Conventional wisdom has always held that certain generation gaps are insurmountable. Most people would agree that gaps exist between the older and younger generations, especially in technology and music. Young leaders zoom past their elders with high-tech media and may view music of previous generations as boring. Older leaders may be offended by the loudness of “young” music and may prefer face-to-face encounters to social media.
Although such gaps are real and significant, recent research and the experience of some Foursquare ForeRunners indicate that the “relational” generation gap may be smaller than some people think, especially in The Foursquare Church.
Influence of Strength
The Barna Group recently reported that 36 percent of teenagers surveyed view their grandparents and other family members as their personal role models. The study pointed out that “relatives were most often esteemed because of goals accomplished, personality traits, and overcoming adversity.” David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, concluded, “For better and worse, teens are emulating the people they know best.”
Shirley Von Holten does not see a generation gap in the Foursquare family. She and her husband, Chris, have served in Foursquare ministry for 52 years and have always enjoyed healthy, encouraging relationships with other ministers, both young and old. In particular, they remember Norman and Thelma Eddy, who were intentional about speaking into their lives and encouraging them whenever possible.
“Norman Eddy never considered us as young pastors, only as fellow ministers,” Shirley remembers. “They counseled us and cared for us during some frustrating and troubling times during our early years of ministry.”
Today, Shirley and Chris are ForeRunners representatives with the Heartland District. They believe older ministers kept them going in their early years of ministry, and they dedicate themselves today to helping other ministers, young and old, make similar connections and “keep them going,” too.
Influence of Experience
ForeRunners sometimes feel as though they have nothing to offer the next generation, and may even feel they have “done their time” in ministry and that now it is someone else’s turn. ForeRunners who are having success influencing the next generation say that’s the wrong attitude. These ForeRunners encourage fellow retirees to look for ways to share who they are and what they have learned with anyone who will welcome them.
Hughes Protzman of Mukilteo, Wash., is concerned that some older Christians don’t think about succession or raising up new and young leaders.
“I have few, if any, friends who take seriously their role as mentors,” Hughes says, noting that some of them don’t realize the genuine gift of experience they have to offer young leaders.
Hughes, 65, was surprised when he recently discovered that he and his wife, Sherry, are ForeRunners. The revelation occurred to him when he was asked by District Supervisor David Veach to coordinate the ForeRunners ministry for the Northwest District.
What ForeRunners do is nothing new for Hughes. “Working to facilitate relationships among peer groups and making intergenerational connections has been a passion of mine for a long time,” he maintains.
Hughes is a former Navy officer, missionary, professor and church planter who today is an assistant minister at Family Life Center (Mukilteo Foursquare Church) in Mukilteo, Wash. He believes ForeRunners have much to teach the next generation and that they also have much to learn from them. One ForeRunner he knows invests his time with a NextGen leader as well as assists the coach of a local high school sports team. This kind of cross-generational partnership excites Hughes and benefits everyone.
Influence of Wisdom
“ForeRunners are the heroes of our district,” insists Southeast District Supervisor Scott Reece. “When I see them so willingly give of themselves to those behind them, I am appreciative of the wisdom they freely offer.”
Case in point is what Ron and Kay Cleaver do. They are directors of Southeast District ForeRunners and are active in Harvest Community Church (Concord Northwest Foursquare Church) in Concord, N.C., serving in children’s ministry and church leadership. They believe hundreds of other ForeRunners throughout the U.S. do the same thing in their churches every week, just hoping to serve the next generation.
“We try to offer our years of learning and wisdom,” Kay says, “with a gentle and yet a strong voice.”
Mary Lou Canata, longtime Foursquare children’s evangelist and advocate, has always given of herself to the next generation. At almost 80, Mary Lou says that desire hasn’t changed.
“I hope to share with the next generation my love, concern and interest in them,” she affirms. She encourages pastors to intentionally make time for the generations to worship together during church services.
“ForeRunners enjoy being with the next generation,” Mary Lou asserts, noting that often the generations are separated from each other while at church. Such separation concerns her, because it can give people the impression that “the congregation is not connected.”
ForeRunner Leo Sauve of Hope Chapel (Nashua Hope Foursquare Church) in Nashua, N.H., concurs. He imagines a co-mingling of NextGen and ForeRunners in a relational partnership that strengthens everyone. At 78, Leo knows something about this process and likens it to the Montessori teaching method that he used during his days as a school administrator, in which the more experienced students always coach those who are just beginning the learning process.
Leo says NextGen leaders have the energy, enthusiasm and a hunger to learn. ForeRunners have the experience, wisdom and a desire to teach, mentor and coach. The convergence of these two major forces will change the face of The Foursquare Church, Leo insists, but first we must get past the internal segregation of the generations in our churches.
“I have a great hope for the birthing of a new generation of anointed leaders,” Leo says, with an obvious prophetic edge. He believes NextGen leaders will see increased spiritual harvest that will change how we do church. “We’ll need more nurseries for the new births of salvation,” he declares, “and not new buildings for our programs.”
Influence of Harvest
If you ask 95-year-old ministry veteran Thelma Eddy if she and her late husband, Norman, were “great” pastors, she would probably tell you she doesn’t think so. But Shirley and Chris Von Holten, whom the Eddys mentored in their early years, would have a different opinion.
They say the Eddys were at least partially responsible for keeping them in the ministry and growing in their personal ministry skills. They hope to influence the next generation with strength, experience and wisdom, just as the Eddys did for them.
“ForeRunners help keep people going,” the Von Holtens say. “That’s what great pastors do.”
Leo Sauve agrees, and says the future can be even better than what current ForeRunners remember. When we release the next generation to lead with their zeal and fervor, Leo asserts, “They will exceed the gifting of their teachers.”
This article is Part 2 in a two-part series.
Read Part 1, ForeRunners: A Ministry of Presence
Or, find more information on ForeRunners.
By: Rod Light, an ordained Foursquare minister and educator in Los Angeles