What Will Be Said of Our Generation?Published February 27, 2017
Most people who have left an impact on the world were not focused on leaving a legacy but, instead, were focused on doing the right thing.
- When Winston Churchill implored the British not to give up when the bombs of Hitler’s Third Reich were shell shocking London, he was not thinking about his legacy. Rather he was thinking about how a leader’s words matter in influencing people to persevere and continue fighting.
- When Nelson Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy,” he was not thinking about his legacy. He was thinking about how to bring together a divided, racially angry country.
- When Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, she was not thinking about her legacy. She was thinking about the fact that there are no second class citizens.
I was a business major in college when I started working with students in a church youth group. I was struggling with the impotency of the church—and the lack of credibility we were having in our community.
And then I read Isaiah 58. A chapter about defending the defenseless. A chapter that talks about a community of believers focused on serving the poor. And it changed everything.
I took 30 teenagers to Mexico City and we saw some of the worst poverty in the world in the city’s massive garbage dumps.
The unfairness of it all drove me to do something I said I would never do. I brought a new vision to a dying church as senior pastor: to become a church with a burning, relentless desire to care for the poor. I pastored the church for 24 years, and we radically redefined the meaning of church and fought for the homeless, fed the hungry, cared for the elderly and defended the orphan, both locally and globally.
Along the way, I learned that serving the poor is messy, hard and not for the faint of heart. Yet, this is where we have seen the blessings come.
A legacy is being written about this generation of church leaders.
Some say that the church has lost its credibility. I pray that we will regain it by doing the right thing. I pray that we will leave a legacy of hope, healing and love for “the least of these.”
As I reflected on the possible legacy of our generation, I have been struck by four questions.
1. WHAT WILL BE SAID OF OUR GENERATION?
- A generation that is more globally aware than any other, yet is obsessed with celebrity reality shows and stock market results.
- A generation that believes in sheltering the homeless, as long as they’re not near their own over-bloated homes.
- A generation that is technologically brilliant, yet socially stunted.
- A generation where there is enough food for everyone, where most diseases are preventable, where the lack of education is fixable, yet we lack the determination to act selflessly.
- A generation that prayed for the poor while building bigger barns.
2. BUT WHAT COULD BE SAID OF OUR GENERATION?
- We gave—creating a mass of wealth that stunned the world and ended extreme poverty.
- We adopted the orphan, ending the foster system as we know it.
- We supported heroic organizations, declaring that the end of slavery would happen on our watch.
- We sponsored children around the world, ensuring for them an education, antiviral HIV drugs and an introduction to faith.
3. WHAT SHOULD BE SAID OF OUR GENERATION?
- We decided that poverty would not prevail and good would win.
- We decided that the most important part of a church service is what happens once we leave the parking lot.
- We decided that it doesn’t profit us to gain the world, but lose our soul.
- We decided that God is close to broken hearts and crushed spirits.
4. WHAT DO I HOPE WILL BE SAID OF OUR GENERATION?
- We shunned consumerism and found joy in minimalism.
- We ignored the American dream and pursued God’s pleasure.
- We simplified our lives so that others could simply live.
- We preached always and occasionally used words.
We all get to choose our legacy. It is my hope that this generation will choose wisely.
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About the Author(s)
Ken Burkey is the executive director of Live58 fosters collaborative partnerships with local churches to develop focused strategies to better position themselves to serve the poor effectively. Prior to his role at Live58, Ken was the senior pastor at Green Valley Community Church in Placerville, California, for 23 years. He is the author of the book, The Power of an Orange Chair: Anecdotes, Stories and Celebrations of an Isaiah 58 Church.