by Rev. Ron Bontrager
In a few years I’ll be turning the big 6-0 (that’s 6-ohhh), and lately I have been thinking about the “handoff” to the next generation. The usual American pathway to retirement seems to follow this pattern: Sometime during our 60s, primary leaders turn over the reins of leadership to the next generation.
In a relay race the most delicate moment is the moment of the exchange; races can be won and lost in that moment. During the exchange the lead runner is usually in front looking back and the relay runner is behind looking forward. Both postures are important. We must never forget where we have been, but we must always keep an eye on where we are headed. Above all, the baton must not be dropped.
There is a generational rhythm to the Bible. There is always one generation handing the baton of faith off to the next. Somewhere along the line of succession and the faith handoff, there was a big disconnect between Joshua and the next generation. Judges 2:10 is a haunting reminder of the disaster that can occur without a clean handoff:
“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.”
I pastor Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, and in five years we will celebrate our 100th anniversary. That’s an amazing accomplishment for any church. During that span two world wars have been fought, a great depression was endured, economies fell and rose, and society changed dramatically. Through it all, one generation succeeded another and the work of God and power of God remains.
For instance, the first handoff happened between the founding pastor, Maria Woodworth Etter, and the second pastor, Thomas Paino, Sr. Tom arrived at Lakeview in the fall of 1933 given the task of rekindling the fire of what was now a struggling church with only a handful of burning embers. As he surveyed the church building, Tom opened a door to a room that was full of crutches, wheelchairs, and other medical paraphernalia—all signs of God’s power to heal and set free. It was a stark reminder of what had been and a call for what could be again. Tom went on to build a great church and retired in 1969; his son, Thomas Jr., led the church to greatness through 1994. I am only the fourth pastor of Lakeview Church and share in a lineage of effective, fruitful Pentecostal ministry.
I pray that when my race is fully run and it’s time for the handoff, it too will be clean and seamless. Mentoring, modeling, and discipling the next generation are critical keys for those leaders who will someday be called the “previous generation.” Listening, following, and seeking after God’s heart are critical keys for emerging leaders who will soon enough be called the “succeeding generation.”
God help each one of us to do it well!
Rev. Ron Bontrager is Lead Pastor at Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. For more information about Lakeview, please visit www.lakeviewchurch.org