Turning 40 is, for more than a few people, a rather traumatic event, a devastating experience. Because, well, according to our culture, turning 40 means that you’re “really getting up there,” are “over the hill,” “on the down slope,” “past it,” have “one foot in the grave.” In other words, really, really old. Actually, according to our culture today, turning 30 means that you're getting really, really old — that if you're not running your own company by then and haven’t raked in your first billion, forget it, because there’s a whole bunch of hot-shot twenty-year olds who are about to whiz right by you and leave you in the dust. 30 is the new 40, which means turning 40 is now more traumatic than ever for many people.
Of course we as a congregation are now turning 40 and while for us it is a time to celebrate rather than be traumatized, still you have to wonder if what our culture has to say about being 40 might not apply to a congregation as well. Are we as a congregation over the hill, on the down slope, past it, have one foot in the grave, might as well forget it and just call it a day? The answers, I think, would be pretty much the same for a congregation as they would be for individuals.
Think about how “older” people are often characterized: afraid of change, stuck in the past, not open to new ideas, slow to adapt, “out of it” when it comes to current trends and to what those who are younger think and feel and want. The strange thing is, however, that these characteristics can fit someone who is 30 better than they do someone who is 80. The young sometimes seem older than the old! And the reason is that age has far more to do with attitude and approach than it does with years lived.
Now what this means for a congregation is that our future very much depends on the attitude we have and how we approach things. Will we be afraid of change or will we look for the new things God can do in and through us? Will fear or faith drive us? Will we remember our past with thankfulness but keep our eyes toward the future or will we remember the past with nostalgia and keep thinking about what once was? Will we be open to new ideas, be willing to try fresh approaches, risk exploring different kinds of ministries and ways of serving as we seek to follow the Christ who was God’s utterly new thing or will we stay with what is certain and safe and comfortable? Will we adapt to a variety of circumstances just as the Apostle Paul did or will we plant our feet and remain stuck in place? Will we seek to understand young people and keep trying to find a way to speak God’s word to them or will we choose to ignore what they are searching for and speak words that mean little to them?
How we answer those questions will give us the answer to the most important question of all, this question: Will we continue to follow the vision that has guided us for 40 years and obey what the Spirit calls us to be as a body of Christ in this place? Christ Our Hope began 40 years ago with a vision, a vision given, I believe, by the Spirit, a vision of being a congregation that welcomed all people to the love of God in Christ at a time when congregations didn’t welcome all people, a vision of a congregation that served its community, a vision of a congregation that would be a home in which encouragement and support and strength would be found in love for one another and in which the hope we have in Christ would fill people and they would be lifted in joy. That is the vision that formed the congregation and guided it to this day, the vision that has made Christ Our Hope the
congregation it is, the people we are.
And so, the simple answer to the question about our future is this: we will have a strong future in God as long as we allow that vision to lead us and guide us and we obey its call. Or to put it another way: as long as we keep welcoming others, keep serving others, keep being Christ to others by showing compassion and kindness and mercy, keep being home and family to all who gather.
If the vision remains alive, we as a congregation will remain alive and not be “over the hill” or “on the down slope,” or “past it,” but very much “with it” no matter how old we are.
God be with you,