I have the privilege of spending much of my life with young church leaders. As a seminary dean and missionary trainer, I hang out with people younger than I am. I’m the teacher, but I learn from the young generation as much as—if not more than—I teach them. Sometimes they teach me something new, as with technology and social media. In other cases, they simply remind me of something I’ve forgotten or have taken for granted.
Of course, all young church leaders have room to grow, and nothing I say here can be applied to every young leader. With that understanding in mind, here are some of those general reminders that I, and perhaps other older leaders, need to hear from young church leaders.
- The Bible is still our guide. My own denomination spent several decades affirming the inerrancy and authority of the Word of God. Today’s young church leaders were not part of that struggle, but they are the recipients of that teaching. They may at times differ with us in interpreting and applying the Word, but it is not because they doubt the Bible’s veracity. They read it, study it, believe it, and teach it with passion.
- Christianity is intended to be life-on-life. This generation understands that no Christian is to live in isolation. Accountability is non-negotiable. Small groups are centers of life transformation rather than only weekly fellowship gatherings. To young leaders, calling someone “brother” or “sister” means much more than, “I’m sorry, friend, but I don’t remember your name”; it is recognition of members of the family of God.
- Authenticity is critical. Young church leaders have watched other leaders fall. They have been raised in a culture of political games. For many, even their families of origin have been marked by duplicity. They want to trust other church leaders, but, frankly, they have seen too much. Anyone whose life models authenticity will catch their attention.
- Mentoring matters. The most common request I hear from young church leaders is, “I want someone to mentor me. I need someone to walk with me through ministry.” Given that Jesus and Paul discipled others primarily through mentoring, we older leaders cannot ignore this request. If we do, we share the blame if those following in our steps fail.
- Christianity is a “doing” faith. For my generation, Christian commitment has sometimes been limited to church attendance and monetary support, with little attention to service and ministry. Young leaders, though, assume a “hands on” personal faith. Christianity without action is at best an incomplete faith, at worst a false one.
- We cannot ignore social ministry. We older leaders have often neglected social ministry, for fear we would lose our focus on evangelism. The young generation, though, is striving to correct our omission. Their faith is a Great Commission faith (Matt. 28:18-20) that does not miss the hurting and disenfranchised (Matt. 25:31-46).
- Church discipline is biblical. Leaders of my generation have largely ignored church discipline. Not so with young leaders today. They may at times lead too quickly into discipline, but they are willing to tackle this biblical responsibility. They understand that ignoring this need is neither loving nor godly.
- The local church is the missions sending agency. We older leaders often delegated this responsibility to other agencies and organizations. Young church leaders recognize the church’s mandate to raise up missionaries and church planters, send them out, and then care for them while they are on the field. The wise missions agency will invite these leaders into the conversation and seek to work alongside them.
- Denominational loyalty must be earned. Many in my generation have invested in a single denomination. Young leaders, though, do not share this loyalty. We must take some responsibility for this reality, for we have not adequately convinced them of the value of cooperative work. Rather than judge them, we must hear them, teach them . . . and be willing to adjust if needed.
- If faith requires death, that’s okay. This commitment is perhaps the one that most grabs my attention. Young church leaders are often less concerned about big church buildings and earthly recognition; they are most burdened about getting the gospel to the 1.7 billion people who have little access to the gospel. If doing that work requires moving their families to the most dangerous places in the world, they are ready to go. That kind of faith often puts mine to shame.
What other insights have you gained from young church leaders? What else do we need to hear?