I hear the same whispers over and over. Different voices, same concern. “Pastor, when I was growing up the Sunday School had so many more children.” “Pastor, I remember when the church was full on Christmas.” “Pastor, there’s way more gray hair than not in here. What’s going to happen in 20 years when we’re all gone?”
I hate those whispers.
I’m the pastor of a small agricultural town of about 400, and another small agricultural town of about 200. I’m pretty sure the whispers I hear aren’t just in the small towns though. I see giant churches casting aside everything they were called to hold dear in an attempt to chase down “youth” to stave off the same whispers I hear out in the sticks.
I used to give the usual run down. I’d say “Yeah, I know, but farming’s changed in the last 40 years. Now 1 guy in his 50s with 2 grown kids farms what 10 families of 6-8 used to work. I know it looks different, but as long as there’s farming, there’ll be people out here, and as long as there’s people, there will be church.” Still, the whispers sink in sometimes, and I get afraid too.
So I treated our youth group something like a bunch of baby birds in the nest. These are our most important resource, and our only hope. One day, they’ll be like us, but not yet. This summer, I took them to Higher Things. We fundraised under the mantra “this is the next generation of our church.” It was a huge success. It struck at everyone’s fear. Without these kids, we’ll be nothing. One day, they will be the church. One day, they will take over for us.
I was so wrong.
I learned something at Higher Things too. These kids aren’t the next generation of the church. They’re the church right now.
This is what the church sounds like. This is what the church is. I watched 400 Christians who happened to be teenagers hear the word of God, receive His body and blood, cling to His promises, and sing them back. This isn’t a bunch of kids who are at a church service against their will so they can go play lazer tag later. Those kids sit quietly and roll their eyes. Those kids need someone to let them bat around a beach ball during something we’d never call “worship” except for the fact that we want them to like it enough to stick around in a few years. I didn’t see any of those kids. I only heard the church. Our kids sang.
Our kids sang because they’re not the next generation of the church waiting in the wings. They’re the church right now. They don’t need beach balls. They need Jesus. This is what the church sounds like. We’re gonna be ok.
It’s time to silence the whispers. It’s not our job to keep the Church going one more generation. It’s God’s job. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. He’s doing a pretty good job.