Passing the Baton to the Next Generation
When the fresh outpouring of this River began early in 1994 from the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, the shock waves were soon being felt around the globe. I had returned from New Zealand in 1992 to work with Gerald Coates and the Pioneer Team in the UK and to help a struggling church in Sidcup, on the edge of London.
"Churches everywhere were turned upside down."
Before long, we found ourselves inundated deeply in this River. Many of our Pioneer Team meetings began to be overwhelmed by a visitation of God, and churches everywhere were turned upside down. Many times, God met with me, but one night I will never forget. For a long time, I was on the floor going through the motions of a swimmer, much to the amusement of many in the church. I was not bothered by this at all, because I could sense myself standing in the River of God and the Holy Spirit constantly saying to me, “Get your feet off the bottom!” As a former swimming teacher, I knew how essential this was for successful flotation. I didn’t realize then what God was speaking to me, but I was about to find out. Getting our feet off the bottom has meant a lot of radical adjustment. We could not simply continue with “business as usual.”
I want to highlight three things the Holy Spirit did to bring about this radical adjustment in our lives and our church.
A Holy Spirit-Clarified Focus
As my wife, Linda, and I settled into our leadership role in the church in Sidcup, we had to face the distinct possibility of failure. The church had been in existence for 17 years, but the members had become increasingly disillusioned. Joining Pioneer and receiving us as leaders was something of a last gasp for them. We also couldn’t help wondering if we should close it down.
One night, we joined with other churches in the town for a united prayer gathering. As the worship progressed, I found myself engaged in a dialogue with the Holy Spirit. We were meeting in a large, successful church that had gifted leadership and fine music. I said, “Lord, why don’t we close down what we are trying to do and simply join ourselves to these people?” I was deadly serious. The Lord’s answer was clear.
"From that moment we had a purpose for our existence...to make an impact on the youth of our town."
“I have given you a unique niche in the market place if you will reach the youth in your community. No one else is positioned to do this.” From that moment we had a purpose for our existence, a clear focus. We changed the name of the church from “The Acorn Centre” to “New Generation” and determined to make an impact on the youth of our town.
In June 2000, Charisma Magazine published some alarming statistics:
“Currently, 88% of America’s 30 million teenagers don’t go to church. Of the 12% who do, 80% will stop attending before they graduate from High School.”
These statistics are even worse in Great Britain and have a sinister implication. BBC News recently reported that 50% of all crime in the London Metropolitan area is committed by young people under 17 years of age. A rampage of teen-aged drinking and drugs is fuelling this crime wave, and the police are now having to second their personnel permanently to the schools who have been hit the worst.
Although we work with children and older people in the community, the new generation is now our primary focus. It is, after all, the future of our church and of our nation. Our various initiatives have attracted scores and sometimes hundreds of young people. Though the majority is not yet converted, we have seen many life-changing miracles, and have been able to influence the community far beyond our size and limited resources.
Reversing The Trend
As our focus changed the church began to pull out of its death spiral. We converted a derelict printing works in the center of the town into a youth drop-in and quickly accumulated hundreds of teenagers on our data base. It almost swamped us, and it also caused attitudes to surface that needed major adjustment. Some felt we were now channelling all our money and energy into youth and began to ask, “What’s in it for us?”
"We must have a 'make room' mentality."
A turning point for me came through a powerful prophetic scripture concerning Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his wife Rebecca (Genesis 25:21-26). Although married for 20 years, they had no children. Their barrenness drove them to prayer, as a result of which Rebecca miraculously conceived. As the pregnancy continued, she became increasingly uncomfortable and began to seek God again for an explanation of what was happening in her. God’s answer has shaped ensuing history down through the centuries and has dramatically affected our life as a church.
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated, one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Most of us are all too familiar with church conflict. For us, the key to surviving was in this phrase: “The older will serve the younger.” How often have you heard a church leader say, “Come and serve me,” or “Come and serve my vision?” Yet Jesus’ model for leaders is much different, “... the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)
The drama of Isaac and Rebecca’s story moves from barrenness to fruitfulness via a pathway of intercession, conception and internal conflict. We didn’t bargain for internal conflict, but it was part of our church’s pathway to fruitfulness.
Breaking The Mold
I believe that a principle function of apostles is to recognize and release younger leaders. If we hold the church only to our leadership model and our vision, it inevitably will die with us. We must have a “make room” mentality.
An all-important development in the life of our church in Sidcup came with the recognition and release of Paul and Paula Weston. When I first met them, I instinctively knew that they were a gift of God to the church. At the time, they were members of another church but increasingly at odds with their leadership because of conflicting vision. As we began to reach out into the community, especially to the youth, their hearts were joined to us. Over a period of time, they began to work with us, and I encouraged them to take more leadership responsibility. However, it was not smooth sailing.
"Release the next generation"
I began to struggle with aspects of Paul’s character. He was very restless, often finding it difficult to stay in any church meeting. I would look for him to participate only to find he wasn’t there. He wasn’t a great timekeeper and hated our leaders’ meetings. Often he would lie on the floor and at the end of one of our interminable discussions ask the nasty question: “What exactly have we decided here?”
“Very little,” I had to admit. I became more and more frustrated with him, but in reality, we were probably both on a “different page” at this time. I came from a background of intense worship and long talks, while Paul was working with youth who could cope with neither.
Things came to a head when I felt it necessary to discipline Paul and removed him from leadership for a time. It was a very painful process, especially for Paul and Paula, and in retrospect I’m sure it could have been handled differently. I was as guilty as his previous church had been and came close to losing our greatest asset! Why?
Linda and I were away overseas for some weeks, but when we returned to the church I discovered that instead of “bad mouthing” me and undermining my leadership, Paul had become rooted and was serving the church faithfully in spite of the hurt that he was feeling. This attitude convinced me of his worth, and through a good deal of openness and brokenness, we got it sorted.
Shortly after this, I was attending a Pioneer Leaders Day when God spoke to me, “He won’t fit the mold.”
Until then I didn’t realize that I had a mold, but had I not been open to God’s voice, we would have gone backwards and Paul would have spun out in rejection, being labelled “rebellious” by well-meaning Christians. How tragic that loss would have been!
Today Paul heads up the New Generation Leadership Team and is becoming a major influence in this nation. Recently, Gerald Coates asked him to lead the Pioneer Leaders Conference with another gifted young woman, Ness Wilson, when a thousand delegates gathered at Pakefield in Norfolk.
These Rivers of living water are continuing to flow. Older generation, don’t dam up the River and hinder the purposes of God. Release the next generation and let the River keep flowing.