Sunday, March 5, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Our Big Deals
#3—Think 3

Introduction and offering:

In January, we did a series called, Our Big Deals.  I said then that we have two Big Deals that are always our Big Deals. We are a Great Commission church and a Great Commandment church.  

  • The Great Commission is to make disciples: we help people find and follow Jesus.   I talked about this on January 15—if you weren’t here, it would be worth going to our website or our app and listening to it.

o We help people find Jesus by doing find, tell, bring: find someone you love, tell them what you know, bring them with you.

o We help people follow Jesus by doing 1-2-3: 1—Church; 2—Rooted; 3—Life Groups.  I explained that these are the first three steps as you follow Jesus—and they lead to many more steps as you keep learning and growing and following Jesus.  

o We plant churches that help people find and follow Jesus.

  • The Great Commandment is to love God and love people: we love everyone always!  I talked about this on January 22—same thing: if you missed it, it would be good to catch up.

Those are our two Big Deals—always!  They are expressed in our mission: we help people find and follow Jesus.  And in our motto: Loving God and loving people.  Those are the most important things about us, and always will be!

Each year, we also prayerfully focus on a goal, on something that we believe needs to get better.  For example, last year it was to simplify and clarify our discipleship process—especially the front end of that process, making it easier for people to get started. 1-2-3 is the result.  

So what is Our Big Deal for 2017?  It is Think 3!  Here’s:

The Big Idea: To Think 3 means every generation thinks three generations into the future, and one on either side of you.  

To Think 3 is to think generationally.  This happens very naturally in healthy families.  Good parents don’t just think of themselves; they think of their children and grandchildren, and want the best for all three generations, and beyond.  

ILL: Have you seen this bumper sticker?  “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance.”  It’s funny for the parents—but not so much for the kids!  

In contrast, the Bible says:

Proverbs 13:22 A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children.

That’s Think 3—thinking 3 generations into the future.  Good parents do it naturally.  They aren’t thinking selfishly; they’re thinking legacy.  Good parents want their children and grandchildren to go beyond where they have gone, and they empower and equip them to do that.  

Generational thinking is all over the Bible.  For example:

Exodus 3:15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

The Lord is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The faith is passed on from one generation to the next.  

2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

Timothy was the third generation in a family of faith, preceded by Mama Eunice and Grandma Lois.  The faith is passed on from one generation to the next.

2 Timothy 2:1–2 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

Paul is actually Thinking 4 here!  The gospel moved from Paul to Timothy to reliable people to others.  The faith is passed on from one generation to the next.

Healthy churches do the same thing: we Think 3. We think generationally.  We realize that our best investment is to equip and empower the generations coming up behind us so that they can go beyond us.  We want the light of our church to shine brighter and brighter; we want more people to find and follow Jesus!  As we pass the baton to the next leaders at Life Center, we want them to surpass us, to be better than us, more effective than us.  We want to build a church that our kids and grandkids will love.  

So…some of you are thinking, “That sounds great!  Why couldn’t you preach this message on January 29?  Why did you opt out then?”  Here’s what happened.  Originally, we titled this initiative, “Growing Younger.”  While some people liked the sound of that, others found it alarming.  To them, it sounded like:

  • We don’t care about older people any more.  We didn’t mean that.
  • We only care about young people now.  We didn’t mean that.
  • We are firing all our staff over 30.  We didn’t mean that.  (I hope!)
  • We are kicking all the old people to the curb.  We didn’t mean that.
  • We are all wearing skinny jeans and getting tats!  We didn’t mean that.

I do think we all need to get some happy socks!

We didn’t mean any of those things; so what did we mean by growing younger?  Simply that we want to do a better job of reaching the next generations.  And to do that, we need every generation to engage with those coming up behind them.  It sounds a lot like Think 3, doesn’t it?  But unfortunately, the “Growing Younger” verbiage was so inflammatory that some people just couldn’t get past it.  So we backed up, regrouped, and re-worded—and here we are.

I shamelessly ripped off the Think 3 language from Pastor Kevin Gerald in Tacoma.  He gave a great talk on this, and I’ve borrowed his language and a few of his ideas, mixed in some of my own, and now I’m about to bring the thunder!  Once again, here is:

The Big Idea: To Think 3 means every generation thinks three generations into the future, and one on either side of you.  

Let’s unpack this by thinking about why and how.

Offering here.

  1. Why we need to Think 3.

Why Think 3?  Why do we need to engage every generation to reach those behind them?  I’m going to give you three reasons.

First, we need to Think 3 because young people are under-represented in the church—and this is nothing new.  They were under-represented when I was young.  In fact, church leaders have been wringing their hands and worrying about how to reach the next generations for as long as I can remember.  And it’s a valid concern.  

