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Steve Brown

How to navigate the seismic shift in the Canadian church

April 10, 2017 | no comments | Special Features

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Can you hear it?

There’s a seismic, demographic shift happening. Every day more Baby Boomers retire. This growing reality has great implications and opportunities for the church in Canada.

Over the last year, our team at Arrow Leadership have interviewed 85 different Christian organizations across Canada and the United States. Our purpose has been to ask about their leadership development needs. Virtually all these organizations have acknowledged that their senior leadership are aging with significant numbers headed for retirement in the next ten years.

Where things get challenging is that most churches and organizations don’t know what to do about this seismic shift. They have a sense they should be developing the younger generation, but they don’t necessarily know how, and few have a plan. In some cases, the two generations are working completely separately, or even in subtle (or not so subtle) opposition to each other.

As the church, especially at this time of great global change and complex challenges, we simply can’t afford to expend time and energy working against one another. Instead, we need to be very intentionally working together.

This brings me to a proverb that I heard some time ago from some seasoned sailors. They said,  “When you’re at sea, if you compete, you can die.”

A sailing crew navigates choppy waters.

So, to be intentional about working together to ready the next generation for leadership, try these ideas:

Start grooming younger leaders to take the helm now

Training younger leaders to grow into leadership is vitally important if your congregation wants to thrive both now and in the future. How can you be intentional about creating space to leverage the wisdom and experience of older leaders to mentor and equip younger leaders? By both honouring the retiring generation, and empowering the new, your church can more effectively navigate the choppy seas of transition.

Cultivate a learning spirit on both sides of the generation gap

There is great opportunity for synergy to happen between younger and older leaders. Younger leaders have both energy and an understanding of our swiftly changing culture that are invaluable. Older leaders have the gift of experience, and the wisdom it brings. But to harness these, both generations need to cultivate a spirit of humility, cooperation and compromise. It may be uncomfortable for both sides to do things differently, but, like to the sailing proverb, competition at sea only leads to one thing: you sink.

Labels and boxes are for packing, not people

There are post-modern 80 year-olds, and there are post-modern 15 year-olds. Demographics are not an accurate way of judging someone’s values, skills and contribution. Just because the new associate pastor is under 30, doesn’t mean they’ve mastered the art of live-tweeting the sermon. Similarly, just because someone has reached the age of a grandparent, doesn’t mean they have the nurturing skills of one. Pigeon-holing people by generation means you may miss the unique God-given talents of the individual.

Stand for truth together, without compromise

The nations of the world have come to Canada at a time when the idea of truth seems like it is lost in a fog. We live in an age of “post-truth” and alternative facts. People are looking to churches to be beacons of Gospel truth. Generations of church leaders have the unique opportunity to collectively share the message that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life in creative ways. But to do that, it’s going to take all the skills our collective generations have to navigate the waters of complexity and confusion, through the study, preaching and practical expression of God’s Word.

In many ways, the church in Canada is at sea today. We’re exploring new oceans of possibility and turmoil. We are at a vulnerable time, a defining time. But, it’s also a season of great possibility and opportunity.

By being intentional about investing in  younger leaders, and pairing them with older leaders right now to meet the needs of a changing culture, you can guide your church into the future.

Maybe the next step for your church is to send all your leaders to this year’s Annual Church Leaders Forum. This event is special because it allows us to share our best ideas, and to build bridges of connection, despite being from different generations and denominations. It might be just the place to prepare your crew for their next voyage.


About the author

Husband of Lea and dad to Luke, Ainslea, and Lauren, Dr. Steve Brown serves with Arrow Leadership as President and oversees the Arrow Leadership Program in North America. Steve enjoys spending his free time with his family and running the hills (downhill is faster) near their home in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

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