Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As the New Year begins, I was amused to see that two small countries in the South Pacific could not wait for it. Samoa and Tokelau were the last places to begin 2011. But they became the first places to welcome in 2012. You see, these countries are located close to the International Date Line. So, as the clock struck midnight at the end of 29 December, they simply “jumped across it,” and fast-forwarded to December 31, missing out on the 30th entirely. In doing so, they became the first people to ring in the New Year, rather than the last. They did this for economic reasons. Now, instead of being 23 hours behind New Zealand, their main trading partner, they opened for business one hour ahead.
Perhaps many of us would like to move the clock in the other direction. In December I had my 60th birthday. Our home office staff gave me a surprise birthday party. I was deeply touched by the many cards and expressions of goodwill that came in from all over the world. I am blessed to enter my seventh decade of life surrounded by friends and colleagues like you.
As one of four million American “Baby Boomers” who turned 60 in 2011, I have officially joined the ranks of the “oldies.” Not so long ago this would have meant the approach of the end of life – certainly the end of working life. But today, it is quite possible that people who are now 60 have one third of their life ahead. Still, there is no denying that when you pass 60, you cannot pretend that you are still young. The jokes about old age suddenly seem not quite so funny!
Many of you reading this also are in your seventh decade. We do not feel ‘old’ in our minds, and may even resent suggestions that we are past our prime. Thankfully, many of us are in good health, and although we may be slowing down a bit, we are a long way from grinding to a halt. A 1995 study of Americans between 55 and 74 revealed that most felt 12 years younger than their actual age. Though this may be good in some ways, it is not good that our society fears and resents growing old. As those engaged in God’s work, we must not buy into the myth that we can keep going forever (we will, of course, but not as frail, temporary human beings). Instead, we should be thinking of and preparing for the future – not just our own, but the future of those who look to us for leadership and direction.
As the president of Grace Communion International, I think often about what lies ahead, and how our denomination can best prepare to continue to serve God and his people after my time is done and my contribution has been made. I know that many of you, particularly if you are an older member in an aging congregation, are thinking about this too.
I believe that GCI has a future! I don’t know all the details, but I see encouraging signs. We truly are a worldwide church. Some of our congregations are growing rapidly – bursting with youth and energy. In others, growth is harder to come by, but members are growing in love and service. In many congregations, youth are actively and creatively serving. Many are reaching out in mission at home and around the world. Through these activities, grounded in our growing understanding of Trinitarian theology, I believe God is showing us how we are to take the gospel to the world of the 21st century in compelling and powerful ways.
Looking back, especially over the last 15 years during which I have been privileged to serve as GCI’s president and pastor general, I realize that I cannot claim credit for what has happened. I feel sometimes that I have been swept along by events that I did not plan, and could not have anticipated. Changing technology has meant we do our work in a totally different way than even ten years ago. Many of the people who report to me hardly ever visit our home office in Glendora, CA, yet we seem to be in closer contact than ever before. Our church has grown in parts of the world where we had done nothing to lay the groundwork. Just last year we welcomed dozens of new congregations in the African nation of Mozambique. We had not made a specific effort to reach them–they just “showed up on our doorstep.” Our developing understanding of Trinitarian theology has brought us into contact with many leaders and theologians outside of our denomination. Many have become close friends. The world of Christianity is going through some important changes. I pray that GCI will play a useful role in this exciting journey of discovery.
At the start of this New Year, there are many reasons to be encouraged. Looking back, I can see so clearly that the Holy Spirit has been leading us. All I can say is that I am thankful to have been a part of it and look forward to where God will lead us in the years ahead. We should make plans for this journey, though experience tells us that we must be ready for the unexpected. How do we stay ready? Like members of a fire department, we must have in place the best possible equipment, and we must be trained – ready to do what needs to be done. As Paul wrote to Timothy, we must be ready “in season and out of season.”
I know that God has much for us to do in his service. I am thankful to have a part along with all of you. Let’s continue to work together in 2012, submitting in faith to God as we actively join with Jesus in what he will be doing through the Holy Spirit to take the good news of salvation to a world that needs it so desperately.
Your brother in Christ,