I once believed that The Salvation Army was stuck in a rut, with a perpetual cycle of behaviour upholding the status quo, leading to rapid decline. I felt that my own efforts to innovate were being stymied by the more “traditionalist” voices within our ranks, and I was convinced that the only way we could move forward was if a certain generation of leaders moved out of their positions and let a younger generation fill the void.
Thankfully, I no longer subscribe to such thought.
In fact, I now believe that the ability to lead, effect change and move denominational efforts forward has less to do with age and more to do with an individual’s maturity, lived experiences, learning (both formal education and otherwise) and innate or developed skills.
I am quickly approaching a milestone moment in my own ministry; in just a few months, I will complete 15 years of active service as a Salvation Army officer. In that time, there have been many challenges to overcome, experiences that made a significant impact on our family and people who have helped shape my ministry. Of course, there have also been countless blessings, moments of great joy and valuable lessons learned along the way.
One such lesson—and one that I am becoming more convinced of with each passing year—is that no single generation is most important in the life of a congregation or within an organization. While each age demographic will exhibit its own preferences, ideas and definitions of ministry, people of all ages are equally important and valuable to congregational life and God’s kingdom work.
Too much time has been wasted on the infamous “us vs. them” or “old vs. young” debates in many congregations. Likewise, any mindset that suggests “my opinion is the only right opinion” does nothing to build up the kingdom and only adds fuel to the fire for those who are critical of the church. We must do better. We must find opportunities for multigenerational co-operation.
I love it when I see retired band members stepping into leadership and helper roles in beginner and junior brass band programs. There is something truly heartwarming in watching them pour not only their musical knowledge but also their own personal life skills and affection into those precious children.
As many of our programs and services have moved online, we have seen countless examples of teens and young adults stepping into important audio and visual roles in our congregations, often teaching others how to operate cameras, soundboards and various online platforms. And how many children and grandchildren have had to teach older members of their own families how to connect with their church’s online worship services and activities?
I can’t even begin to describe how much joy it brings me to see senior citizens raising their hands in praise during the latest worship song, or when a teen finds something profoundly meaningful when we sing the old words, “I am praying, blessed Saviour, to be more and more like thee.”
The reality is that it is equally possible to find someone young who is spiritually mature, and someone older who lacks spiritual depth. Therefore, we would be wise to strip away the barriers of age in our church services and denominational activities, and encourage each other to find value in whatever brings someone closer to Jesus, even if it doesn’t align with our own preferences.
For those of you who still consider yourself part of the younger generation in your corps or ministry unit, make space in your lives for those who have blazed the trail before you. I have no doubt you will hear something valuable. And for those who may have a little more silver in their hair (or no hair at all), don’t neglect the voices of leadership emerging from a younger demographic—they have much to teach, and you are never too old to learn.
Maybe it’s my own spiritual growth and ongoing development that have led me to offer these words. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m on the cusp of 15 years of completed service, and this “young captain” is about to become an “old major.”
Captain Sheldon Bungay is the corps officer at St. John’s Temple, N.L
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