An Ambition to Serve the Next Generation

Imagine an ambition that grows stronger as you get older. One so clear and indomitable it reaches out to serve and position the next generation. 

Roger and Dottie Small were married September 21, 1958. One year after their wedding day, they welcomed their first daughter into their family. Soon following were two more girls.

The next several years were filled with kid stuff—school, sports, trips to the doctor, many memories, family vacations, and many hours building into their local church. The Smalls built a family life that was based in the church.

Fast-forward many years. All the girls have married and moved on to start their own families. For most–and I would count myself among them– that would signal the opportunity for their parents to slow down and relax. 

But not Roger and Dottie. I still remember sitting with their son-in- law as he described the impact of their life. He said, “Roger and Dottie view themselves as existing for the next generation.”


Seeing Beyond Your Life

The Smalls live an extraordinary life. And I love their story because in a world where “missions” is often something we do far from home (and I am grateful for those that answer that call!), their mission field included how to use their retirement to serve the next generation. 

Twenty-five years after their youngest daughter moved out, they still have a laundry list of activities—hosting evangelistic outreach, worship band practice, small groups, counseling sessions, classes. The list goes on. But it’s not about their activity. It’s about why they do it. It’s about their hunger to see the next generation moving forward in strength. 

“Roger and Dottie have a humility that positions them, not as experts but as learners”, says their son-in-law. “Sometimes older saints have a this-is-how-we-did-it mentality. But not Roger and Dottie. They don’t tell the next generation how to live. They find out what the next generation is doing and ask how they can help. Their lives are oriented to serve.”

This really provokes me. But there’s more. When most people their age were downsizing, Roger and Dottie were building a four-bedroom house with nine-foot ceilings in the basement. Why? Because they anticipated the day when the basement would need to be an apartment for a family member, a young couple, a single mom. Recently Roger and Dottie moved into one of the bedrooms and converted the dining room to their living room. They occupy two rooms in their house so that their daughter and son-in-law and their children can use the rest of the house.

“Because Roger and Dottie built their house for this very reason, they don’t view living in two rooms of their own house as a sacrifice,” said the son-in-law. “There is just no retirement mentality in them.”

The Smalls’ ambition for the next generation—and for the one after that—should inspire us. They’ve redefined the golden years according to a higher call. Every purchase they make, every investment, every decision is with an eye to how it will serve the next generation and be used for the future.

If you ask the Smalls’ children, grandchildren, and great-grand- children, they’ll tell you that gratitude and humility mark Roger and Dottie’s lives. “Roger and Dottie,” they say, “see life through multiple generations.”

Is that the way you see life? Now that I have my own grandkids, I’m even more provoked by their example. Because it seems like true leadership success is not simply about what I can accomplish, but should include how effectively I transfer it to others who will carry on the work. 

Will I live today so the next generation will experience the benefit? 

For too many of us, our idea of life is bound by the dates that will one day appear on our tombstones. But God opened Roger and Dottie’s eyes to a greater and much deeper reality. They recognized early on that their lives were not tightly bound up into their own story but were a part of God’s grand historical drama. No longer constrained by their own brief lifespans, their ambitions blew through the roof. God set them free to pursue goals characterized not by what they could accomplish on their own, but how well they could steward faithfully the gifts God gave for the good of his kingdom.

Will you join them?


Tenacious Tuesday Question

Take a few minutes to read 2 Peter 3:1–14. What characterizes those people who believe that this world is all there is? How does Peter encourage Christians to think differently? What might he say to you today about the scope and focus of your ambitions and goals?


Heavenly Father, I know that one day Christ will return, then will be answered in its fullness our prayer that ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ Help me now to set goals, work in me glorious and God-exalting ambitions, that reflect your kingdom purposes from the innermost recesses of my heart to the uttermost parts of the world.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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