While having lunch with a friend a few weeks ago we were talking about the encouragement of being around some of the elder statesmen in the faith – men in their late 60’s and 70’s who have been faithful in following Christ and leading his church for decades and are now in the “retirement” stage of their lives. I was shocked as he quoted one of these highly respected men saying basically, “I feel like a ship out on the sea with my sail up, but no wind. I’m really having to trust God through this stage because I feel like I have so much to give but no one is asking.”
How in the world can this be?
I have heard that the death of a wise old man is like the burning down of a library. In the case of the man above, it would be the library of a great university like Oxford (you’d probably know his name if I said it). I simply don’t understand how it could be that no one is asking for his wisdom, insight, experience and input.
I freely confess that I have never held the job of Pastor of a local church – maybe someday I will, maybe not. So, I don’t understand all that goes on in being “Pastor _____.” I do know that it is demanding. I do know that people’s expectations create a pressure cooker. But I don’t understand why the pastors I see refuse to use the tools and gifts and assistance this is available to them – such as the libraries who are the elder statesmen who are willing to give away wisdom for which they paid extravagant prices!
When Richard Bewes took over as rector at All Soul’s Church in London, he had huge shoes to fill: the legendary John Stott. Stott was still very much alive and still attending All Soul’s. What to do? It would be a shame for a gift to the body such as Stott to sit in the pews and remain silent. Fortunately, Bewes had the wisdom and security to form what he called a “hermeneutical community.” He and Dr. Stott, along with two or three young and promising preachers met once a week. Bewes laid out the preaching plan (he had one) for them and they discussed it and decided who should deliver each message. Typically Bewes preached twice a month with Stott and the youngsters splitting the other two or three Sundays. Then they would work together on the preparation. At the meeting a week and a half before the message was to be preached the assigned preacher would present his outline. Each of the other members of the community would offer insight, encouragement and constructive criticism. Can you imagine the joy of putting your sermon together with the input of John Stott? Who needs a commentary?
Dr. Bewes shared this system with me over dinner when he came to speak at the seminary I was attending – and I may have gotten a detail or two incorrect, but the concept is there. I thought it was revolutionary. What I don’t understand is why more churches (every church) aren’t trying it. We talk about team ministry, but it still seems like we want one-man teams.
I just don’t understand why there wouldn’t be a line of pastors at the door of my sailboat friend begging him to spend time with them, to sit in on elders and staff meetings and offer wisdom to disciple young people in the church and to meet weekly with the pastor as a spiritual mentor. And all that’s without sharing the pulpit.
I have never faced the weekly grind of having to produce and preach a sermon (or more than one) every week, but I do know that if I had to do one or two a month rather than four or more that the one or two would be better than all four put together. Why not make use of the libraries that are our elder statesmen – especially when it makes us look better too!! And where’s the place for raising up the next generation if they don’t get a chance to study with us and preach with us?
The point isn't who is preaching -- though I have to say I love the way my pastor (who is a great preacher) makes sure someone else is in the pulpit once a month just to remind the church (as well as himself I'm sure) that it isn't all about him. It's more than that. It is about the value we place on those men and women who have paid the price and demonstrated faithfulness with their lives. They have learned from their experience and as a result of years of walking with Christ they live with a depth that we younger ones can only envy. And yet, they are willing to share if only someone will ask.
In our effort to prove our own value and worth and capability and achievement, are we so independent that we are neglecting the gifts that God has provided for our own maturing as well as the success of our mission? These sailboats and libraries have reached a point in life where their energy is on the wane; they sometimes face physical limitations. They don't need to run a church or organization -- they've already got those t-shirts. But they have something to give and we are just plain stupid to our own detriment if we don't seek out these relationship and the mentoring and maturing that can result. When's the last time you had breakfast with a "library"?