Here’s a look at U.S. demographics (Please leave the graph up while I go through the six generations).  (US Census Bureau, 2014 census)


Let’s do a little generational shout out!  This should be fun!

  • The Greatest Generation (born before 1924) 1.9 million or less than 1% of the US population.  These are the folks who lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War 2 and were appropriately named “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw.  They are 92 and older.   Any of you in the room?
  • The Silent Generation (1925-1945) 30 million or 9% of the US population.  Time Magazine, in 1951 named this the “Silent Generation,” but that doesn’t mean they weren’t influential.  They were huge shapers of culture.  They are 72-92 years old.  Any of you in the room?
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964) 75 million or 23% of the US population.  So named because of an uptick in the birth rate immediately after World War 2.  Boomers are 53-71 years old.  Any of you in the room?
  • Gen X (1965-1980) 66 million or 20% of the US population.  The name “Gen X” was popularized in a Douglas Coupland novel in 1991.  X-ers are 36-52 years old.  Any of you in the room?
  • Millennials (1981-1997) 83 million or 26% of the US population.  They were first called Millennials in the book Generations, published in 1991.  Millennials are 19-35 years old.  Any of you in the room?  They constitute 26% of the general population in the US, but represent less than 10% of the Church (capital C—the whole church in America).  
  • Generation Z (1998-2014) 74 million or 23% of the US population.  The Z’s are 3-19 years old.  Any of you in the room?  Lots of them are in LC Kids or LC Middle School.  Dr. James Emery White writes, “As the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest, Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West and the heart of the missional challenge facing the Christian church.”  They are even less likely than the millennials to follow Jesus and be in church.

Slightly more than half our population is under 35—and they are by far the most unreached people with the gospel.  By the way, we—Life Center—do much better than the national averages, or even most churches, when it comes to reaching young people.  But we want to do better.  Why?  Simply put, we need to Think 3 because young people need to be reached with the good news of Jesus.  They are under-represented in the church.  They are the unreached people groups in our midst.

ILL: Last summer, we had a family reunion.  My mom, her six kids and spouses, their kids and spouses, and their kids and yes, some spouses, all gathered for 3 days in Bend, Oregon.  Four generations! It was a blast!

If you were planning a family reunion, and the young people were not coming, what would you do?  You’d get on the phone and go after those young people.  “The family is not complete without you.”

That’s the first and most important reason we need to Think 3.  The family is not complete without all the generations fully represented—and the youngest generations are under-represented.  We want to get better at reaching the next generations—we want to Think 3.  

Second, we need to Think 3 because healthy churches are multi-generational.  I believe that God intended His church to be multi-generational: not all old people, not all young people, but a multi-generational extended family.  On the day of Pentecost, the day the church was born, the apostle Peter shared the gospel.  To explain what was going on, he quoted Joel 2:28-29.

Acts 2:17–18 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

God was doing something new.  Jesus, the Messiah had come, and now was pouring out His Spirit on all people.  Not just the Jews—all people.  And to drive that home, the prophecy mentions our sons and daughters, the young and old, both men and women.  All people.  The church was to be a Spirit-filled community of all people: young and old, men and women, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas—everyone together.  This is God’s vision for the church: a multi-racial, multi-generational extended family.  Think 3 is healthy—the whole church wins when we think of the next generations.

Third, we need to Think 3 because our church’s survival depends upon it.  Every organization follows a bell curve that represents its life cycle.  This is true of churches too.  A church starts, it grows, it declines, it dies.  Churches naturally get old and gray—unless the church decides to Think 3.  This requires all of us thinking about the next generations.  

Every church faces this choice.  We will keep things as they are, we will focus on taking care of who we have, and we will die.  Or we will Think 3, embrace change, reach those coming up behind us, and we will grow.  Those are the choices or every church.  Think 3 or die.  Between 4000-7000 churches in the US will close this year.  I can guarantee you that none of those churches were Thinking 3.  Let me use myself as an example.

ILL: Laina and I came to Life Center in 1978.  I was 26; she was 21, and people in church asked her what high school she went to!  “I’m the pastor’s wife,” she said.  Imagine their shock that the pastor married a high school girl!  There were 40 people in the church when we came.  I was not what they were praying for!  Most of them left, and we started over.  

I’ve been here a long time—it will be 39 years on Bloomsday Sunday.  I’ve invested my life in this church—my time, my money, my  sweat, my prayers and tears.  I’m an owner here.  This is my church.  It would be easy for me to want the church to make my needs a priority: play the music I like, preach what I’m interested in, design programs for me.  It’s my church—keep it the way I like it.  Don’t change it.  That’s not Think 3—that’s Think Me.  Make it good for me and people like me—my generation.  

