My ears perked up as Neil Young came on my classic rock station while I was taking Sophie, my daughter, to school this past spring. If it hadn’t been one of my all-time favorite songs, I probably would have let her change the station, which she almost always does.
The song, “Old Man,” has struck a chord deep within me ever since my high school days. The Canadian rocker’s thin, quavering voice and poetic lyrics always seemed a comforting counterpoint to the angst-ridden years of my adolescence.
This particular ballad is an ode to an elderly caretaker on a California ranch. The song reflects an exchange between the 24-year-old songwriter and a grizzled farm hand with a lifetime of experiences to share. “Old man, look at my life,” Young sings wistfully. “I’m a lot like you were.”
The song reminds me of interactions I’ve been having recently with a group of 20- and 30-year-olds. Our Emerging Leaders Gatherings* have been an attempt to open up dialogue with younger people in the Church, listen to their ministry dreams, and provide them with opportunities to serve God. In this scenario, I increasingly find myself in the role of the Old Man, and not the wide-eyed idealist that I once was in my youth.
What I like most about our Gatherings (besides the organic free-trade coffee cart that has become a fixture at our meetings) is the free-form conversations that energize our times together. I love hearing the openness and passion with which this generation speaks about serving Jesus. Much less likely to concern themselves with denominational politics, our emerging leaders are more apt to focus on how to turn our Core Values—values like living simply, belonging to the community of faith, believing the Bible, and pursuing peace—into core practices. More than ever, they seem determined to live like Jesus, while letting the forms of Church follow naturally.
One attender of the Gatherings was so taken with who we are as a Church that he and his wife have approached us with a proposal to start a new church in Seattle. As a result, a few of us from the West Coast made a trip to the Emerald City this May for a weekend of prayer, demographic study, and plenty of invigorating conversation and strong coffee. The journey helped confirm that God is calling us to launch a new network of churches in this dynamic area of the Pacific Rim.
One Gatherer is now doing an internship in an eastern city, exploring new models of how to “do church” in the urban context. Another is on a mission assignment in an embattled Middle Eastern country. Still others are exploring ways to use their gifts as worship leaders, nurses, church planters, teachers, and entrepreneurs in a world that seems more and more open to some of our Christ-centered values.
As I engage with these young leaders, I love the way they encourage and challenge me at the same time. I smile as I think of Neil Young’s song, and how I’m quickly becoming the old man he’s singing about, with my life increasingly reflecting the lyrics, “I’ve been first and last / Look at how the time goes past . . .” I’m excited for our emerging leaders, and grateful to be a small part of the process of preparing them to lead the Church into the future.
*The Emerging Leaders Gatherings are sponsored by the Pacific Conference Board for Evangelism and Church Planting.