Inviting Youth to Take the Lead

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It was a bittersweet day today. I have stepped back from a ministry initiative that I have loved being involved with for over 5 years. I have not run out of energy or passion or ideas for this ministry, but there is someone younger than I who I know will better be able to inspire the youth we have been trying to reach. They will be able to see themselves in her in ways that they can’t see themselves in my 54 year old self. After a year of her shadowing me, I know she will be fantastic in this role and I will continue to support and encourage her to take this ministry to the next level. It is bittersweet because while I will miss the hands on work, I am so excited to see this new leader use her gifts to further God’s Kingdom. 

In her book Got Religion? Naomi Schaefer Riley writes about why young people are leaving religious institutions. She observes that one way to encourage young adults to remain engaged in the life of faith is to help them find ways to significantly contribute to their communities of faith. This can be done by involving them in the leadership and decision making areas of their life together. Youth and young adults have to begin to see that they are NOT the church of the future, they are the church of NOW. They need to have ownership in the ministries they will be asked to step into. Mentoring them into leadership roles allows them to have a stake in how the church participates in the ministries of reconciliation, justice and the renewal of all things in Christ.

Here are a few themes to think about as we disciple the next generation of leaders:

  • Leadership is more than being added to a schedule for serving. The easiest way to engage the next generation is by inviting young people to be involved in various ministry tasks in the life of the church. It is a great way to introduce them to life in the body, but if we are raising up leaders we eventually need to invite them to contribute their gifts and opinions to the visioning and planning of each ministry. We will need to solicit their ideas and perhaps hold on loosely to the way we have done things in the past. We may need to enter into “reverse mentoring” relationships so that we can learn about how our present ministry is impacting our youth and perhaps learn how we can become more relevant to their culture.
  • Leadership is more than focusing on tasks. It may seem to youth that they are being asked onto a ministry team because we are shorthanded or having a hard time finding adult volunteers. We are not solely asking them to help usher, do the PowerPoint or serve coffee after worship. We are acting on our baptismal vows to support their calling in Christ by equipping them to serve his church and kingdom. Youth need to understand both the vision and history of the ministry, so they can begin to understand how their service supports gathered worship, extends hospitality and welcomes and enfolds those who seek to belong to Christ and his body.
  • Leadership is more than increasing a person’s competency. One’s character as a leader is also a significant component of grace-shaped leadership. Our job is to help our youth discern where God is stretching and growing their characters to look more and more like Jesus. We need to place as much importance on training them to “be” as we train them to be skillful in what they “do”. This will require time and deepening relationship which cannot be slotted into a schedule of duties, but the fruit of these relationships can be amazing.

It was a bittersweet day today, but it was time to let go and that can also feel really good. Who knows what God will place into open, waiting hands?

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