By default, my personality tends toward being a quiet, listen-first kind of guy. So as a 25-year-old associate pastor sitting on a church board for the first time, it was easy for me to watch and observe the other, more experienced board members handle the agenda month after month. There were times I probably shared my two cents, but honestly I wasn't very motivated, especially after one of the elders of the church prefaced a comment by reminding me how old he was and how young I was in comparison in order to attribute more credence to his point of view over and above mine. Though stated somewhat jokingly, I didn't find it very funny. Thankfully, I don't know of many others who joke around like that in that kind of setting, but I have a hunch that that kind of dismissive attitude toward young people still exists in the church at large.
I was of that board room experience from more than a decade ago when I came across an article that caught my attention: "Why We're Afraid to Let Young People Lead -- and How to Overcome It." Toward the end of the piece, the author articulates six objections to letting young people lead, but then turns those objections into thoughtful questions. I found them to be so valuable that I want to share those points here by recasting these as negative assumptions that we can turn into positive expectations.
- We assume that youth = inexperience. Instead, let's expect a young person's experience, however limited, to provide a perspective that's needed nonetheless.
- We assume young adults won't stick around, that they move on too quickly to make lasting impact. Instead, let's expect that their involvement now can maximize their impact wherever life takes them even if we're not the primary beneficiaries of that fruit.
- We assume young people take ill-advised risks. Instead, let's expect that we have much to gain by taking a chance on a young leader.
- We assume that youth will fold under the pressures of leadership. Instead, let's expect that they'll thrive when we intentionally surround them with support.
- We assume that young leaders will replace us. Instead, let's expect young leaders to partner with us and multiply effectiveness in a way that we wouldn't have experienced otherwise.
- We assume youth are sitting on their hands. Instead, let's expect them to step up when given permission, when invited to serve, when they know they're needed.
If we don't want to see our church with a vacuum of grounded, godly leadership, we need to invest in and genuinely trust the next generation of leaders.
But let's be real, that kind of investment and trust is held back by negative assumptions and crude comparisons to underwear. Those are the kinds of things that have the devastating potential to drive the Joshua's in our life far away from God's purpose. I for one want to educate myself to see potential and hold elevating expectations for the young people in my sphere of influence. I invite you to join me in creating a culture shift that empowers young leaders to take ownership of the church in amazing ways today.