Published May 23, 2023
There is no shortage when it comes to material addressing this critically important area. The word I am going to focus on is “practical.” I pray the following words are helpful. When it comes to practical ways to bring up the next generation, let me offer three suggestions:
1. Constantly Identifying
A regular part of my conversation with other church and organization leaders often includes the question: Who do we see showing leadership potential?
When asking this question, we must be prayerful, observant, and intentional. There must also be an openness to the Holy Spirit on our part. One of the truths about Jesus is that, while he was fully aware of a person’s current maturity and skill level, he was also very much aware of their potential. Over the years, I have been surprised by who I felt led to invest in as a potential leader and sometimes who I did not feel led to invest in!
We must also be ready to engage them as soon as we can. However, because investment includes time, opportunity, and risk, a common error is that we often make them “prove” themselves before we will invest in them. In order to save time and minimize risk, we wait, hoping that, somehow, they will develop on their own. Once the risk is not as high, we invite them into ministry leadership opportunities. In our leadership conversations, we must identify the potential “Next Generation” leaders in our church, engage them, and embrace the risk, knowing they can become stunningly useful in God’s kingdom work.
One of the qualities that appears to be common in leaders in the Bible is passion. Moses, David, Peter, James, John, and Paul all come to mind. Although their passion sometimes complicates situations, we can see that it is easier to redirect passion in an individual than it is to create passion. Investing in a person who is easy-going, likable, and never challenges what you say is easy. However, at first glance, passionate people tend to be none of the above. They will make mistakes, create messes, and won’t always just accept what you say! Passionate people take more work to develop, but healthy leaders are created as that passion is redirected and balanced.
2. Intentional Engaging
This is the way in which a leader approaches an identified potential leader: I (or one of our leaders, leadership team, staff, etc.) have noticed that you have some real leadership qualities. I/we would like to walk alongside you to create an agreed-upon plan that will help you grow as a leader and see those qualities developed by the Holy Spirit. The plan will include assignments within our church or organization and regular dialogue between you, myself, and other leaders as we learn together what God is showing you about yourself and about healthy biblical leadership. I would like to ask that you take a week and pray about this. If you feel led, we will sit down and come up with an initial plan.
3. Strategic Opportunities
After someone has been identified and engaged, opportunity is mandatory. Look at Christ’s words in Luke 16:10: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” While I understand the direct emphasis is on material goods here, I believe you can find that truth throughout scripture. It certainly applies to giving an individual
opportunity or “assignments.”
Assignments should include the following:
- A clear understanding of what is being asked. (“Here is what I would like for you to do…”)
- A regularly scheduled meeting to check in:
- How is it going? What have you found fulfilling and meaningful? What unexpected challenges and problems have you faced?
- How is God using this to enhance your walk with him and develop you as a leader?
- A set time frame. As leaders, when we find someone who does something well, it is easy to leave them in that role for way too long. In time they are no longer being developed and can grow restless. If they have been faithful and done well, we should consider giving them greater responsibilities and opportunities. Our commitment is to develop them as leaders, not find a slot they fill and leave them there. A set time frame for each assignment helps with this commitment.
As leaders, we need to have the mindset that we are investing in, not simply deploying, them. One long-term assignment, or various assignments on their own, does not produce a leader. Various experiences combined with ongoing investment does. I was reminded by one of our outstanding New Generation pastors that they also need to know that we are training them for more than their current situation. There is a long-term kingdom impact in mind regardless of how God works in their lives and where he may take them.
We must truly listen to them, value their ideas (maybe give those ideas a try!), protect them from others when things don’t go right, and rejoice with them when they do! This last one might be more challenging than a leader thinks. As a Next Generation leader grows, their ideas might be better than mine. They might start getting more compliments and notoriety. I am reminded of the apostle Paul, who found deep fulfillment in
investing in others and seeing them mature in their faith. He says in 1 Thessalonians 3:8-9: “For now, we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” As we invest in these future leaders, our genuine love and care will be sensed and responded to in a very positive and rewarding way!