You are not indispensable: 6 observations about raising up young leaders

December 4, 2017

Over the past few months, I have been transitioning my position (college pastor) to my associate. My family and I are in the process of moving to Boston to plant a church, and we developed a plan to hand off my responsibilities. My associate (and friend!) came to know the Lord in our ministry, interned for us upon graduation, and came on staff three years ago. He is recently married and heads our college department. I have watched him grow into this position since his time as a college student.

Watching and training my friend for this transition has caused me to consider the immense value of raising up young leaders. Here are a few sobering observations for leaders of any kind:

Leadership will end. What is the one common denominator among all great leaders? They all die. That sounds extreme, but we need to think about it. We sometimes lead and build as if we will live forever. We take all the responsibility, teaching, and vision casting. James writes, "You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). In light of eternity, our life and leadership is brief. How do we ensure we are doing all we can to advance the kingdom past our deaths? We can do this by intentionally raising up the next generation.

Longevity can blind. It is said that the longer you are in a organization, the harder it can be to see what needs to be changed or what has become stale. Great ministry leaders tend to stay in organizations for many years. What is one way to ensure we don’t get blinded from longevity? Invite young leaders to our tables and ask them what they think. Where can our ministries/churches improve? What is it that needs changing or reshaping? Some of our best ideas have happened within the past two years, because my friend was at the table, questioning the status quo.  

Passion can dwindle. I have witnessed many ministry leaders who silo themselves, and I’ve seen their passion dwindle. They get bored. All of us are at risk for this. We need to be challenged. Perhaps our ministries are running well, and we’ve put things on cruise control. We need young leaders to come along so that we will be challenged and stretched. Many times, their energy and passion for ministry will help rejuvenate those of us who feel struck.

Intentionality is necessary. Leading and discipling young leaders is much like writing. It causes leaders to think intentionally about our leadership. Why do we do what we do? Why do we think in a certain way? We have to be able to communicate our process, mindset and systems. Those we are training don’t simply want to know what we are doing; they want to know why we’re doing it. We should take time to give them the motivation and reasoning behind our methods. But this means forming our ministry strategies and philosophies in a way that we can clearly articulate.

When we reproduce ourselves, we expand our ability to ensure healthy gospel growth.

Capacity is limited. Leaders have limited time, ability, and accessibility. One of the realities of our humanity is that we have limitations. We can’t be everywhere at all times. When we reproduce ourselves, we expand our ability to ensure healthy gospel growth. One healthy leader in a ministry is great; two is even better. Exponential growth happens through replication.

The Bible demonstrates this principle. All throughout the Old and New Testament we see transitions in leadership. Where one leader ends, another begins. Moses has his Joshua, and Paul has his Timothy. In both of these examples, we see a close, deep, and robust relationship between leader and protege. Paul is so passionate about investing in others that he reminds Timothy and Titus to ensure it happens among their people (1 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:3). If Paul and other biblical leaders found it necessary to raise up the next generation, shouldn’t we?

I have been asked multiple times throughout my church planting assessment, “What is your greatest ministry accomplishment?” My answer each time? My associate. I leave a ministry that is not only healthy and growing, but one that is being led by a capable and competent leader (not that I am responsible for all of that). His leadership influence and capacity continues to grow. Students are coming to know the Lord under his and his wife’s leadership. But what has become most apparent to me by leading him is that I have benefited more in this process than he has by working under my supervision. I am a better pastor, leader, and shepherd because of him.

Who is in your close proximity that needs leadership development? Are you leading as if you are finite? Have you grown bored and stale in your ministry? If so, make the necessary changes. Considering the ministry failures we have observed over the last few years, I can’t think of a more strategic or needed time to raise up healthy, young leaders for the sake of the kingdom.