10 Things Young Church Leaders Need to Hear from Us

Two weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on “10 Things We Need to Hear from Young Church Leaders.” I’m grateful that post gained traction, as I strongly believe my generation needs to listen to younger church leaders. At the same time, I also think we older leaders have something to say to younger leaders. So, here is the other side of that conversation.

Of course, nothing I say here can be applied to every older leader. We older folks are as diverse as the young generation to whom I direct this post. With that understanding in mind, here are some thoughts I hope young leaders will hear from older leaders.

  1. We were young once, too.  It may have been a few years ago, but we remember the passion and idealism of our young days. We also know experientially what happens when our zeal overshadows our commitment to lovingly guide those we shepherd. In many ways, we’ve been where you are going – and we want to help.
  2. We grieve the state of the North American church just like you do. We know the church is not growing. Some of us, in fact, remember when churches did make a difference. Sometimes when we speak longingly about yesterday, it’s not because we just want to go back to days gone by; it’s because we remember days when the church seemed healthier and the world seemed more willing to listen.
  3. Many of us must admit we were not discipled well. We are often the product of churches that evangelized without a similar commitment to discipleship. If we don’t think as deeply or as theologically as you would like, sometimes it’s because we’ve not been taught. Lead us humbly and patiently, and you may find us quite ready to learn.
  4. We need each other. To put it simply, we need each other to fulfill the 2 Timothy 2 and Titus 2 call for older believers and younger believers to learn together. We need you to help us navigate a rapidly changing world, and you need us to help you make wise choices in that world. At the risk of being too pragmatic, we also need our combined resources to accomplish the work of the Great Commission.
  5. Education can increase your knowledge, but life experience can increase your wisdom. We want you to be educated. We know from experience, though, that education itself doesn’t fully prepare us for leadership. What you think you will do is not always what you actually do when dealing with real people and real problems. We want to help you avoid the mistakes we made.
  6. Our opposition to change is not always opposition to you. Think about it. We might be now facing life-altering change we can’t stop. Age forces us to retire. We can’t remember as much as we did. Our friends and loved ones are dying. Health declines. With all these changes happening, the one place we hope to find things the same is our church. Wanting to hear a hymn again may be a cry for anything that reminds us of a seemingly safer, calmer world.
  7. We want you to be effective and successful leaders. We may struggle at times with change – but we don’t want to be obstacles as you lead us toward healthy church growth. Others helped us when we were young, and we want to do the same for you. When we call you our “young preacher,” we often do that with pride. Love us, and we can be your best friends.
  8. Godly obedience does not get easier. We were sure life would eventually be less chaotic, and we’d have more time to devote to God. Surely temptations would eventually lose their power. If that time comes, I’ve not yet reached that age. Some battles are different now, but some have never changed. I’m as dependent on the grace of God today as I was thirty years ago.
  9. Decide today to end well. We’ve seen too many Christian leaders fall. Truth is, we’ve been some of those leaders. For that reality, we ask your forgiveness. We want you to hear what we’ve learned, though: no fallen leader leaps into a fall. We slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, slide into a fall. No marriage or ministry falls apart overnight. Please put the boundaries up now to avoid such a fall.
  10.  We love you and pray for you. We really do.

Older leaders, what would you add to this list?  Younger leaders, what have you learned from older leaders?  

37 Comments

  • Paul Detterman says:

    Amen and Amen!

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Blessings, Paul.

  • Chris says:

    Unleashing the capacity of the 50+ generation rather than dismissing them as an impediment to progress is a worthy goal for any young leader. How about putting it on the next leadership team agenda, asking the question, “How can we better express the value of older adults in our congregation?” It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” on reaching the young vs the old-er. Please strategize to reach and unleash both for the Kingdom of God.

  • Keith says:

    Thank you!

  • Trent Gann says:

    As a young pastor this list is encouraging to me. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Michael says:

    Thankful for the “older” and wiser men who speak into my life. They have given me an education that is priceless. My hope and prayer is that the younger generation will have open ears and hearts to those trying to help.

  • Keith says:

    Focus on growing your own spiritual life first, then minister to others.

