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Encouraging a new generation of church leaders

Rob White identifies three crucial aspects of raising up young leaders:

I have some considerable passion about this topic. Did I hear someone say, “That’s because you’re getting older, mate!?” I think that helps to stoke up my interest, but I’ve always felt strongly about it. I don’t suppose I could have led YFC for many years without a strong interest in it.

There are three things about it that I want to comment on. The first is release. I’ve seen (and so, probably, have you) churches, organisations and whole movements flounder because old boys (we haven’t had enough women in ministry yet to be able to comment, but they’re usually more sensible) stay around in position too long. Insecurity rears its head and causes people to hang on rather than release others. No boasting here, but Marion and I made our decision that I should step down from being Senior Minister of Poynton Baptist, some years ago, and then recently from my leadership role with what was Mainstream, mainly for that reason. Oh yes, God did say something to us about it as well! We can become corks in the bottle that trap the energy and fizz inside. And release is best by design rather than default – in other words, a purposeful recognising, equipping and releasing as a priority.

The second thing is about that energy. It’s the vigour and passion of youth. I love to say that ecclesiological happiness is Brethren in your rear-view mirror! That’s the church background in which I grew up and, although have since realised what was missing there, will remain eternally grateful for release into leadership experience at a relatively early age. By sixteen I was participating in the Sunday morning meeting, leading services at other churches when older men took me with them as they were preaching, and was an assistant leader in a Crusader class. People were aware enough to give me the chance of channelling my vigour and passion in a direction of Kingdom priorities.

There’s a great quote in a book I’m wanting to read, ‘Practising Passion – Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church’, by Kenda Creasy Dean: “Teenagers are heat seeking missiles. They’re drawn to fire. They yearn for experiences that will channel their passions. And by and large they are not detecting many signs of life from the church…” That confirms my belief that we should be channelling the energy and passion of young Christians into leadership responsibility.

My role as Trustee/Director of The Message Trust continually challenges me in this area. It’s so inspiring to see so many passionate young people on the front-line of mission. Why can’t we attract these sorts of young people to local church leadership? Does it appear too safe and boring? Probably. Do we insist on too many hoops through which they have to jump? Almost definitely. Or is it that we think releasing that youthful energy is too risky? I’m certain that if we don’t take the risk we’ll find ourselves facing another risk, namely losing those young people who could rise to the challenge and give their vigour and energy to the local church.

What’s the BU doing to reverse this? We need some strategic leadership to lay down some plans, open up the possibilities and provide some finance. One of the things that I would like to see Fresh Streams initiate is teams of young aspiring leaders, released for a year, who could be exposed to about four churches in that time, learning through being given some leadership responsibility in those churches.

The third thing, which is obvious, when writing about this subject, is mentoring.  That’s where the big brother or sister comes in – and not the overbearing, patronising, voyeuristic kind, but a genuinely caring, overseeing, watchful kind. The subject of mentoring fills many books and conversations these days, and not least in church circles. Careful and meaningful mentoring is a major part of training and equipping a person for ministry/leadership. Done properly it offers encouragement, inspiration, checks and balances to the person mentored.

I believe that young aspiring leaders need planned mentoring treated as of equal importance with theological training. I’d like to see far greater emphasis put on mentoring, through the BU, in the journey taken by a young leader, from the moment of acceptance for training (hopefully even before) right through the academic studies and early years of ministry, and beyond.

If we can begin purposefully to recognise, equip and release young people of vigour and passion now, the mentoring process can begin at an early stage. And the relationship between mentor and mentored is so important that it can only work where there is a strong element of choice in who the mentor should be. In other words, it will only bear fruit where a relationship already exists or where it grows positively in a short time. It loses its point when, if part of a formal system, no meaningful relationship is formed between the two people.

[Rob wrote this a while back, but it is still relevant, especially in the light of Fresh Streams links with DNA. How would you/do you set about encouraging young leaders? Comments welcome!]


This article was posted on 2 April 2012.