10 Things We Need to Hear from Young Church Leaders

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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? 

44 Comments

  • I’d also add that younger leaders love older leaders. We want to feel loved by you as well. We want everyone to feel engaged in corporate worship. We’re eclectic and celebrate the worship languages of other generations. We desperately hope that you wouldn’t see our appreciation of modern style as art for art’s sake, but rather that we love God and want to see Him celebrated in a big and fresh way, as we believe you do as well.

  • Adam says:

    I am a young (27) pastor of a SBC church and I certainly can relate to every single point listed. I believe some of the reasons we’ve lost so many from my generation is due to the lack of these things in our churches. I’m glad that denominational and church leaders are recognizing this.

  • Mark says:

    Another thing you may hear from the younger leaders is: we have thought this through and he is how we will know if it is working or not.

  • Don Mingo says:

    Great stuff. The denomination that I was trained in and served in has also hemorrhaged young leaders. One perspective I wish to add is that often the older generation of leaders in failing to mentor, stand in the way of young developing leaders. Making young leaders almost bow in respect, wait their turn, and earn their stripes sees young leaders doing exactly what older leaders did when they were young. They find somewhere to go so that they can lead.

    With three sons in ministry I am often reminded, “Dad, we are not going to sit around and wait for ever.”

    • Mark says:

      I agree with you. By the time many boys were 25 they had fought WW II and survived the horrors of either the European theater or Pacific theater. Now at 25, many aren’t permitted to do anything complicated or serious.

      I keep asking why people have to be over 55 before their suggestions are considered.

      • Chuck Lawless says:

        Thanks, Mark. Good thoughts.

      • Michael says:

        Mark: this is one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard (“by the time….25”). No wonder so many “young” leaders get restless “paying their dues”.

        (P.S.: Chuck, pass my e-mail address along to Mark if it’s possible. Would like to dialogue with him. Thanks.)

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Don. IF we mentor (and you’re right–too few older leaders do), we must commit to releasing the young leaders to lead. We may still need to walk beside them awhile, but that kind of shared, transitional leadership can be strong.

  • Matt says:

    Well said Jordan,

    So many times when I have reached out to the older generation for guidance, friendship, and cooperation, they just snub me because I am young. There seems to be a perception on their part that we are supposed to be at odds. But from my perspective I genuinely want their involvement in my life and ministry. I have actually experienced a few successes with bridging the age gap and it has been pretty amazing what those relationships have meant to my family and ministry. I think diversity is one of the biggest issues in the church and age is not an area people are usually intentional about.

  • This was a great read! These ten things are absolutely vital and I believe highly transformational for the Church in North America. I’m not sure where the line of demarcation is for young/old, but these definitely resonate with me. It is my earnest prayer that older church and denominational leaders hear, listen, and learn. Thanks for the insight!

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Meredith. The older I get, the more I don’t want there to be a demarcation between young/old. 🙂

  • Hal says:

    This is a great article and I applaud the courage, faith, and backbone that will most definitely be required to reinstate several of the items listed on the list of ten.
    The three attributes I mention in my first senctence are especially going to be required whith the establishing, or re-establishing of item #1 and #7 in many of todays new or existing churches.
    One thing that young upcoming leaders in 21st century church need to keep in mind is the fact that age does not necesarilly equal wisdom. Just because a minister or an elder in today’s church might have 40+ years of ministry or church leadership under his belt does not necessarily mean they are Biblically or doctrinally sound or spiritually wise.
    Regarding item #1.
    In many churches the Bible is held as the standard only if it happens to agree with the way WE personally FEEL about an issue, rather than what God says about the issue. We live today in what I like to call the day of “Smorgasboard Christianity”. We accept from God’s word what makes us feel good or what makes sense to us, but the rest of the stuff that makes us feel a little uneasy or uncomfortable we tend to ignore or attempt to explain away by using the old method of using other passages of scripture out of context.
    Regarding item #5.
    As a young leader in today’s church, they will need all that God can muster within them to be able to deal with this issue as outlined in Scripture. Probably more battles have been fought, pastors fired and leadership boards and churches split over this issue than any other.
    One author writes that the issue of church discipline is all but non-existent in most churches today. I have personally witnessed heated battles in church board meetings in which a leader shouted that he would resign from the board first before allowing church discipline to take place in their church as it is instructed by God in His word. As a result, churches across this nation are allowing all kinds of blatant sin to go unchallenged and without discipline among their church members. Some who are even serving in various capacities within the church.
    Young pastor or older experienced pastor, when being interviewed for a position within a church, you had best ask a lot of questions before accepting the position. For on this item alone you could be in for the battle of your life.