What will happen to the church if we think that way?  It will die.  And 4-7000 churches will die this year because people thought that way.  We’re not going to think that way.  We’re going to Think 3.

ILL: Think of successful coaches.  The Zags mens and women basketball coaches, Mark Few and Lisa Fortier, and their families are members here.  Congrats to both Mark and Lisa for being named WCC Coaches of the Year!  Do you know when Mark and Lisa do their recruiting?  All year long!  They are always recruiting.  In the middle of the season, they are bringing in recruits for visits.  So while they are coaching their current players, they are also recruiting their future players.  As soon as the season ends, they are in the homes of recruits.  During the summer, when you’re not thinking about the team at all, they are—they’re out recruiting.  And they are not just thinking about next year’s recruits—they are thinking years ahead: next year’s team, and the one after that and the one after that.  

What would happen if they decided to stop recruiting so they could focus all their energy on coaching the players they have?  They’d be good this year—and would be bad next year, and not have a team at all within a couple years.  Mark put it succinctly in a text to me: “recruit or perish!”

Churches are like that.  If we don’t think generationally, if we’re not “recruiting new players,” and investing in the next generations, we won’t be here very long.  Think 3—our church’s survival depends on it!

ILL: Moses thought generationally.  We just read last week in our Bible reading plan that when God told Moses he was going to die, Moses’ first words were, “Lord, your people need a new leader; please appoint a good leader.”  He didn’t think of himself first, but the community.  God told him to appoint Joshua, whom Moses had been training for years.  Joshua seamlessly took over and led Israel into the Promised Land.  Joshua didn’t Think 3—and when he died, there was no leader to follow him.  Israel entered a leaderless period of moral and spiritual chaos known as the Judges.  

Think 3 is not an option—it’s a necessity.  

So that’s why we need to Think 3.  How do we do it?  What does it look like practically?

  1. How to Think 3!

Let’s take another look at our Big Idea.

The Big Idea: To Think 3 means every generation thinks three generations into the future, and one on either side of you.  

I want to break this down in two parts.  

First, let’s all think three generations into the future.  So let’s see the hands of everyone 53 and older: Boomers, Silent and Greatest Generations.  I’m a 65 year old Boomer—I’m one of you—a high mileage unit!  It’s tempting to think that our day is past.  Let’s retire, get a Winnebago, or a place in Arizona, play some golf, a little bingo and shuffleboard, and let the young people take over.  By the way, a couple weeks ago, in our Bible reading plan, I read this verse:

Acts 27:12 most people were in favor of … trying to reach Phoenix, if possible, in order to spend the winter there.

It’s the in Bible…I’m just saying.  So for all of us older saints, the temptation is to think that our day is past and just retire.  We’ve made our best contribution; now we’re done.  But I want to challenge that.  I think your best contribution may still be in front of you!  You have more experience, and hopefully more wisdom than you’ve ever had.  You have so much to give!  And I meet lots of young people who would love to learn from you.  Just last week, on Thursday at Alive Northwest, our college age group, I talked with a young man who told me he wishes he had an older mentor.  He loves his peers, but there are things he wants to talk about with an older mentor.  Here’s a true story:

ILL: An enthusiastic group of 20-somethings from Immanuel Church of the Nazarene in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, recently gathered to share what they love about their congregation. One noted the current worship music and helpful messages at Sunday morning services. Another said the spiritual depth of the community challenges her to follow Jesus. Still another mentioned the friendships built during a mission trip.

But when one 22-year-old offered her two-word answer, every head nodded. It wasn’t the name of a program, but a person: Bill Wallace.

Whether he’s attending their Bible study, showing up to a basketball game, or simply saying, “Hello” in the hallway, Wallace has made it his mission to ensure that young people know they matter.

Bill Wallace is 76 years old.

Remembering a childhood when adults failed to show up for his important events, Wallace resolved that no young person at Immanuel would experience the same on his watch. Now Wallace and a cadre of senior adults keep showing up—not only at church, but all over town—to cheer on young people and remind them that they have a family at Immanuel. He’s even written a passionate manifesto to recruit other seniors to join his cause.

May his tribe his increase!  By the way, Bill Wallace’s example teaches us something else: Be a cheerleader first before trying to coach.  People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.  If you show young people that you care for them, that you’re for them, not against them, they’ll be eager to listen to what you know.  But if you start with what you know, they may not care.  

ILL: My hero, and my model for this, is my father-in-law, Noel.  I don’t know anyone who has invested in the next generations like Noel did.

