One large issue facing assemblies is that of leadership. There seems to be two facets to this problem. One is an aging population of elders, and the other is a dearth of younger men to step up.
Experientially, most assemblies I visit have an aging group of elders. Men primarily in their 60’s and 70’s, “old geezers like me.” This is no reflection on their mental competency or spiritual maturity. Most of these men are exemplary in their conduct, gracious in their conversation, and Christ-like in character.
Culture is changing fast!
The problem arises from the fact that our culture is changing so rapidly. In the middle decades of the 1900’s, change was gradual; families lived in the same house, and were committed to a local church attending every meeting.
Over the past three decades, change is constant as the world and culture moves from one norm to another. I’ve realized that many in my age range have a limited grasp of what it is like to raise children in this changing world. Challenges such as stretching a paycheck, daily commuting time, and the pressures children experience in an increasingly godless society, are present realities.
We “old fellows” can easily dismiss these things based on our experience and with the view that “we did it in our day.” In light of this generation gap, it is possible for older believers to become critical and perhaps in some cases even cynical.
Issues of the current culture
Here are some potential issues not necessarily faced in previous generations.
-Few people now walk to a local church in their neighborhood, so distance is often an issue. This can have an effect on the ability or willingness of bringing children out in the evening. In some areas, parents may feel it is not very safe to drive at night.
-More and more people carry their Bible in an electronic device. By in large the literacy level is changing especially with regard to reading and poetry. Language is evolving, expanding and words are changing their meaning as well.
-An apparent lack of spiritually connected men in the 35-55 age range. In larger Assemblies in the mid 1900’s there was a “next generation” of men available. They were men who existing elders could train, and who would gradually develop into the role.
The reality in many Assemblies is that the “next generation” is missing. There may be men with young families, men already stretched with responsibilities and involvement but lacking the spiritual maturity and experience to be in leadership.
There may be a desire or wish that things were different and these problems would just correct themselves. If younger men would make different decisions with regard to jobs, location, time management and commitment the issues will disappear. This may be possible in some cases, but for the most part, it is the “wish list” of the older people in the Assembly. The segment who long for the “good old days,” times when things were simpler.
A lack of biblical direction
As far as I can see, there is no scripture that addresses these realities. There is no “thus says the Lord” on either succession of leadership, or how to handle these types of issues. In the absence of such direction, current elders need godly wisdom to move forward.
Scripture is silent on the mechanics of how to recognize new elders in an existing Assembly. The Bible does not address the structure or format of Church life. It gives principles but does not speak to the operation of the Assembly, or envision people driving many miles to attend meetings.
A challenge to the older generation of elders
Here is a suggestion, not written in stone, but with a view to dialogue. Existing elders could invite spiritually minded younger men to meet with them on a regular basis. Remember Scripture does not talk about “elder’s meetings” so it could be possible to expand to include others. This would allow older men to receive input from younger men, to hear about their life and struggles. This would perhaps lead to some changes or decisions that address the realities of life in the 21st century.
We need to remember that the local church is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship. One man in his 70s or 80s will not likely be in tune with the third or fourth generation below him. This can lead to stagnation in assembly life and an inability or even unwillingness to adapt to a changing world.