By Jeff Matas
Last month, I wrote about the first part of my vision for Indiana Ministries. We will have an emphasis on engaging and equipping churches in relational evangelism, to reignite a passion for lost people from the pew to the pulpit.
The second part of my vision for Indiana Ministries was something that has been stirring in my heart for a long time. Generations ago, the local church did a much better job of raising up pastors and leaders than we do at the present. Currently when a church is looking for a pastor, they are just not out there like they were years ago. It’s not uncommon for a church to wait one or even two years. Look at the generation of leaders that are Doug Talley’s age. There is a large group of great leaders that knew each other, that went to school with each other, served in ministry with each other, and they had an incredible impact on the kingdom. It’s an impressive group of pastors and leaders—men and women—that are now in their late 60s and 70s. They were the last large group of church influencers in our tribe. Now that group of baby boomer pastors is retiring or close to retirement, and there’s not enough younger pastors to replace them. So, churches are waiting much longer to fill positions. They are waiting longer to fill all positions: senior pastor, youth, worship, and children. The bench is nearly empty.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” he noticed that most Canadian-born hockey players in the NHL have birthdays that fall in the first months of the year. He looks into why that is, and he discovers that the players born in the first months of the year had a huge advantage on players born later in the year. He finds that their birth month has a high correlation to their success as a hockey player. The earlier in the year that they were born, the higher chance they had of advancing through the ranks and making the NHL. Why? The cut-off for age-class hockey programs in Canada is January 1. When you are 8 or 9 years old, there is a huge difference physically between a kid that turns 8 in January and a kid that turns 8 in November or December of that same year. The kids that have early birthdays are bigger, stronger, and faster. They are more emotionally mature. They are the ones that get picked for the elite teams. They get better coaching. They get better competition. They get the opportunities to grow and develop as a player. But if you are younger, you miss out. You are overlooked. Gladwell laments the loss of talent that the NHL is missing. A utilization rate is the percentage of an available resource that you are using. Gladwell estimates the NHL’s utilization rate at 60%. In other words, they are missing 40% of the available talent that would have been theirs if the system were changed.
When it comes to developing the future pastors and church leaders that are in our pews, what’s our utilization rate? How effective are we in calling and developing the next generation of church leaders? How many great church leaders and pastors are we missing because no one spoke into their life? No one invested in them. No one pulled them aside and said, I see something in you. You are going to be a pastor one day. You are going to make a difference with your life.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a larger-than-life pastor from Newton Falls, Ohio by the name of Lillie McCutcheon. You can google her and in the photos that pop up, you’ll see a thin woman with an old-fashioned hairdo. She always wore long dresses with high-neck collars. In the 60s and 70s, with bell bottom jeans, wide collars, mini-skirts, and leisure suits, she looked out of place, but man could she preach! She might have been old-fashioned in her appearance, but she was modern and cutting edge in her approach to the gospel. She was on the radio and people tuned in to hear her. She traveled all over the country speaking at camp meetings, and state and national gatherings. She had one of the largest churches in the Church of God.
But Sister Lillie’s greatest legacy was not the size of her church, the books she wrote, or the number of radio stations that carried her messages. Her greatest legacy is the incredible number of pastors and church leaders that she raised up in her congregation. I called Dr. Barry Callen, the former dean of the seminary and church historian. I asked him, how many church leaders came from Newton Falls, Ohio when Sister Lillie was pastor. Barry was the person to call because he literally wrote the book on Lillie McCutcheon, and he grew up in the church. Within minutes after I called, Barry emailed me the names of all the church leaders that came from Newton Falls. I went through the list…28 names. 28 pastors, church leaders, missionaries all from one church under the leadership of one pastor. The list included leaders like: Barry Callen, Bob Moss, Jeannette Flynn, Ryan Chapman, and Robin Wood.
I talked to Bob Moss and Jeannette Flynn about Sister Lillie and her impact. Lille took notice of the kids in her church. She would pay attention to them. She would speak into their lives. She would spend time with them. She would give them responsibility and put them to work. She would tell them, “I see something in you.” And from what I have learned about her, she would tell them what that something was. I asked Bob Moss, why did a kid from Newton Falls, Ohio go to college in Oregon at Warner Pacific? He said, “Sister Lillie told me to go.” Jeanette told me how she was convinced that God didn’t want her to preach because she couldn’t do it like Sister Lillie, until Lillie told her, “God is not calling you to be me, he is calling you to be you.”
Using Gladwell’s terminology, Sister Lillie had a very high utilization rate. If you were a young person in Newton Falls in the 60s and 70s and God had his hand on your life, chances are you knew it because Sister Lillie was on it. She never missed an opportunity to pour into the lives of the kids in her church.
You might be tempted to write off what happened in Newton Falls as unique, a one-off, outdated and unworkable in today’s world, but there are some churches that are doing it. Catalyst Church in Pendleton is such a place. Spend some time there and you’ll notice teenagers in the worship band, even leading worship. And throughout the year, it is not unusual on a Sunday morning to see a high school kid give a sermon to the entire church. I was able to attend Catalyst early this year and the entire worship service was dedicated to prayer. No sermon. No worship block. Just segments of prayer in which someone from the church would teach and lead the congregation. For one of those segments, a teen got up. He talked to the church about a specific aspect of prayer—let’s say thanksgiving—then he led the church in that prayer.
Josh Deeter is the pastor of Catalyst. I asked him, “You have a lot of kids that are involved at a high level in the church. How did that happen?” He said, it’s intentional. He said, we stopped having a separate worship service for teenagers. They worship with us. They are part of us and we want them to know that. He did some reading and studying on the topic. He discovered that a key indicator of whether a young person will stick to their faith once they graduate high school and college is whether or not they were integrated into the life of the church and its worship.
When it comes to calling its teens to faith in Christ, to their future as Christian leaders, and to their future as pastors, Catalyst is intentional. They have a higher utilization rate than most churches.
Can you dream with me for a minute? What would happen if we could get 10 churches in the state that would intentionally engage their young people? That would begin to speak into the lives of the kids and teens that are connected to that church. To connect with them in relationship. To speak into their lives. To say, “I see something special in you.” To give them opportunities. To include them as a vital part of the church body.
That’s the reason why all of us are where we are…isn’t it? We could talk about our salvation, our calling to ministry, and you know what we would discover? Yes, we would talk about God’s gracious work in our lives. But as we told our stories, you’d quickly discover that God’s call always involves people in the body of Christ speaking into a person’s life. In a very real way, God calls us into ministry through the people in the local church. All of us have people that poured into our lives, that said, “I see something in you. God has his hand on you.”
50 years have passed, and we are still reaping the benefits of one congregation in Northeast Ohio. From one pastor and one congregation came 28 state and national leaders. What if we had 10 churches in Indiana that did that? What if we had 20 or 30 churches? We could turn the world upside down for Christ.
Other than saving souls, this is one of the most important things we can do as a church. To call out the next generation of leaders. To pour into them. To make it our goal to raise up everyone that God gives us.
This next season of Indiana Ministries, we will be building on the incredible foundation that Doug Talley has laid. And we will do it with an emphasis on engaging and equipping churches in relational evangelism, so that people in the pew rediscover a passion for lost people. And secondly, to help churches intentionally pour into the lives of their young people. So that we are not only raising up the next generation of pastors and church leaders, but we are raising up young people who will hold on to their faith as they enter college, the workforce, and raise a family.