  • David says:

    As a “young” music pastor (30), I don’t understand why more people don’t try to lead multi-generational worship. While some of the new and coming songs are great theologically (and sometimes melodically), we can’t just drop everything written by equally theologically correct authors and inspired by the same Holy Spirit.
    My main focus in planning worship is message over music — I plan to coincide the musical message with the pastor’s message and create a holistic worship service that is Spirit-filled, no matter if I use more hymns than contemporary songs!
    I find that the older generation also is more light-hearted: Where an older generation could confront me and forgive me if I make a mistake, my own generation would create drama (usually on Facebook) and never confront me.
    I value the friendship, honesty, and encouragement I get from older generations.

  • Thank you Dr. Lawless for these timely words. I have been encouraged recently by the fact that younger pastors in our association in Alabama have been seeking counsel from more seasoned pastors and the results have been the formation of a strong camaraderie among the pastors. Yoru post will be an encouragement for this bonding to continue. Thanks again.

  • Alan Folsom says:

    Thank you Dr. Lawless! Very helpful. Also very insightful in communicating with my son who is young in ministry. He will be at SEBTS in August!

  • #5 is dead on! We have much to learn from you guys who have blazed the trail for us and have the scorched clothing to prove it. Proverbs 11:14. We need to listen.

  • O.K. Sexton says:

    Thank you. There is a need for desipleship between the mature saints and the younger belivers. We used to have testimony services that enriched all of us through others experiances with God. I have been involved in mens ministry for over 15 yrs now and don’t have enough space to tell you the changes I have seen through small group desipleship. Not more than 12 men in a group that build trust and seek biblical answers and accountability with those who are on meat. Again thanks for addressing the elephant in the room.

  • Jon says:

    This is a great blog post. As a “young church planter” I recognize that I am standing on the shoulders of people whom God used to build Christ’s church. Thanks for this blog post, Dr. Lawless.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thank you, Jon, for your work. Just prayed for you.

      • Jon says:

        I appreciate your prayer for me, Dr. Lawless!
        I am a new church planter with the NAMB here in the spiritually dry and cold province of Alberta, Canada and we are seeing God work tremendously. The Lord just keeps showing us that He is at work in our two month old church which has grown to an attendance of nearly 300, and people coming to faith in Christ!

  • Michael A. Wyndham, Ph.D. says:

    Thank you Dr. Lawless. I have tried to express similar thoughts to my students as I am growing older. Your piece is thoughtful, humble, and articulates well my heart toward the younger ministers among us. God bless you in all you do in His service.

  • Ken says:

    As a twenty nine year old in my first ministry job I thank you. Especially speaking of hymns reminding you of the way church once was. I’ve never heard it vocalized that way, only that people just don’t generally like more contemporary music.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Ken. To be honest, I enjoy hymns most when they’re done in a more upbeat way.

  • Monty says:

    Chuck,
    I remember when we were both young seminarians. At 52 and with 25+ years of pastoral ministry behind me I’m more interested in the next decade of what I can learn from my young mentors n friends in ministry. They are the hope and the future is bright! Their passion is incredible. I value every moment I spend with them. Great post Chuck!
    Monty Carter-Old Ragamuffin in SC

  • Isaac says:

    I have wondered if part of the difficulties we face in our generational differences come down to a language barrier. I’ve tried to teach fairly simple sermons (Read – I try not to confuse complexity with convolution) but it happens often that my simple sermons confuse and frustrate some of our older crowd. James Flynn, a moral philosopher, claims (and makes a great case for it!) that there is a difference in learning styles between the Builder Generation and those which have come after it. It’s the difference between concrete and abstract thinking. In other words, our eldest elders tend to be more concerned with static, concrete concepts, while our younger generations gravitate towards the hypothetical and playing “what if?” a lot.

    Have you experienced anything that would validate or refute this?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Learning styles certainly differ from person to person, Isaac, but I’ve not seen any research that addresses this issue in relation to the topic of this blog post. Good question, though.

  • Mark says:

    It would be nice to hear “we are still better off with you than without you.”

  • Jeremy says:

    I just planted a church 4 weeks ago and need all of the wisdom I can get. Thank you for this post. Praying that I can have older men in my life to assist me along this journey.

    Blessings

  • ejiro says:

    thanks alot older generation, am a young minister from nigeria, i appreciate ur post, may the God good grant you guys long life, psalm 91:16

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