A few weeks ago, I was outside visiting with people after church, and noticed one of my youth group girls talking with her grandparents. The grandparents have gone here for as long as pictorial directories have existed. They have been here through good times and bad, and they've raised their children who still go here. Now, many of their grandchildren go to this church.
It struck me how much audacity we ministers must have to walk into a congregation and try to lead a group of people with such deep roots. Some ministers start their own congregations or preach at newer plants and therefore don't have comparable experiences to what I'm having here. But to me, it's a sacred thing to see several generations of Christians at the same congregation.
We ministers are itinerant. Even if we stay for 15 or 20 years at one place, that's a drop in the bucket compared to what long histories some families will have with their congregations. In thinking about this, I was reminded of a question that I ponder from time to time: "Who am I to tell these people what God wants, or what a church should be like?"
They were here long before I got here. More than likely, most of them will still be here whenever I'm gone. If I do good work here, hopefully they will continue to reap the benefits. If I were to do a poor job, they would be left to clean up my mess. Some ministers leave behind trails of destruction wherever they are. Hopefully, that is not the norm, but I've seen it happen.
But on the other side of the coin, I think new people bring unique benefits. Most of us can never muster enthusiasm comparable to the natural excitement of a new convert. New people can look at congregational blind spots from outside perspectives, and can sometimes give helpful insights.
As far as new ministers, I'd like to think that even if we don't have long histories, if we study and learn as we ought, we gain knowledge that has been tried and tested by generations, and will help the congregation to learn and grow.
Ministers need to recognize their own finiteness. We should be humble as we push for new ideas and changes. A congregation didn't become what it is quickly, and won't be transformed quickly either.
Congregations should also be humble. They should recognize that they stand on the shoulders of great predecessors. There is not a congregation existing today that isn't in some way the result of someone's efforts to share the Gospel. While a minister cannot know all about them, they should try to be open to his perspectives; particularly if his love for Christ is apparent in his actions. A minister's education would be a terrible thing to waste.