Ready or Not, Here They Come! A 5-part Series on Partnering with Our Sons and Daughters for a Great Commission Resurgence

By Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation

Part 1: How Will We Treat Young Leaders?

It really comes as no surprise that the SBC is struggling with generational transition. Generational change is always filled with challenges whether in families, homes or churches, and these challenges should be seen as normal. The passing of the torch rarely occurs without someone bobbling it, running into the grass, or getting burned.

When our kids started school we experienced the same first-day-of school dread every family endures. Our children nervously enter the brick and mortar garrison that will overshadow their lives for the next twelve years, while parents watch from the sidewalk with varying degrees of terror. Are they ready? Will they get hurt? Will they succeed?

This gives way to another mental image: teaching your teenager how to drive. Sitting in the passenger seat and unable to control a 2,000-pound speeding missile is another growth step for parents and kids. Parents have legitimate concerns and wish for a second set of pedals in the passenger floorboard. Teens hope to gain a modicum of independence. One seat is filled with concern and the other with delight. It is a time to let go.

Parenting is filled with times of “letting go.” At the door of the kindergarten class, the driver’s license bureau, the college dorm room, and the wedding altar, it’s as if time moves into slow motion or stands still altogether. Children become grown-ups right before our eyes. And our relationship with them changes.

So how are we interacting with the changing relationship that occurs whether we’re ready or not with young leaders in the SBC? We have an entire generation of leaders coming of age. They are ready to lead and desire the opportunity to demonstrate the gifts and abilities God has given them. What will be our response?

Our first option is: Try to Stop Them.
As difficult as it might be, we could all stop our kids from driving, thereby saving on insurance premiums and ulcer medicine. All it would take is blocking the driveway with construction barriers or a wide swath of roofing tacks. It probably would not work in the long run, but at least we could feel good about the effort.

If we are not careful, we can treat our sons and daughters who are coming of age in the SBC the same way. Having to always hear, “Just be patient; your time will come,” inspires neither hope for the listener nor confidence in the speaker. During the early days of the Younger Leader Initiative-spearheaded by Jimmy Draper-many young leaders were accused of wanting to take places of leadership they had not earned. The truth is that most of them were not trying to commandeer a seat at the leadership table but simply contribute to their spiritual family. They wanted to make sure they were welcome in the Southern Baptist house.

A second option is: Alienate Them.
Alienation occurs when the conversation degenerates from theological and methodological realms and into the personal realm. It can get personal. In fact, we’ve all seen it get personal. When the integrity, competency, and motivation of next generation leaders are questioned, an entirely new level of damage is done to churches, associations, and the convention.

The alienation of young leaders often causes the creatives, entrepreneurial thinkers, and other highly competent leaders to walk out the denominational door. In losing the futurists, we are only left with a glut of leaders who are experts on past methodologies. When any organization spirals down this way, radical change is needed to preserve its viability.

In spite of that very plausible scenario, there is good news. Over the last several years the environment has shifted, and younger leaders are more ready than ever to respond. We will certainly benefit from the input and participation from the rising leaders of the SBC.

A third option is: Be Apathetic.
Too often, the result of the burdens and requirements of ministry is apathy toward young leaders. Demands on our time, the generational divide, methodological distinctions, and the differences in how each values the convention are a few of the major reasons current leaders will not, or cannot, engage younger leaders. It is an effort that many are not willing to give. Just like in the family, though, investing nothing in our sons and daughters in not a valid option if we care about the future of the SBC.

A fourth option is: Be Hesitant.
Just as apathy is not a solution, neither is a half-hearted, pseudo-attempt at reaching out. Having a convention wide “Be Nice To A Young Leader Sunday” where everyone wears jeans and spends $100 at a stylist to look like you have not combed your hair in a month will likely accomplish nothing. No meaningful relationships will be established without intentionality. Young leaders want to connect but indecision our part will give way for cynicism all around.

We also need to take care in creating the meetings we expect young leaders to attend. It is counterproductive-not to mention hypocritical-to give a warm handshake to them as they arrive and then have successive speakers preach against the very strategies younger leaders are using to be a biblical church in their context. Engaging young leaders requires the same authenticity from us that we once needed from the generation that handed us the reins.

The final option is: Take a Deep Breath, Hand Them The Keys, Mentor and Pray.
This is the best option. But sometimes it is the most difficult. After all, we know how to “drive” better than they do. Right? But we cannot lead forever. So it would be better to make them a partner in the work now and show them what we’ve learned. It is time lead them, then lead with them, and then let them lead the rest of us. If we will commission, walk with, and hand off SBC leadership to them, we will see a return on our investment.

It is always the burden of established leadership to train their successors. To do so with the sons and daughters of our convention, we must be committed to building relationships with them first. As we forge lasting friendships with the new generation of leaders, we will understand more fully the beauty of God’s plan for all generations.

This five-part series is based on the ideas included in our chapter “Ready or Not, a New SBC Is Coming” written for “The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time.”

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  1. Patrick Mitchell   •  

    This is just enough to wet the appetite. Can’t wait to see the rest of this series on a crucial and timely topic.

  2. Warren   •  

    I have been very impressed with how some of the Sovereign Grace leaders such as C.J. Mahaney and Dave Harvey have set an example of the latter option. Harvey shares a bit about this in his book “Rescuing Ambition.”

  3. Devin Didier   •  

    Currently we are faced with a crossroads within the culture of SBC churches. We must not let preferences dictate how we will cooperate with young leaders to advance the Gospel. Jesus never said you have to be married with children or nearly in retirement before you can share the good news. He merely said now that you have received my grace share it with others. We must see a rising up of young leaders and I believe that there is a desire from doctrinally sound young men and women to lead. Let us who are older guide those who are younger biblically that they might hear God say at the appointed time, “Well done my good and faithful servant!”

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