What's Tony Thinking

The Last Jedi and Changing the Generational Guard


One’s children, and grandchildren, take you places you wouldn’t go but for them. At least that’s how I explain finding myself among the throngs of Star Wars devotees lined up to see the latest, “The Last Jedi.”

There is the usual story line of good versus evil, now “the resistance” versus “The First Order.” Pretty much David and Goliath all over again. But we love it and it never grows old.

But Luke Skywalker has grown old, as has Princess Leia (and of course, Carrie Fisher, featured here died well before the release of this installment, which is dedicated to her). My grandsons tell me that Hans Solo got killed off in the last installment. Missed that. Sorry Harrison.

So it seemed to me, perhaps because I too am growing old, that “The Last Jedi,” was in addition to the good versus evil also about aging, mortality and generational succession. Luke Skywalker has become a rather bitter recluse, convinced his life is a failure. The scenes on his rocky island perch are quite stunning. Princess Leia has become a wise old woman, although she is literally “on ice” at one point.

So the question faced by all institutions (of which “Star Wars” is one), and including churches — how do you pass the torch? How do those of an aging generation come to terms with their lives and mortality and let go? How do you get the right new people in place? Or do you? Churches are struggling with this.

The congregation where our daughter Laura is an Associate Pastor, Plymouth UCC in Des Moines, Iowa has had notable success with planned pastoral succession (as opposed to the intentional interim model). You choose the new Senior Pastor before the present one departs. There’s also the question of lay leadership succession. In a fair number of mainline churches, aging lay leaders are holding on too long and too tight, failing to prepare a new generation of leaders and letting go.

Is Luke Skywalker “the last Jedi?” Is your generation the last one for your church? The movie could prompt some useful discussions about the challenges of leadership succession and planning.

Our family heads off later this week to what the grands refer to as “The Christmas Cabin,” a place we rent outside of Leavenworth for winter fun and snow play. Here’s a photo of Colin Robinson, age five in the photo, at the Christmas Cabin last year.  Holidays becomes a challenge too with new generations and family configurations. Because our kids would sometimes be with in-laws at the holidays (as they should), we happened upon the idea of a time later in the 12 Days of Christmas when we could all be together. Hence “The Christmas Cabin.”

Change requires us to adapt, and to sort out in the words of Ron Heifetz what is precious from what’s expendable. As families, churches and other institutions these are challenges to which we must rise.




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