Raising Up Leaders
I have recently traveled to be a part of two different denominational annual meetings. In both of them, young leaders played a significant role in the two movements. As we plan for the future of our churches, networks, and denominations, considering the course we chart for new leaders – especially young leaders – is crucial. I wrote the following piece for Catalyst Space and thought it might be worth revisiting. I’d love to get your thoughts on some best practices for raising up new leaders.
Suddenly realizing that you are to be a leader among God’s people is exhilarating and frightening all at once. The excitement of the task and the weight of the responsibility come crashing in like a violent grace.
In his call for me to leadership in the church, God provided a course-altering gift into my life: a young leader, Matthew, began to walk alongside of me to show what it means to be a leader. Call it a coach, mentor, discipler, or whatever… I have learned to call him a friend. And, we need more friends like that in the church.
Now, here is the reality – I was probably a giant pain to him at times. Having preached my first sermon at age 17 and being from a well-known family in the church, I was sometimes brash and a know-it-all. But, he was patient and began to teach me what leadership among God’s people can look like if we heed the gospel first and our own egos… well, never. (By the way, I’m still working on that lesson.)
Whenever I would give the “but I know how to run a church” comment, Matthew would patiently point me back to the gospel and the life of Jesus. It is the only answer that satisfies when we have that “Is it worth it?” moment in helping to develop new leaders.
My suspicion is that the Catalyst community still represents a fairly young part of the pool of church leaders in our culture. But just as many of us were recipients of those who came beside us to guide our formative years of leadership, we need to do the same for others. No matter what stage of life or leadership in which you find yourself, let me challenge you to find someone to walk alongside and help them lean toward leadership with a few simple lessons.
We need to show that being a leader is a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). Yes, noble. It is something to which the young should aspire to become and the aged are humbled to have been. It is to be held carefully as something entrusted to us and not birthed from our own selves. When you walk with a developing leader, speak about the space of leadership as a gift received and not a right that’s been earned.
We need to allow them to be unique. Leaders can have a specific calling and purpose so we should be willing to pass along any skill or position we’ve held to those who will lead better in a new era. In the NT church, Peter was needed in some places and Paul was effective in others. But both were necessary for that season of ministry. Raise up younger leaders in the expectation and hope that they will lead in ways that you’ve never dreamt.
We should celebrate the versatility they bring to the mission of God. Lately, I’ve been in a church plant in Hollywood, a rural church in Texas, and a megachurch in Nashville. God is using all of them to reach our culture with the gospel. It is something to be happy concerning, even when young friends learning leadership depart from your own preferred methodologies. Be happy that the gospel can be held tight and our methods can be held loosely.
We should give them space to operate. It is the nature of leaders to hold on to followers. After all, without a follower, you’re not a leader. As you walk with someone through the issues of leadership, doctrine, nature of the church, and all the rest that goes with the mission of God, prepare yourself for their departure. But be warned, your pride and need for approval will want to hold on to them. The need to tell others about your great protégé will damage your own soul and hamper their maturity. Instead, get ready to let them go.
One summer in my twenties, I worked as an intern to the pastor of a large church. On my last Sunday, the pastor asked me to preach during the service. Matthew drove several hours to be there. After the service, a number of kind people came by to shake my hand and tell the “young gun” that I had done well. Once everyone cleared out and we were preparing to leave, Matthew walked up to me and held out his hand saying a simple phrase: “Now, we’re just friends.” It was my graduation.
As you find those around you that God is raising up for leadership in his church, have that moment in mind. Walk with them through their preparation for leadership and be ready for the time when suddenly, the person who has come with you into leadership becomes the one that is teaching others about it.