by Greg Pulham
My wife and I are part of what some call “the sandwich generation” – one slice of bread is children we are still supporting; the other slice of bread is parents who require an increasing amount of our care. As the meat in this sandwich, we don’t always enjoy life in with the mayonnaise and mustard.
I am finding that I am also part of another “sandwich generation” – one that exists in the church.
One slice of bread in this sandwich is the traditional church of which I am lead pastor. With 125 years of ministry history, my church firmly belongs in the category which has been variously called “modern,” or “maintenance,” or most recently “attractional.” They are a wonderful, devoted group of believers, some of whom I’ve lived with as part this community for more than 25 years now as a lay person and a pastor.
The other slice of bread is the missional-incarnational impulse that is coming alive in me. For several years now (since I first heard the word “missional” from Gary Nelson at our 2004 Minister’s Conference), I have been trying to create (or awaken?) a missional identity in my church. It has been tremendously challenging work, and often frustrating. I have to confess that at times I have wanted to give up my traditional church and my traditional pastor’s job description to be part of something new, something cutting edge, something making a visible kingdom impact in the world.
I am part of a “sandwich generation” – pastors with burgeoning missional impulses who fill traditional pastoral roles in non-missional communities. The movement of the Spirit often conflicts with the expectations of the congregation. Pastoral ministry has never been easy, but I think for this generation, there are complex and thorny challenges.
Some in this sandwich generation will feel called to respond energetically to the missional-incarnational impulse. They will give up their traditional churches and pastoral roles and find genuine fulfilment in pursuit of God’s call in the hard work of birthing radical new missional communities. Others will remain, working hard and praying that the traditional churches they pastor will someday also be truly missional communities.
Alan Hirsch writes, “My great hope for the church is that in actual fact Apostolic Genius is not something that we have to impose on the church, as if it were something alien to us, but rather is something that already exists in us. It is us! It is our truest expression as Jesus’ people. And because this is so, we simply need to awaken and cultivate it.” (The Forgotten Ways, 244)
I share this hope, and so, while the urge to leave is sometimes strong, I believe that God wants me to stay behind to awaken and cultivate a missional-incarnational identity in the community of faith in which He has placed me. While the kingdom dream certainly needs visionary, entrepreneurial pastors who will blaze the trail of missional living, there is also a need for missionally-hearted pastors – pastors who would rather be trail blazing – to continue to work within traditional church communities to lead them out into missional-incarnational space.
Whichever road is taken will require sacrifice for God’s kingdom dream. I hope you will pray for this sandwich generation of pastors.