Every family sees the passing of generations. As the Newfrontiers family experiences increasing longevity – nearly 36 years have passed since Terry Virgo drew together the first team (see my recent blog ‘A team is born’) – there is the inevitability of those involved in the early years growing older, both church members and those who have been privileged with leadership.
In recent months I have attended thanksgiving services for five people whom I had grown to know, love and in some cases work closely with, who are now dwelling with Jesus in glory. What a joy, if tinged with inevitable sadness, to celebrate their lives and recognise that in each case they had ‘run well’ till the end. In no case did I witness complaining or grumpiness, despite handling serious illness in several cases. All kept faithful to the Lord and served to the end, even with some imposed restrictions caused by illness or age-related limitations. Only hours before he died one, John Hammond, was even planning the newsletter about the ministry with the poor in Africa he had devoted himself to! He ran well – to the very end.
How can we run well?
Attending such celebrations caused me to stop and reflect on how we can ‘run well’ in our latter years and how we can continue to serve the church and vision to see the Kingdom advance in our generation. It is so sad when some become grumpy rather than continue to be grace-filled. I have also reflected on whether we are a blessing or a problem to the younger church leadership.
In this short series I shall try to address both of these issues – how to run well until the end and how church leadership can welcome our involvement.
I believe that retirement does not exist in the Kingdom or the church. It has been created by pension funds and employers so that there is an age when a financial transition is necessary and implemented. But in the Bible we find that men and women matured. Some handed on the baton of active service. They also kept running. Caleb ‘wholly followed the Lord’ when others were falling away (Num 32:12). Paul pressed on to ‘finish the race’ and looked forward to receiving the ‘crown of righteousness’, the champion’s garland (2 Tim 4:7,8).
Passing on the baton but remaining in the race
When a relay runner passes on the baton there is a period when the two runners keep running side-by-side. Both remain involved in the race, the one picking up the speed of the first runner the other keeping in lane to prevent another being tripped up. The latter then becomes a great cheerer until the race is completed. He may not break through the tape of the that relay himself – he is not the anchor man – but he remains actively involved. He does of course cross his own ‘finishing line’ as he finally leaves the handover box.
It is dangerous to press analogies too far but I believe that each of us is called to remain active until we breathe our final breaths. But how can that happen? I would like to say a word to two groups of people: those who are in the later stages of life, maybe the final season, and those who have now taken hold of the baton.
Next time I will address those who are heading for glory!