This past year, my sons convinced my wife that I needed a new watch. Frankly, that idea hadn’t occurred to me, because I already have a nice watch, one that has worked well for over 20 years. It’s also meaningful to me because it was a parting gift from friends at one of my previous employers.
In fact, to be honest, I really like my old watch. It’s wound by pendulum action, so it doesn’t need a battery. It has an easy-to-read face, allowing me to glance at it quickly during meetings, or sermons, which most people seem to appreciate. And it has the date right on it. What else would you want from a watch?
What else indeed! My new Apple watch does so much more than tell me the time and date. It reports how many calories I’ve burned that day, how many minutes I’ve exercised, even how many times I’ve stood up. It precisely describes the current weather conditions, and forecasts them for the future, wherever I am. It knows the time the sun will rise and set each day, and all about the latest news events. It displays my favorite photos, and with the press of a button it makes available dozens of other apps connected to my phone or computer.
When I set exercise goals or appointments or reminders, my watch vibrates or beeps and tells me what to do. Sometimes while I am sitting in a meeting it tells me I’ve been sitting too long and should stand up. So I do. When people ask me why, I now just say, “Because I work for my watch.”
My new watch has also presented me with a challenge, however. After replacing my pendulum watch with my fancy new watch for a few days, I discovered that my old watch had stopped, and I couldn’t get it started again. The jeweler who repaired it told me that he couldn’t promise it would keep running, if I kept letting it wind down.
Some people would probably solve that problem by putting the old watch in a drawer and letting it become a relic, a memento of times past. But I’m not ready for my old watch to stop serving me, or reminding me of the people who gave it to me. So now, not every day, but every couple of days or in the evenings, I wear two watches, one on my left wrist and one on my right. It’s become kind of a conversation starter.
Since beginning that routine, I have started to ponder how much my dual watch situation represents an important reality in today’s churches. In practically every church, there is an older generation of leaders who have served well, and who can continue to serve well. And often, though not always, there is also a new generation of leaders with the same core beliefs and dedication to the church, but with new tastes in music, new needs and preferences, new skills in technology, and new ideas about reaching their generation with the gospel.
Wise pastors and mature church leaders learn to value both generations, and all they have to offer today’s churches. They don’t scorn new ideas and methods simply because the old ones still work just fine. But neither do they discard the old ways simply because some new style or preference comes along.
Sadly, that’s not always the case. It seems more churches are unwilling to learn the new than are discarding or devaluing the old. But a healthy church with a bright future will learn to value and utilize both generations, side by side, as I have my two watches.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.