Recently, I attended the funeral of a good friend and former church member who had a great impact on my life and on the life of his church. When I met Gene Willard, he was about 80-years-old and had been at the church I was becoming pastor of for over 50 years. He had a close relationship with several of the pastors and that would also prove to be true with me.
Gene had his opinion on things like music, how we did church and other things. He was never afraid to share that opinion. Gene, along with a few others, also had the ear of the church. He served on the leadership team and had influence that really went throughout the entire body. When I arrived at Grace Temple, the church had been declining for years, but because of some unusual financial circumstances, they were easily keeping the doors open. Yet we knew that something had to change if the church was going to survive and reach the community around it.
In the years I was there, the church made some major shifts in the way it was doing ministry in the community and is now a growing vibrant body of believers which reflects its community. Gene Willard and a few others could have stopped the changes from happening, but they didn't; instead, they led us into a new future. Gene not only allowed for those changes, but he also helped by leading "stuffing" parties for our coffee mug gifts to the community, faithfully praying daily for the church, and even as he was able to, visiting in the community.
As Gene was laid to rest, I could not help but think of what his legacy is. Because of his leadership at Grace Temple, brother Gene will one day welcome people to heaven whom he has never met, because he was willing to accept and welcome the changes necessary to reach a changing community. Some of you reading this very well may be leaders in your local body, or perhaps you are the one who everyone is looking to. You could decide to resist change, but ask yourself this question, "What will your legacy be?"
For more information about church transition, please contact Ryan Jespersen, Director of Urban Missions at the Baptist General Convention of Texas at (214) 828-5278 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.