By Lito Solorio
What is your church doing to prepare the next generation for leadership in ministry?
Several years ago I sat in a gathering of men from area churches and a similar question was floated. Several men offered their thoughts on the current culture and struggles plaguing the church. A gentleman with a walker slowly rose, cell phone in hand, and said, “The problem is we need to reach the kids through this! The kids are all about their cell phones and social media sites.” I very politely shared my disagreement with that thought.
You see, I am a 32-year-old who straddles the Generation X and millennial groups. I am fascinated by technology and how it can be used to further the gospel. Cell phones are not the problem, but a symptom of a bigger issue. The overuse or addictive attraction of social media is not unlike other struggles, past and present, of people obsessed with sports, the opposite sex, video games, school, and many other things.
I asked the men of the room, “How many 18- to 22-year-olds are you investing in?” The room got uncomfortably quiet. On a weekly basis, do you take a small group of young men or women to coffee? Do you help them wrestle with the challenges in our church and culture today? Jesus demonstrated a method of making disciples that is still viable. Yet it’s so common for us to become overly busy in this investing in the next generation of church leadership.
I am a product of people pouring into a next-generation leader. My current church hired me at 18. I knew very little when it came to leading in ministry, but I had several pastors who invested into me. I led our junior high ministry part-time, and eventually it turned into a full-time job.
After four years, our senior and executive pastors decided to continue investing in me. The church paid for me to attend Ozark Christian College, from which I graduated in four years.
The church believed in developing the next generation for leadership. Whenever a student from our youth group had any interest in ministry work, we told him or her about Ozark Christian College, William Jessup University, or Hope International University. In the past 15 years we’ve sent out 28 students with some form of scholarship.
In 2010, after my graduation, my home church gave me the option of returning to serve with them. I loved the idea of serving in a church that believed in investing in and raising leaders. Many of the students we’ve sent to Christian college have come back to serve on staff or volunteer their time. Some have gone off to serve in other churches.
Not all churches are ready to start sending students with full rides to Bible college, but here are a few things that can pave the way for the next generation of leadership in your home church.
Surround yourself with youthful followers of Christ.
I have three children under age 7 in my house. Watching them experience things for the first time makes what is routine and mundane wonderful again. If we could apply this principle to those we are choosing to disciple, I believe it would not only benefit the next-generation leader, but also help us see the wonder in the routine.
I attended a creative sermon planning meeting with pastor Chris Brown at North Coast Church in Vista, California. Every Tuesday he meets with a group of 20-plus college-age students and talks about his sermon with them. As I sat there, I felt like I was watching how Jesus spoke with his disciples, helping them grasp his lesson on a deeper level. Afterward, Chris shared that their viewpoint is what keeps his sermons youthful and current. We can learn from next-generation leaders while we lead them.
Show them the reality of ministry.
When you have identified someone with potential to be a next-generation leader, give him or her a chance to see behind the curtain. When I was a youth, there was a romanticized vision of being a youth pastor. The idea of pizza parties, playing video games, and nonstop fun with teens sounded amazing. Perhaps one of the reasons we see people start off and not finish in ministry is that they did not fully prepare themselves for what the reality would entail.
Give the next-generation leader a chance to see how you prepare lessons, make hospital visits, or just work on a weekly basis. The most impacting lessons from my senior leader have always been when he showed me how before letting me go.
Set the scene for them to test the waters.
Have you given opportunities for the next generation of your church to try to be leaders? When Jesus was walking on the water, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you . . . tell me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Did Jesus know Peter would sink? Possibly, but he gave him a chance.
I still recall when our senior pastor let me, at 22 years of age, preach to a congregation of 2,500 people. What was he thinking? I can promise, he didn’t give me the opportunity because of my dazzling skills at preaching a top-notch exegetical study. It had to do with his desire to let a young disciple test the waters in ministry.
While investing in someone, find ways they can use their gifts, give them feedback, and never stop coaching their progress.
This type of leadership has helped me tremendously. People taking the time to teach me what they know so I might continue in this disciple-making pattern. Currently, four students who received scholarships from our church are on staff. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes shrewd intentionality and a desire to see those people who grew up in our church one day lead the church.
I am thrilled to serve with a ministry that believes in next-generation leadership. Preparing for tomorrow begins today.
Lito Solorio serves as groups and teaching pastor at Northside Christian Church, Clovis, California.