You know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? There was the porridge that was too hot, the porridge that was too cold and the porridge that was just right. I’ve noticed this same principle played out in ministry.
I’ve watched executive pastors give young leaders too much too soon because they liked the outgoing personalities or didn’t want to lose the talent. I’ve witnessed leaders hold their responsibilities close and struggle to delegate to younger pastors out of fear of losing power. And then I’ve experienced a pastor guide their young leader(s) with wisdom and steady timing. Too much, not enough and just right.
The role of a lead pastor or senior leader to train the younger generation of leaders isn’t an easy task today. Traditional routes of seeking formal theological training are declining in lieu of internships and short-term education. According to this article in Insider High Ed, seminary enrollment has been steadily falling since 2005. Which means leaders are entering younger and less experienced. Also, instead of assuming a role at the “bottom” and serving to a higher level of leadership, young people want to come in and gain access to the platform at an accelerated rate.
Let me say here that I still consider myself a relatively young leader, and I am for my generation. I want to see the young flourish in the church as the more experienced embrace these budding gifts. But there is a time and place for everything.
What I share is from personal experience and what I’ve observed by other young leaders around me coming up in ministry. And honestly, what I’m witnessing is a progressive move away from humble ministry. A move away from servant leadership and patient endurance. Which is why an aspecsdt of your role, pastor, is to devote intentional energy towards the younger leaders of your church. To pour into them and raise up a generation of strong and wise leaders. Your wisdom and guidance is needed. And I can tell you, young leaders crave it.
Here are 5 ways you can be investing into the next generation:
Instill Servant Leadership
The most valuable lesson a leader can adopt is that of servant leadership— a spirit that walks with a heart to serve God and others before self. It’s a mindset that looks for ways to help out instead of looking for the earliest exit after an event or service. It’s putting others’ needs before self-comfort and self-promotion.
Instill into the young leaders of your congregation a heart to serve. In transparency, this usually means starting at the bottom with stacking chairs and taking out the trash. Until a person can do these kinds of tasks with gladness, they aren’t suited for leading others or taking the platform. Honestly, I would venture to say that a microphone or position to lead anyone may only be given if servant leadership is consistently demonstrated.
Provide Coaching Along the Way
When teaching these principles it's important to provide coaching along the way. I'm reminded of those moments children are disciplined; we don't just scold them and walk away. We take those moments as coaching lessons to train them up well. In the same way, if you ask next generation leaders to serve but don't take moments to explain the importance of what they're doing, what value it brings to them and the church and how they can become a better leader as a result, they'll be missing a very important connection along the way.
Have Ongoing Dialogue About Their Heart
The best leaders I have served under have always been the ones that would check in with me occasionally and talk about my heart, in a safe environment. What was God teaching me? What was I learning about ministry? Where was I struggling? How could they help or pray for me? Don’t miss those special moments to connect and see how their heart is doing. These are great coaching moments and will allow you to determine how you might best lead them moving forward.
Model What You Teach
Few things will be more valuable to young leaders than you modeling what you are teaching them. It will go a long way if they see you picking up trash next to them after an event. Or see you sitting down with someone in need after you walk off the stage. We can never be above what we ask others to do.
Be Intentional About Their Opportunities
It’s easy to give interns or the new kid on staff all the jobs no one else wants, which is okay because these jobs create opportunities to learn about servant leadership. However, it shouldn't be about giving them the bottom of the barrel because it's easy for you or your team. As they model servant leadership and patience in these moments, be intentional about giving them bigger projects and allowing them to spread their wings where they are gifted. Training and coaching means being intentional, so don't take the easy way out. When you see they are ready for more, give them more.
Let me share an example of wonderful leadership that I personally experienced in my twenties. My first pastors were a married couple who led the church I was at, and I worked closely with the wife. I came in relatively green as a new believer and knew very little about ministry, let alone what it looked like to be a Christian. There was a lot to prune!
While I served with her, I learned so much. I often did the tasks typically given to an intern, but over time, I was given more. Servant leadership was an important lesson exemplified well there. She would meet with me to hear where my heart was and encourage me through the rough patches. Her feedback was helpful, and although not always easy to hear, I always grew most in the coachable moments. But most important, she always modeled a godly leader who loved people and served well. She was a strong and gracious leader and she believed in me, creating space for me to become the same type of leader.
1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Those leaders in your church that are in their twenties and thirties have significant value and it’s important you welcome them to contribute their gifts to the Body. But remember, the youth that Paul mentions exemplified godliness and wisdom. The rest of the chapter outlines this kind of person to be one who trains in righteousness and sets an example by the way they live. Ultimately, it not about the age but the character. And the character of your younger leaders is of the highest importance.
Too many Christians, especially those in ministry, believe they are untouchable--that they're too faithful to fall or too spiritual to give in to temptation. They deny any sort of weakness, fail to draw proper boundaries, and end up doing the very things they swore they'd never do.
Author and ministry leader, Brittany Rust was one such person--until she found herself in the middle of moral failure and a church-wide scandal. Bewildered, humiliated, and ashamed, she thought she was beyond redemption. But God's grace met her on the ground, and here she shares what she's learned through her painful journey. She unravels the myth of being untouchable, showing how we start to believe the lie, and how we can protect ourselves from temptation.