I was 19 when I became the youth pastor at Westside Church of Christ, and Noel was my advisor.  He was 42 years old, a recently widowed father of six children, ages 7-19.  He not only showed up for youth group every Thursday night, but hosted a Bible study for teenagers at his home every Tuesday night.  He immediately became my biggest cheerleader—in fact, within a month, he turned the Tuesday night Bible study in his home over to me.  This man who was so much wiser, so much more mature and godly than I was, believed in me.  He quickly became my mentor.  Most of what I know about following Jesus and ministry, I learned from Noel.

Before long, I was meeting at his home every morning at 5 AM, 7 days a week, for prayer along with half a dozen other young leaders.  Every Tuesday evening, as many as 125 young people would jam into Noel’s home—it wasn’t that big—it was just wall-to-wall students!  We estimate that in a 7 year period, over 5000 students went through that Bible study at Noel’s house.  I might have been the primary speaker, but Noel was the spiritual father, mentor and pastor to all of us.   

Noel worked full time as a pharmacist and was a single dad of six, but he always had time for us, whether 5 in the morning, or late in the evening.  He opened his home not only for daily prayer and weekly Bible study, but for dozens of us to live there.  There are pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders all over the world who lived in Noel’s house when they were in college, and who consider him their spiritual father.

He continued to pour his life into others, especially the next generations, right up until he died 18 months ago.  I got a phone call just a couple weeks ago from a young man in our church who was weeping.  “I miss Noel,” he said through his sobs.  For years, Noel met with him and mentored him every week.

Lots of you here know Noel; if you wonder what we mean by Think 3—look at Noel.  He was always investing in younger people—always.  I’m challenging all of you who are older—your best contribution is still ahead of you!  Think 3!    Invest in the next generations.  Inspired by Noel’s example, I’m hanging out with our high school students on Wednesdays and our college-age group on Thursdays—and I’m loving it!  We have some of the best young people on the planet—they’re awesome!  Which reminds me…

But it’s not just the older generations who Think 3—every generation does.  

Moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas, of course are investing in your kids and grandkids.  When Laina and I were raising our kids, they were our first priority.  If I led a great church and lost my own kids, I would have failed.  Think 3—how are you passing on the faith to your kids and grandkids? I want to pass on a thick faith, a sturdy faith, a relationship with Jesus that will withstand the pressures students face.  We’re here to help you do that with your kids.

LCKids purpose is to partner with parents to help your kids find and follow Jesus.  LCKids has begun offering these workbooks that are filled with great things to do with your kids that reinforce what they learn here and from you.  Moms and Dads, do you Think 3?  Are you building a thick faith in your kids?

It’s not just moms and dads—every generation needs to Think 3, including the youngest ones. Our college age folks are investing in our high school and middle school students.  Our high schoolers are investing in middle schoolers and kids, and our middle schoolers are working in LC kids.  Everyone can reach back and help the generation coming up behind them.  

Here are some practical suggestions on how you could do this:

  • Volunteer in LC Kids and student ministries.
  • Mentor students at Sheridan or Holmes Elementary Schools
  • Facilitate a Rooted group or a Life Group
  • Mentor young marrieds, or young parents
  • Be a pre-marital trainer
  • One-on-one friendships: be a friend and mentor

That leads to the other way to Think 3.  You can not only think 3 generations forward…

Second, think one generation on either side of you.   Think of someone who is ahead of you who could mentor you, and someone coming up behind you whom you could mentor.  Our model here is Paul and Timothy.  Paul found Timothy when he was a young man, and invited Timothy to come along with him on his missionary journeys.  It was on-the-job training and apprenticeship.  Timothy became Paul’s “son in the faith” and a trusted assistant.  I’ve listed a bunch of Scriptures on your outline that describe Paul and Timothy’s famous relationship.  

So here’s my thought: What if everyone had a Paul and everyone had a Timothy?  That would be another very powerful form of Think 3!  There’s you, your Paul and your Timothy—that’s 3!  

When you came in, you were given this card; would you take it out now.  I want you to think about this: who is your Paul?  Who is investing in you, mentoring you?  Who is your Timothy?  Whom are you investing in and mentoring?  Many of us will write more than one name down on each line—and that’s good.  On my Paul line, I wrote, “Noel” of course, but I also wrote Jerry and Rick and Laina and Stan.  These are all people whom I look to for counsel—and there are others.  And on the Timothy line, I’ve got a bunch of young stallions I’m investing in!

Take a minute and write down some names.  If you can’t think of any, well that’s what Our Big Deal is this year—to help you Think 3!

Closing prayer