By David Roadcup
The summer of 1966 was a watershed time for me. I was 19 years old and going into my sophomore year at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College. I had accepted my first summer youth ministry in a rural church in central Illinois. I remember my first day. I knew I had been called to this, my life’s work, but that first day was daunting. Where do I start? How is this going to go? Who are these people in my new church family? Will I be liked? Will they work with me? It was a challenging and impactful opportunity.
When younger ministers step into the harness of ministry, it can be a genuine blessing to the church and mark the beginning of a fruitful career. Yet, for those young ministers, the prospect of starting that first job can be unnerving. Prospective young leaders want to succeed and not fail, but they must learn the ropes, serve in the trenches, and earn their wings.
We all must start somewhere. When a young minister steps into the work, we, as their elders, leaders, and coaches, need to offer support, encouragement, love, and direction so they can achieve the greatest level of success attainable for Christ.
Today’s younger leaders, those of the late generation X and the millennial groups, are enthusiastic and driven. They love service. They are creative and talented. They may see things differently than the senior elder or other leaders, but their ideas and views need to be heard and considered. They begin their ministries with fervor and idealism, as did most of us in leadership ministry. These young leaders are the future of our churches in terms of filling key leadership positions.
As elders and lead ministers of churches, we need to connect with this important group. We can disciple, mentor, and love them as they grow to their fullest potential in Christian leadership.
What Young Leaders Wish Their Elders Knew About Them
Dr. Daniel Overdorf, professor of homiletics at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee, polled young pastors serving in churches and collected comments that are important for elders and senior staff to consider and discuss. The responses—listed in no particular order—are to Overdorf’s question: “What do you wish your elders knew about you?”
- I am a unique individual, not a generational profile.
- People trust you more than they trust me—your verbal support makes a difference.
- “Inexperienced” does not equal “ineffective.”
- It builds my confidence when you ask for my opinion.
- When you let me try my new idea, you saved my ministry.
- Finances are tight.
- When you invited me into your home, it made me feel like family.
- I need your public support and private constructive criticism.
- Being single doesn’t make me less of a minister.
- I appreciate when you care about me as a person.
- I’ve given everything to serve the kingdom.
- We’re on the same team.
- I am scared and need your encouragement more than I let on.
- I need your help to grow as a leader, a Christian, and a person.
- I pour my heart (and several hours of prep) into my sermons.
- I have unique gifts and I need your help to develop them.
- It hurts when people say, “You’re going to be a good minister someday.”
- Being female doesn’t make me less of a minister.
- I need your trust.
- I’m grateful that you took a chance on me.
- I support you more than you think and I want you to succeed.
- If you appreciate my teaching and preaching (and say so), others will too.
- I am not the minister who came before me.
- I proposed a change because I love the church and our mission.
- I can serve best when your expectations are clear.
- The gift for Pastor Appreciation Month meant the world to me.
- I value our heritage and want to carry the baton to the next generation.
- I felt supported when you helped pay for my master’s degree.
- Sometimes I need to be alone with my family.
- I feel appreciated when you treat me like a team member.
What do these comments tell us as elders and senior leaders? Namely this: Younger leaders want to be a part of the team. They want their opinions and ideas to be considered. As with all of us, they want to be respected, accepted, and encouraged. The support of the elder team and senior staff means a great deal to them as friends and coworkers.
When a younger staff member has a “victory” in their work, it’s a good time to offer words of encouragement and support. When they hit a “pothole” in the road with some program or ministry, it is an open door for coaching, mentoring, and providing direction.
Since hospitality is one of the qualifications for an elder and his wife, it would be great to reach out to younger staff members and their families. Why not invite them over for dinner, fellowship, and conversation? Strong relationships and trust are built and strengthened when believers share meals together in each other’s homes. There is power in “table fellowship.” An occasional phone call, compliment, word of encouragement, or card (via snail mail and not email) would be well received.
Relate to Each Other as Family
When Scripture discusses relationships between believers, it uses “family” terms. First Timothy 5:1, 2 says, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” Paul says to relate to each other as family.
A step in the right direction would be for all elders and senior staff to see younger leaders as brothers and sisters, full of potential and future service, and for younger staff to see elders and senior staff as older brothers, fathers, and uncles. Younger staff consider these men and women to be seasoned veterans of ministry service who have valuable lessons to share. As elders, we should ask ourselves, “If I had a son or daughter serving on a church staff five states away, how would I want the elders/senior staff team there to treat them in their ministry?”
More than anything else, genuine love and compassion must guide our team relationships as younger staff and elder team/senior staff. We should love each other as Jesus loves us and obey his teaching. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34, 35).
As fellow soldiers in the work of the kingdom, let us serve and support one another to make each other as productive as possible. In doing so, we will be more effective in our ultimate goal of fulfilling our Savior’s mission.
David Roadcup is cofounder and outreach director for e2. He also serves as professor of discipleship and global outreach representative with TCM International Institute. He is also on the board of directors of Christian Arabic Services.