There seems to be an absence of young people stepping up to take leadership roles in the church.
I say “seems to be…” because that’s what I keep hearing from so many of my contemporaries in ministry.
“It’s hard to find younger leaders!”
“Why won’t youth step up and take their place in the church like we did when we were younger?”
“What’s wrong with (…here it comes…) Kids. These. Days!?”
Some of this leadership vacuum is due to factors beyond our control. Many small towns, for instance, are losing their youth to big cities at a record pace.
But aside from those situations, we can make the necessary adjustments to keep raising up new generations of young church leaders.
And there’s one factor that has a greater impact than all the others, if we have the will to practice it.
The Place Of Humility
In most denominations, the clergy are graying. And in most churches, so is the support staff, whether paid or volunteer. But not in all of them. There are many churches in which young leaders are stepping up big time, including the one I’m blessed to serve.
I’ve been in a lot of churches of all types and styles in the last few years, including those that are dying for youth (literally) and those that are driven by youth.
The dominant factor in churches where young people are stepping up and taking responsibility is that the current leadership is learning to let go, change their role and realize they don’t have all the answers.
In other words, practice some humility.
If you are an aging minister like me (late 50s and older), this message is for us.
We can’t just disciple potential young leaders, we have to release them.
Then we have stand back and let them do ministry the way God is leading them to do it.
(If you’re wondering how to attract youth so the church can be led by them, the answer is the same. Churches that are willing to let young people lead in the way God is calling them to lead will attract young people who want to step up. It doesn’t happen quickly – it took over a decade for our church to start seeing real results - but it’s the only way.)
Don’t Mock What You Don’t Understand
We cannot simultaneously mourn the absence of young church leaders while belittling the way they lead.
Certainly, some things never change.
Good theology matters. Integrity matters. Modesty matters. Humility matters. Wisdom matters. Respect matters (in both directions).
What doesn’t matter is the way they cut their hair, wear their clothes or play their music.
Sure, they may not do ministry the way we like it. That’s okay. The way we did it was probably not the way our parents or grandparents liked it, either. But mocking new church leaders for using styles we don’t understand is no way to encourage them to step up and take more responsibility.
Styles change. Methods adapt. New generations worship in ways that seem foreign to previous generations.
But there is no link between skinny jeans and bad theology – or immature leadership.
As the older generation, we need to have the wisdom and discernment to tell the difference between the essentials that never change and the non-essentials that constantly need to be updated and adapted for new circumstances.
The Important Role Of Elders
As elders in the church, we still have a role. An important one.
We need to be encouragers and guides. Not cynics and roadblocks.
We need to nudge the steering wheel when needed, not jam on the brakes at every new idea.
We need to lighten their load, not weigh them down with unnecessary rules.
We need to give them a foundation to build on, not be an anchor that drags them down.
Everyone Playing Their Part
A healthy church needs every part operating at its best capacity and in its strongest function.
Young and old. New and long-term. Energy and wisdom.
All with humility. All with unity. And all for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
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