<![CDATA[There’s no shortage of articles talking about leading and developing young leaders. It’s a heavily covered topic because it’s so important. If you want your ministry to be around when you leave, and you want to leave a positive legacy in that ministry, then you need to develop young leaders.
Aside from your legacy, you also have a biblical responsibility to begin developing young leaders while they’re still actually young. Paul leaves many examples and admonishments in his letters including Timothy, Titus, Ephesians, and Colossians.
Finally, as if you needed more reason to follow through on developing young leaders, it’s also incredibly practical. Millennials, my generation, are the largest group in America. We even outnumber the boomers! If you want to reach this massive group of young people with the truth of Jesus, you need to develop young people to live the message and young leaders to lead the Church to steward it responsibly.
Now that we’ve established the importance of developing young leaders, let’s look at six steps to develop young leaders in ministry.
Start by Discipling Young People
I believe you can’t develop future healthy and thriving ministry leaders without discipling them first. You can develop leaders that lead ministries, but these people burnout or fail out at pretty high rates. Ministry is not a responsibility for someone who doesn’t know how to maintain a close walk with Jesus.
Discipling young people should look a little different than the discipleship programs you may have grown up with. Bible classes are great and necessary. Sitting under biblical preaching is necessary. But you’ll find that tangible progress is made with young people if you get more personal.
The ABC discipleship framework is a helpful guide to disciple-making and is especially effective with young people. You can read more about making disciples, with a focus on discipling young people, on the Disciple Labs blog.
Identify Potential Young Leaders FROM the Discipleship Process, Not Before It
It’s tempting to identify future leaders based on their talents or personality. Those are the outward traits we see in other successful and dynamic leaders, so we naturally look for similar traits in young people to tag them for leadership.
But charisma, influence, and intelligence aren’t the dominant traits of leaders who thrive in ministry. There are successful ministry leaders who are quiet, reserved, unambitious, and average thinkers. The outward traits of ministry leaders are as diverse as the people themselves.
However, inward traits, those things that are grown through and from an obedient relationship with Jesus, are the most common among thriving ministry leaders. Those traits are a genuine care for people, a passion for God’s Word, a firm belief in the institution of the local church, and humility.
Those traits come from discipleship, not from leadership training. So, in choosing who you see that could be a good leader one day, look for their commitment to and growth through discipleship. These are the young leaders that are most likely to be old leaders one day.
Provide Young Leaders with Some Preliminary Training
I don’t believe ministry leaders need 4 years of college and 3 years of seminary to be ready to lead. I do believe, however, that they should receive some level of preliminary training before being given any responsibility as a leader.
Throwing young people into leadership roles, even if they’re growing spiritually and exhibiting signs of spiritual maturity, is going to cause more pain than necessary. Untrained young leaders will burn out volunteers, create rifts in teams, hurt feelings, and drop the ball so often that it potentially damages your own leadership for appointing them to the role.
Preliminary training for young pre-leaders should cover some of the basics of leading other people. Whether they’re leading a setup/breakdown team for your portable church or taking responsibility for an area in your children’s ministry, they need to know some of the following:
- Communication with teams and leaders
- Following through on commitments
- Managing projects with moving parts and multiple people
- Identifying self-sabotage characteristics in themselves and others
- De-escalating and resolving interpersonal conflict
If all of those topics sound like things that you’re unsure of how to teach, don’t worry, all of these trainings come with the TrainedUp Library.
Give Young Leaders Real Responsibility for Tasks and Projects
It’s incredibly tempting to start young leaders off with some simple tasks. We talk about young leaders “cutting their teeth” on menial tasks like taking out the garbage or picking up after an event. I’m not a fan of this approach for young leaders.
The idea that young leaders need to “pay their dues” before being given real responsibility is not helpful to the young leader. They don’t learn much by being a task animal. Maybe they learn patience or humility, but there are other ways for them to learn those virtues while also learning about actual leadership.
Instead, give your young leader real responsibility for an area that matters. In fact, it should feel risky to you. You should care deeply that they do a good job with the responsibility. There should be something to lose, something important on the line. Maybe it’s scheduling and communicating with volunteers. Maybe it’s planning and executing your Sunday morning pre-service powwows.
Use the Direct > Release > Flight Control > Debrief Method
Of course, if you’re giving your young leaders real responsibility over something that’s important, then the pressure is on for you to lead them well. After all, if they mess up or drop the ball, the buck stops with you.
In these situations, I love to follow the direct > release > coach > debrief method for getting new leaders going. It’s pretty simple, but each part is important. Here’s how each step works.
- Direct: Before your young leaders takes the wheel on a new initiative or project, give them plenty of direction and clear outcome goals. They need to know the end result you want to see and why. These directions and goals should be written down so you can use them throughout the coaching process and in the debrief at the end.
- Release: This is the hard part. Once you’ve given them direction and goals for the initiative, then let them go lead. They need to fly on their own. They’ll likely drop the ball a couple times or disappoint themselves, but that’s part of the learning process.
- Flight Control: Being released to lead doesn’t mean you should be completely absent. Your most important role in this whole process is as an air traffic controller. You’re their eyes and ears at a high level. You can help them see potential obstacles or troubles in their way. You can be available to answer questions about what to expect as they bring their project in for a landing. You’re not telling them how to fly…just helping them fly safely.
- Debrief: After the initiative is over or after a milestone in a project, it’s time to discuss with them how they performed. I highly prefer for this conversation to be an interview where the young leader debriefs you while you ask leading questions. The young leader needs to learn how to evaluate their own performance. This will help them self-evaluate as they lead rather than always waiting for a rating from their boss after the fact.
Have a Plan to Help Them Learn from Others Continually
Finally, you can’t be the only one pouring into your young leaders. First, you don’t have that time. Second, you don’t have all the knowledge. Have a plan to help your young leader grow continually. It could be as simple as a reading plan or could include some videos like the one below from Mac Lake.
You might find that attending conferences or regional trainings with your denomination are helpful. There are tons of incredible events for your young leaders to attend that will stretch them in amazing ways.
For your young leaders, the most important thing is to simply care about their personal discipleship, success in ministry, and their growth as a leader. Use that as a guide and you’ll lead them well. But don’t forget to give yourself a little grace, too. After all, we’re all learning.
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