  • Jon says:

    I have sought mentors from older church leaders, brought fresh insight to ministry the church says they do but just talk about but never bring it! I have volunteered to do the ministry for free an ALS sought support to be sent out from the church to do missions! But all of this was rejected because nobody has time, they think what they are doing is an active ministry ( just on paper) and then rejected to volunteer or go because of lack of interest from more than one Elder! Frustrating an even enough to doubt I am really called to anything in ministry!

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Don’t give up, Jon. Take this time to evaluate yourself (we all have room for improvement, regardless of our age), and continue to seek someone to mentor you. Sometimes it takes a while to find to right connection.

  • Michael VG says:

    I think number 9 is an issue because my generation feels like denominations are more divisive than cooperative. We love working with other churches, we just don’t see why Baptists have to stick with Baptists. We understand the theological differences, but we don’t let those be game changers.

  • William Wheeler says:

    I am not a young man by no means, but still a young seminarian student studying to be a full-time pastor one day. And fortunately I have a senior pastor who continues to mentor and advise me on a weekly basis. And I know he is always there for me to question regarding theology or pastoral ministry or any other Christian topic or doctrine, but also to advise me on leading the church. But also, I have Elders or Deacons, as well as church members who speak encouragement to me very often. As far as being a young church leader, I feel we have to preach, teach, and speak the gospel, first and foremost. That is not always the case for some today. Anytime we step in the pulpit or even teach a small group or evangelize one on one, the gospel needs to be proclaimed. Also, we are not perfect and should never act or claim that we are better than those we lead. We are in the same boat, sort of speak, as those in our congregation. We all are sinners and only saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. But I think traditionally, churches have been to busy within their four walls of keeping hell out and them isolated in, that we have forgotten to invite those who are truly lost in and we have been afraid to step out into our communities and speak with our neighbors. It is easy to go on a mission trip and evangelize to someone far away, because we may never see them again. But those in our community, we will see them almost ever day. And believe me, they know us. I think we constantly need to be vigilant, setting the example that Christ has given or taught us. But most of all, we just need to love on people, whether they are in our congregation or not. I think this is so important in today’s society. People feel like they just aren’t loved any more and no one cares about them. They have no one they can trust. We have to show them that we really do honestly love and care for them, in and through Christ. And we truly care where they spend eternity. We have to be truly passionate about what we say we believe in!

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  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks for the insights, William.

  • TMM says:

    I don’t know if this applies, but being in the ministry myself, although I am serving beside my husband, I feel that older church leaders need to know that younger staff members are still sheep that they are called to minister to. Your staff may be paid employees but they are still the sheep that need shepherding. They are not just the people that carry out your vision, and bare the brunt of your disappointments and frustrations, they are real people with real needs themselves.

    We personally have felt shunned as people in a ministry where we serve although there is roughness that comes from the pastor through anger and pride. We need to know that although we do not have the same amount of tenure, that we are loved and valuable. We do need mentors, but not mentors to shame us or be hateful when we don’t live up to your expectations. We work with you, but we serve God even though you may treat us badly. We may be faithful to the Lord’s work despite how we may feel about what is going on. We may be praying and waiting for the Lord to open the next door, but because he hasn’t we stay.

    We are looking for understanding that we cannot always be or do everything you can because we are trying to also raise our family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We need you to understand that family sometimes comes before extra church events. That it is okay for the mother to stay home with sick kids because she is a mother first.

    We need help, not a lecture or a sermon when we come to you. We are vulnerable, we are discouraged by wrong attitudes and never a humbling and asking for forgiveness. We need older men to be real men of God, not just act like it.

    We can stand by all the things listed in this article, but it won’t matter if we leave the ministry we currently serve in and want to quit and walk away from the work of the Lord because of how we have been treated.

    Value those young church leaders and instill into their lives confidence that their work, however small or however great, is significant to God, and they will go on to do the hard things that are required in their next ministry because they learn that love and grace cover a multitude of sins (and even bumbling errors).

  • Thanks Chuck for sharing these insights. I love and appreciate the young pastors and church leaders I work with daily. I am encouraged greatly for the church because of them. I wish more of my generation would truly get to know the hearts of the young people I work with. Thank you for the work you are doing with our young leaders.

  • David Williams says:

    Spot on! This is coming from a 26 y/o SBC pastor! I have reached out to several older pastors for mentorship only for it to not work out for whatever reason, and I could still use it!

  • Jason Duskin says:

    We also value Kingdom Collaboration instead of Kingdom Competition. I’m 34 and most of the pastors in my area have been here for years and/or they are much older than I am. I have reached out to several to have lunch and reached out to some about possibly working together on some projects. I’m in my 6th month here and I haven’t heard back a word. I come from a church planting background when my wife and I lived in St. Petersburg, Fl and we had a group of church planters who gathered regularly to pray with one another and partner on different projects, I miss that. I’m really not sure how to change the culture here and overcome the “church” competition mentality.

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