The solemn reality is that none of us knows what our spiritual condition might be as we come to the end of our earthly days. We are well aware of the warnings in the Word of God which tell us that very few kings of Judah ended well, and about boasting only after the armor is taken off rather than before the battle has begun. As a younger man, the humbling reality is that I could be a part of the very problem about which I am about to write.
There can be a problem among some assemblies that is only mentioned very quietly between members of the affected assembly. We will never see this problem mentioned in assembly magazines, nor do we hear it from the platform at our conferences by our ministering brethren. The vow, “till death do us part,” is linked with marriage; it should not necessarily be linked with assembly responsibilities. Older men should not refuse to give up their leadership role even if it is apparent to most in the assembly that their time in leadership has come to an end.
To be fair, not all assembly situations are identical. Some assemblies are small and do not have any younger men to work with or look to and we appreciate this dilemma. This means that we need to qualify our statements.
If you are reading this and you are over 50, part of the current leadership, and have younger men available with whom you are working, preparing them for the future, this writing should encourage you.
If you are over 60 and you find yourself making many of the announcements, signing all the checks, passing the emblems, opening most of the Bible readings, giving much of the teaching, and standing at the door, when there are younger men around who can be a part of this, please see these words as a warning and exhortation.
We need to let the Word of God guide us in this sensitive area. It says, “Rebuke not an elder but entreat Him as a father” (1Tim 5:21). We are deeply thankful for the older brethren with whom we work in oversight, and value them highly. Their wisdom, experience, counsel, and maturity are invaluable. But we all need to remember that, “Wisdom is not always with the aged,” and “better is a wise child then an old and foolish king that will not be entreated.”
Perhaps one of the major keys to a healthy assembly is the transition in spiritual leadership from one generation to the next. Mature spiritual leadership not only deals with the present, but must always be focused on the future, burdened about who will take the place of the current leadership. The measurement of any great man is not only what he himself is, but what he leaves behind in those who will follow him. The greatest of all men was Christ Himself. When He set out to build His Church it was with younger men. His choice of younger men should be a voice of instruction to those in leadership now. He picked them so “that they might be with Him,” and learn from Him. Paul worked alongside a Timothy and Titus and then, having given them guidance, left them in Ephesus and Crete to apply that instruction in those assemblies. He did this so he could leave behind men fully able to handle future situations with the Word of God and the Spirit of God as their guide. If we have any forward vision at all for the local assembly, we will need to be on the constant lookout for the men in that age group “so that they might be with us.”
We need to involve our young brethren in every possible area of assembly life. For example, the next time a person wants to be interviewed for reception or baptism, why not ask a younger brother, who is not on the oversight and has displayed a measure of spiritual maturity, to listen in on the interview and be a part of it? Asking a different brother each time is wise as it develops their interest and ability in Scriptural interaction with different personalities regarding assembly principles.
Letters of correspondence could be read to the assembly by young men and many of our Bible readings could be opened by the younger men. Arrange times of ministry for the younger men so that they can have an opportunity to develop their gifts and also give the assembly the opportunity to discern if they have gift for public ministry. As a leader grows older, he should strive to diminish his input into assembly decisions. The younger brethren need to be allowed to make decisions and to live with the consequences. This will involve letting them make what you may consider to be mistakes in non-critical areas; but you need to allow that to happen. This will prepare them and yourself for the gracious exit that is God’s will for your life. If you have done your job well in teaching them, you can rest assured you will be respected and appreciated by the believers and will hear the Lord’s “well done.” Your advice may be asked for, but it is they, not you, who will be making the final decisions on guiding the assembly.
There are many assemblies where spiritual men have realized that this is God’s way and have followed through. They have been such a blessing to the people of God in choosing this spiritual and Scriptural course of action. Their legacy and gift to their local assembly is that the assembly can make decisions with which they agree, with no input from them at all. With age, their ultimate contribution to assembly life becomes their spiritual character, which is the greatest and best input of all.