Make no mistake: the primary role of Christian leadership is not to grow Churches, build buildings, sing songs, sell albums, run successful conferences or develop giant youth ministries, though I hasten to add that none of these things are inherently wrong. They’re just not the point.
The primary role of Christian leadership is to develop Christ-focused, gospelorientated disciples.
Of course it is a given that to be genuinely biblical this must happen within a Godcentred culture of humility, worship and personal integrity.
First of all discipleship is a culture. Jesus’ method is scandalously simple in this regard: gather a group who are prepared to go. And then go.
Just think about the disciples: If Jesus had run the background checks he probably would have discovered a few things: Simon Peter was dangerously unpredictable, John was young and impressionable, James was proud and hot tempered, Simon the Zealot had a violent streak, Thomas had faith issues. Judas had a deep character flaw that would eventually manifest as jealousy and rage and, finally, murderous betrayal.
Yet Jesus invites them to come with him, to join him on the journey. Jesus invites this little group to watch and listen and pray and try and fail and finally, to change the world.
A month ago I was in South East Asia with a group of young adults. Some had never been on a plane before, let alone worked out how to live in a context where they had no language or cultural understanding. I do this every year and it’s always a thrilling, edgy, confronting journey.
Every student in different ways faced significant personal, emotional, spiritual and physical hurdles. Over the course of the three weeks I had deep and intentional conversations with each one relating to their understanding of faith, community, God and their involvement in Kingdom ministry. At times some wanted to go home. Some wanted to throw in faith altogether. Others pondered why God had allowed such pain and evil to flourish in His world – and even in their lives.
In short, they journeyed with Jesus metaphorically and literally. And sometimes the road was rough.
I can’t see any other way to genuinely disciple. Just ‘teaching’ it doesn’t cut it, in fact I would go so far as to say that you couldn’t teach the disciple road; you’ve got to walk it.
Have a quick think about young people involved in your Church. Who’s discipling (read: not entertaining) them? What opportunities are there for them to stretch themselves and hone their gifts? Who is encouraging them to step out? (If you are a pastor or leader reading this and the answer to that last question is, “not me…” then who is it meant to be? And what are you going to do about it?) Who is championing them in the Church?
This generation of young people are often maligned as feeling ‘entitled’ and not prepared to work hard to achieve goals and to some extent this may be true. What is certainly true is that they have grown up in a social structure that does not demand enough of them. Indeed they exist in a culture that often ‘gives’ them things in order to keep them quiet and unobtrusive. They are children of a narcissistic culture. Let’s change that!
Here are three quick pointers on the path of empowering young leaders:
Reflect with Respect
Help them understand their own faith formation: their traditions and culture and historical biases. Then help them healthily shed the parts that work against faithfully following Jesus. Respect the past. Don’t build communities there.
Reframe the future
History can help us see possibilities or it can shackle us to systems. The gift of youth is that it believes the way things are doesn’t have to be the way things will always be. Help your young leaders to re-imagine what world changing faith communities might look like and how we might develop them.
As an aside, it is worth noting that people under the age of 30 have historically led the vast majority of significant Church and social changes.
Release your best leaders
Letting go is hard and costly; and very, very healthy.
Once we’ve discipled young leaders we have to let them lead. And that means letting them go. Our systems have a tendency to control and manage – it’s safe and enables us to maintain our own power. Let it go – and let your best leaders go, they’re not really ‘ours’ to manage anyway.
Reflect, Reframe and Release: It’s the Discipleship Road.