The new, the novel, and the need for wisdom in the church today

Jan. 26, 2023

By Rev. Rick King

I’ve written a lot lately about trends affecting organized religion these days and the need for younger leadership in our church if we really want to reach the next generations.

And now that the hair I have left has gone a bit gray, I admit that my first thought about this is that maybe those of us Baby Boomers in leadership need to make sure to step out of the way of those younger generations.

But this bias our society has towards youth, energy and innovation needs a balanced approach to be effective. As Anna Mitchell Hall asked in the Dec. 1 post in Convergence Weekly, a blog I subscribe to, “[W]hen we narrowly focus on youth, are we missing the power of wisdom for a vital church?”

And she points out a distinction between modern culture’s elevation of the new and the novel to the level of the sacred, and the church’s need for wisdom—wondering how we ever got from the Judeo-Christian wisdom tradition to our obsession with innovation as a cure-all for the church’s ills. “Capitalism, maybe?” she asks.

Wisdom, called Sophia in the Bible, was there at the beginning of all things. In fact, it precedes all things because it was the source of creation, calling us toward greater insight and virtue in our life together. Hall cites Proverbs 8:19 in saying the fruit of Sophia is better than gold.

She says the time has come for a renewed reverence for wisdom.

Psychology distinguishes between two kinds of intelligence. Fluid intelligence is one’s ability to process new information, learn, and solve problems. Crystallized intelligence is one’s stored knowledge, accumulated over the years. The two types work together and are therefore both important.

I turned 61 on Monday. For about the last six years, I’ve noticed that while I’m still picking up new skills and information and love the challenge of problem-solving in leadership, my crystallized intelligence now drives the bus of my brain. And I came into that intelligence largely by the mentoring of older, wiser people—mostly church members in the congregations I’ve served, but also colleagues and trusted elders in the other sectors of my life.

The best practices of congregational life are often nurtured most by the wisdom and experience of our elders, because wisdom is born of both knowledge and experience acquired over the course of a lifetime. In her blog post, Anna Hall points out that “elders often have deep experience with saying goodbye. It is inevitable that over our lives we will lose friends, family members, and beloved institutions. Each of these losses, while painful, brings wisdom about navigating grief and change.”

This year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of Falcon Heights Church. It would be really easy to simply commemorate and enshrine our past, looking back at the triumphs of previous generations that built this church, rooted in its community. One thing I’ve been thinking about is FHC’s founding identity as a community church in 1948, and how that close connection to the developing neighborhood of Falcon Heights after World War II shines in the stories people tell about its history.

But my hope is that we remember that we, too, are writing the history of Falcon Heights Church right here and now by the choices we make. How is that community-mindedness and identification with our neighborhood showing up in our life now and the plans we make for our future?

As churches like ours seek transformation, the wisdom and stories of our elders can energize and shape our future. What stories have YOU heard? What wisdom has been shared with you?