“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Pouring into the next generation. Strange phrase because it always depends on the perspective of the one using it. But, over the years, I have had the privilege of working with multitudes of young adults/teens who have aspired to positions of ministry on many different levels. Whether it was full-time vocational ministry, missions, volunteering, or even in the marketplace, they all need the time and support to be successful. It’s the ongoing process of mentoring and helping to develop future leaders. In our church, we work with our own Bible college students, interns, and graduates of leadership schools.
Invest in them.
- Spiritually – As with everyone, our goal is to help them follow Christ in a deeper way. Many get dull spiritually because of their surroundings, always being around Christians, and they lose their desperation for God. It happens with me. Pray with them. Challenge them to greater passion and love for Christ. Model a committed life for them.
- Emotionally – Notice them. Ask them questions. Listen to them. Don’t underestimate them but help them to believe and understand that God really does have amazing plans for them beyond the refrigerator magnet Scripture.
- Physically – As with the previous, we are dealing with folks who may have come from adverse backgrounds. They might not be used to proper expressions of affirmation and affection. Obviously use wisdom but don’t be afraid to shake hands and even hug them. Jesus touched people!
- Financially – Pay for their meals, buy them one of your favorite books, take them out and buy them a pair of shoes. Occasionally, slip them a $10 or $20. This is not only practicing generosity but it is modeling kindness for them.
Be real and authentic. This generation has a keen sense for crap. They know when someone is being fake with them. Don’t be afraid to talk to them on a personal level. Tell them your own stories; not just your successes, but especially your failures. Ironically, I believe our mistakes and foolishness can be very encouraging to them because they see…we do mess up, and it’s ok…but then, they can also learn how NOT to do things. Our shortcomings can be their classrooms.
Recognize them publicly. Our young guys work HARD. They stack chairs, mow lawns, paint, set up, take down, move people, and a lot of grunt work that most people don’t even realize or want to do themselves. This is part of being a servant and growing in ministry. We ALL had to do it. It helps us die to self and realize other people’s needs. But give them credit in front of other people either from the platform, in front of the staff, or other volunteers. Let others know of their labors and let your guys know they’re not being taken for granted.
Work alongside them. Don’t just snap your finger and have them perform some task. Do it with them. Let them know they’re part of a bigger process and that no matter how menial it might seem, it is VITAL. But let them see you working as well. NEVER sit there and watch them work. It’s demeaning.
Solicit their ideas and include them in the process. Admit it. We get stale and in a trap of doing the same ol’ thing year after year. We’d be surprised at their creativity and imagination. Sure, some ideas will be naïve and…dare I say, stupid? Maybe impractical? But at the same time…you may be surprised. Don’t be dismissive. Be willing and humble enough to get a younger, less experienced perspective. God just may be speaking a powerful word through them. If it can’t be done, let it be a learning experience for them and explain why. BTW…I still have nonsensical ideas.
Give them chances. Don’t be afraid to release them and give them opportunities. Harness their eagerness, passion, and energy. I would have never overcome my fear of public speaking had Dean never put me in a position to both succeed and fail. I know some pastors are high perfectionists, but watching young leaders fumble around and be awkward is fun. Because you see them maturing and getting experience. It helps them understand the pressure and expectations. It may reveal to them they’re not as good as the thought they were. Help them to understand that people want the best for them and there will be no jeering or throwing of rotten fruit.
Value them. Don’t just go through the motions. Appreciate them and remind them that they are important to the ministry. Verbalize how much they mean to you personally and to the church. They are not just hired hands but leaders and ministers in the making. View working with them as a privilege to honor Christ’s command in Matthew 28.
Spark dreams and visions. Help them to think outside the box, to break stale traditions and the status quo. It’s not about being hip and cool. It’s about connecting and relating to people, just as Jesus did with context and parables. While we may change the wrappers, the inside stays intact. Always be true to God’s Word. But be willing to empower their imaginations!
Love them enough to confront. If we truly love and appreciate them, we will be willing to keep them accountable. Set up guardrails for them helping them to understand boundaries. We’ve seen too many ministers fall because of frail character. We don’t just pat them on the back…sometimes they need a good kick J I always get someone’s permission to speak into their lives, especially when it comes to correction. But, what they do with the counsel is 100% up to them…and if not heeded can result in disqualification. Emphasize: character, integrity, holiness, and humility.
Be Patient. I need to remember this constantly. They’re young and there’s reason they’re in the mentee position. None of us came out of the box the way we are today…thank God. And I know that there are folks, including my pastor, who are still patient with me as I continue to learn and mature. But please, remember their age…then remember how you acted when you were the same age. Honestly, some pastors could really benefit from regressing to a younger age once in a while. Maybe us old farts can enjoy life a little more if we do. Hallelujah!
Younger leaders are snotty, arrogant, awkward, rambunctious, not teachable, squirrely, and annoying know-it-alls. And I love them! It is a privilege to reinvest with the same patience and passion that was extended to me.
“Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me” (Psalm 71:18).