declare Your power to the next generation: Your might to all who are to come.” – Psalm 71:18 –

Again: “Let this be recorded for a generation yet to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” – Psalm 102:18 –

Or perhaps: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree … They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” – Psalm 92:12-14 –

After all, I’m an old guy! I hope I will always be one of those sappy, green, growing entities, who brings forth fruit in these octogenarian years of mine.

The fact is that kids need, not only teachers, not only wisdom figures, but also mentors and models of vital, excited, knowledgeable, and transforming faith in Christ. They need to see older disciples of Jesus Christ who are excited about the faith, who are episodes of love, who are still curious about life, and alive to the culture and to life’s questions, who can handle life’s doubts.

But for such an encounter between generations to take place there has to be intention, there has to be conversation, there has to be humor, and there absolutely must be something so authentic in the lives of these older and more mature believers in Christ that will cause the younger generation to ask what is their secret. I’ve watched this happening from time to time. I’ve seen kids who move toward a kind of contagious older man or woman, and who love to be near them. Who needs dull, consumer church members, who attend all the church meetings but are annoyed with the unpredictability of youth, and with their often impetuousness?

I have watched some younger adolescent friends of mine plop down next to their own father in true love, and engage in conversation. I have seen them, likewise, seek out the company of other adults who loved them and delighted in engaging in conversation about their daily lives, and visited them in some of their activities. I have high hopes for that kind of engagement with the emerging generation. But it is all too rare.

The church is always one generation away from extinction. Come Holy Spirit; anoint your older faithful for this priority mission to the generation now emerging. Cause this new generation to see in us contagious models of faith and love and hope.

Happy Epiphany!


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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