“Who will lead our churches in the future?” Age demographics tell us baby boomers are retiring faster than new leaders are being prepared. The church is no exception. How will the church continue into the future if we don’t have leaders to replace the outgoing crowd?
In any given month, I get social media prompts and direct requests encouraging me to pray boldly that God will motivate the next generation of courageous leaders to step forth. It’s usually accompanied by a laundry list of traits I should pray for. I want to say “Amen! Sign me up!” I really do. The request sounds urgent and important. One worthy of taking straight to the throne room of Jesus. But I just can’t. Why? Because God is already stirring.
I spend significant time with 15 to 30-year-old Christians who are asking Jesus what it looks like to obey Him faithfully. I parent two of them and spiritually parent a handful more. This is a group of committed Christ followers who long to participate in Christ’s justice in the world and bring the joy and hope He provides. They are pleading with God to align their lives with His purposes and plans for them. Their desire is humbling. In my teens, I was asking God to make sure I got accepted into the degree that would make me the most money and lead to the most success. This group of teenagers and young adults are far more faithful to God than I was at their age.
When I hang out with what the Barna Group calls young Bible Engaged, Committed Christians[i], a theme emerges. Conversations frequently move to the dissonance of their experience. A deep growing conviction of service to Christ, with minimal opportunities to exercise and develop in that call. I know willing, surrendered, passionate, Christ followers who struggle to find a place in the church to serve and be trained[ii]. I’ve prayed, listened, and supported young people through a fair share of “rejection” experiences after hearing they “don’t make the cut” or “have the right look, vibe or sound” for the volunteer position. And while I’m privileged to point them to Jesus, remind them God is using this for their sanctification, and their good; I’m wondering why I encounter many willing young people who struggle to find a place to grow in their area of passion, while simultaneously hearing the call from leaders to pray for more leaders.
This scenario plays out in a full-colour short movie in my mind. In this short, there are rows upon rows of young Christians naively assuming they will be the answer to their pastor’s prayers. They’ve heard God call them and they’ve shown up for “duty” assuming their church will help them be faithful to His call. Standing on a platform, leadership looks out upon rows of these eager, plain dressed, ordinary women and men. These young people wouldn’t command the attention of a large platform, and they likely don’t come with already formed eloquence of speech. As those on the platform peer at the young crowd, disappointment forms on their faces. Their eyes keep searching the auditorium, communicating they haven’t found what they are looking for. You can even hear one mutter under her breath, “Certainly God heard our prayers. Why don’t I see any leaders?”
The leaders leave the stage, walk out of the room, and turn off the lights leaving the ordinary, willing and young people sitting…waiting…confused. They are left alone to process all types of lies the enemy flings at them.
It’s hard to share in the journeys of these young believers while simultaneously being asked, “Where are the leaders?” It’s outright frustrating. Maybe evening infuriating.
During my research of what it will take to shift the western church towards effective multiplicative disciple making, I have been influenced by a missionary organization called The KC Underground. Their training highlights nine paradigm shifts necessary to move from a prevailing church mindset towards a movement mindset[iii]. One of these monumental shifts requires we move away from the belief God Calls the Extraordinary and instead adopt the mindset God Sends the Willing. This paradigm has proven true in past movements in church history.[iv]
I’m no Bible scholar, but even a quick recollection of some of the children’s Bible stories reminds me that David wasn’t Samuel’s first pick… or second for that matter. And Jesus? His followers were described as unschooled and ordinary. But they said, “Yes,” to the call, “Follow Me!” I guess you could say they were ordinary and willing. I might add that the rich young ruler was likely considered pretty extraordinary in his day. The reason he didn’t make the cut. He wasn’t willing.
In their research backed book, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, the authors state Key Chain Leadership as one of the six essential strategies for the future of the Church[v]. The Key Chain Leadership Strategy challenges us to not only see the young people in front of us as future leaders, but to also draw near to them, apprentice them, and give away the keys to leadership before they have “what it takes” to do the job. It will be messy. It will be imperfect. It will also be adventurous, and will have Kingdom impact!
Can you see why I can’t pray the prayers for God to stir up more faithful next gen leaders? I feel like I hear him say “Stop! Open your eyes! I’ve already stirred their hearts. Just because they don’t come with the characteristics you expect, doesn’t mean they aren’t future leaders. You get to grow them, develop them, disciple them and trust that I’m already moving in the hearts of this generation’s leaders. Be teachable as you do this, and I might just disciple you as well!”
As I sit back and think of the laundry list of traits I have been asked to pray for, I believe the Holy Spirit is asking me to pray a different prayer for a different group of people. Today I pray for myself and the thousands of other leaders and disciple makers in the Church.
“Oh Lord, give us eyes to see, the divine imagination to explore, and the courage to sacrifice the time and resource to draw near to, develop, and disciple the ordinary and the willing you have placed in our midst.”
Will you join me?
[i] The Open Generation: Vol. 1 — How Teens Around the World Relate to Jesus 2022, Barna Group. Pg 17-18 [ii] According to Powell, Mulder and Griffin, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love your Church, (MI, Baker Books, 2016), it would seem my experience is not unique here. [iii] The KC underground website can be found at this link https://www.kcunderground.org/ and their Missionary Pathway Primer can be downloaded here https://www.kcunderground.org/resources [iv] In Addison, Steve, Movements that Change th
e World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel, (IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 76 we learn that the spreading of the Gospel in the early church and movements since that time, occurred when “Ordinary people, on fire with the love of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, simply told their families, friends and casual acquaintances what God had done for them.” [v] Powell et al. pgs. 50-83