The Lone Ranger is an American icon. While it is rare these days to hear children on the playground yelling “Hi-Ho Silver,” the mindset of the rugged silver-bullet-shooting individualist is alive and well, even in the church. Unfortunately, instead of serving the Great Commission, the individualist falls off his horse before showing up. After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. And if you knew anything about the multitude of Boomers now approaching retirement, you’d realize that we are about to be inundated with men and women who are more than Tonto’s; they are an army of Rangers.
Between the years 1946 and 1964, 78.2 million babies were born in the United States, approximately 12 million of whom currently identify as Christ followers. At this stage, half of the Boomers have passed their mid-50’s; the rest will do so by the end of 2019. We are led to ask, What will these men and women do with their time after reaching retirement? How will they apply their gifts to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ? These are our questions.
It is natural for one to pause in reflection after retirement to consider how to make a difference in the latter years, how to leave a legacy and an enduring impact for the kingdom. For the follower of Christ, these can be the most fruitful years of service. The accumulation of wisdom from decades of Christian living is a mighty tool in the hand of God. It’s in this stage that men and women have moved beyond having to prove themselves and often have greater clarity on what matters most. But how are pastors and church leaders encouraging and mobilizing such people?
Employing the service of Boomers is more than a pragmatic strategy; it is deeply theological. Most directly, perhaps, it emerges from Paul’s description of why God has given the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). Plainly speaking, it is our responsibility as pastors to equip and mobilize God’s people for gospel service. If we miss this,we have missed a central part of our calling. And looking at the sheer number of Christians now in their 60’s, you’d have to conclude that discipleship of Boomers is among the greatest opportunities before the church today.
Two examples come to mind. One is from an old colleague of mine, Todd Wilson. When Todd was at College Church he befriended a fellow named Stann who had recently retired from years of corporate coaching. Stann was exactly the kind of guy that every young pastor wants by his side… devout, humble, biblically grounded, and well seasoned in the areas of leadership and administration. Like Aaron holding up Moses’ arms during the fight against the Amalekites, Stan was God’s appointed assistant to help Todd succeed. And succeed he did, so much that Todd was called to serve as Senior Pastor of Chicago’s historic Calvary Memorial Church. And who do you suppose became Todd’s “Executive Director of Organizational Leadership?” Yep, you guessed it, and Stann has been kicking Amalekite booty ever since.
The other example is from a ministry which I have recently started at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. The Ministry of Gospel Renewal is aimed at training evangelical to reach the 99 million “partially evangelized” persons in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox circles. The partially evangelized refers to those who have some connection to the Christian tradition, but for whom the gospel (in terms of conversion, Bible-centeredness, and outreach) is not central. It’s an enormous task, far bigger than one person can manage. Thankfully, God is raising up several Boomers whose hearts beat with our vision and who are graciously lending their time and energy to help pursue the mission.
From these two examples we learn a few lessons. First, the task of mobilizing Christian Boomers assumes some degree of relationship. Effective discipleship is not an impersonal poster in the church foyer inviting people to join you in this or that initiative. It’s an outstretched arm to someone with whom you already have meaningful rapport. It’s an hour over coffee simply listening to the other person’s ministry interests and desires. Similarly, your approach must also be guided by a compelling vision. For as much as Stann was personally drawn to Todd as a leader, of equal importance was the dream of impacting lives for the kingdom. When we lead with kingdom vision, people will follow.
It’s also critical to realize that many of these Boomers have forgotten more than young pastors have yet to learn about leadership. They have decades of experience in working out their faith in the various settings of life e.g., family, workplace, community and church. Respect them. Don’t be the moronic young pastor who thinks that because he has taken systematic theology classes and can use the word “supralapsarianism,” he is somehow superior. Rather, there should be a dynamic interchange in which we learn important lessons about how to lead organizations that seminary never taught us (not to disparage seminary, it can’t do everything) and, at the same time, we help our Boomer colleagues to sharpen their doctrinal minds, connecting theological dots between Christ-centered reflection and praxis.
I always wondered as a kid, why aren’t there more Rangers? The entire Wild West, and there’s just one hero? With all due respect to Tonto, we need more white hats. Now I look at the church and still wonder.