If you are young person called to church leadership, I have bad news. You might have a lot of waiting ahead of you.
In all likelihood you will not immediately be like Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. No, first you will probably be like Moses in a different phase of life: herding the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro in the land of Midian for 40 years. And that's OK, if you use that time to become the leader God is calling you to be.
I'm a young person who has spent a lot of time waiting on God. I call your attention to Moses herding sheep because those of us called to leadership tend to look at the finished products of active leadership as they are portrayed from pulpits, books, and magazines. We lack a view of the years of struggle and anxiety these men and women faced. We see their glory but not their shame. We tend to edit out the doldrums and disruptions.
We consume these pictures of leadership and then we consider our own calling and ministry—or lack thereof. We get frustrated, angry, depressed. Why do I have these gifts but no place to use them? I know God made me to lead people out of bondage. Why am I stuck taking care of my father-in-law's small business? Someone is to blame. If not me, then God. If not him, than me. The days are long working for your father-in-law. You have time to shift the blame back and forth. And there will be time tomorrow as well.
Young people who are called to lead tend to lack the perspective needed to see that this "wasted" time is not wasted at all. The formally anonymous advice columnist Cheryl Strayed ("Dear Sugar") wrote: "The useless days will add up to something. The … waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people's diaries and wondering about sex and God … these things are your becoming."
The frustration of being young and being called to lead is that a part of our core is aching to be realized. But we can't simply snap our fingers and become Rick Warren. And most of the time it is impossible for us to see how "the useless days will add up to something." It is especially hard to see how they will add up to something meaningful enough to offset their present uselessness.
These feelings compound when we have tried to lead and have failed. You joined a church plant that failed, led a small group that ended in chaos, started and bankrupted a non-profit, or went to the mission field only to find that you never felt more powerless and alone in your whole life. Now, your calling has taken on the guilt of Moses after murdering the Egyptian. You work as an accountant for a lumber company in a suburb and wonder if you have disqualified yourself from leadership. A resume of failure doesn't normally procure top jobs.
How do we prepare for leadership while God has us in a holding pattern? Henri Nouwen wrote: "The Christian leaders of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained—through prayer, study, and careful analysis—to manifest the divine event of God's saving work in the midst of the many seemingly random events of their time."
With Nouwen's vision for leaders of the future, let's look at some practical ways we can begin to prepare for this calling even if we don't have an opportunity to lead today.
Knowing the heart of God
The Christian leader, as Nouwen points out, knows the heart of God. I take this to mean we experience God, his presence and power, in a shockingly immanent way. This experience does not need to be a single moment to which we point with conviction. The work of God more often spans years. It continues with or without our attention. Our work is merely to look and to listen. This is the beginning of the journey.