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

By Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation

Part 2: What Values Will Drive Our Relationships with Young Leaders?

In his book, The Present Future, Reggie McNeal proposed six mindset shifts critical to the future of the local church. One proposed shift is from planning for the future to preparing others for the future. Planning involves prediction and assumes control. Preparing involves prayerful strategy and succession plans. In McNeal’s language matrix the difference between planning and preparing is simple: relationships. Planning assumes a first-person execution of the work. Preparing assumes the rise of others to lead the work.

McNeal’s proposed shift from planning for the future to preparing others for the future is vital for the transition in leadership to our sons and daughters in the denominational arena. The value of preparing young leaders for the future is crucial, but that preparation will find its greatest effectiveness in the context of relationships.

In these next two installments of the series, we look at six values that are needed to effectively drive our relationships with young leaders. Here we will discuss: preserving the relationship, keep listening to their heart and keep the lines of communication open.

Frequently in denominational life when a young person is elevated into a position of leadership there are “handlers” behind the scenes who make sure the leader can be trusted. Trust, however, is not the trust of sound theology and passion for Christ, but that those already in power rigorously control his or her ascent, thinking, and methodology so deviation from an approved plan can be avoided. Rather than a bird freed from a cage, the young leader is expected to be an automaton that dresses like, talks like, and speaks like the established-maybe even entrenched-leadership. Their public persona has to be as scripted as a presidential teleprompter. Cloning, rejected in the realm of genetics, is often expected in the realm of denominational succession plans.

So rather than planning our own work or programming automatons, we should spend our time training our sons and daughters. Preparation for the next generation is the responsibility of the current generation’s leaders. It is inconsistent to say, “You need to mature into the leadership arena,” while refusing to provide any help in the maturation process. It smacks of protectionism rather than discipleship.

So, what should we do to press forward with strong relationships to the next generation of leaders for the SBC?

Preserving the Relationship
The first value current leaders need to respect is that of preserving the relationship. In a bit of irony, young leaders need connectedness to those who went before them, but also need for their spiritual parents to release them to fly or fail on their own. These needed relationship realities, however, can get harmed in the midst of various sinful behaviors including jealousy, pride, and anger.

Paul and Timothy are models for the need for an ongoing relationship between generations. A spiritual son to a spiritual father is a relationship worth keeping, and can be kept as long as it is secured on a foundation of authenticity. Both need to look to the mutual encouragement and growth than can be achieved; neither needs to look for personal advancement benefits. Additionally, older leaders can look to the value of reverse mentoring where they can continue to learn and receive the challenge to grow that comes from being around younger leaders.

We all know that relationships, like gardens, require attention, time, and patience to have any chance at long-term health. Shallow, short-term attempts to “relate” to younger leaders will accomplish nothing in the long haul, unless one desires to count negative repercussions. Luncheons and mentoring partnerships are only as valuable as the personal investment that continues after the meeting. We don’t need events in which to interact but relationships that will prepare future leaders.

Listening to Their Hearts
The second value we need is that we would keep listening to their hearts. When is the last time you invested in a young leader to the level that you could hear his or her heartbeat? Close enough to know exactly what makes them tick? When you get close enough to see who the leader actually is you might see what that leaders does in a new light. Long-distance evaluation tends to make accurate perceptions impossible.

Spending much of our time around young leaders, it is easy to say that those in our convention family have a great heart for God’s kingdom expressed through His church. The future of the SBC, and the future of younger leaders in it, will be bright as long as established leaders will care enough to listen to their heart. And then trust them to lead from it.

Keep Communication Open
Third, we need to keep the lines of communication open. I am amazed at the commitment young leaders have shown just to sit down and talk over lunch or a cup of coffee. It is extremely humbling. They will travel long distances and at great personal expense just to talk for an hour. Why? Because young leaders are hungry to learn, and, yes, hungry to learn from those established leaders who take the time to cultivate authentic relationships with them.

Communication is a discipline that requires time and attention. With the rapid pace of church life and leadership in the denomination, you will be hard pressed to expend the energy necessary to interact with younger leaders. But it is a necessity. Our sons and daughters need time with the older generation of leaders. We need to celebrate their victories and share in their struggles. And, they need to learn from how seasoned veterans have learned to cope with the power and pain that comes with the place of leadership.

To do any of this, it will mean spending time face to face, trading emails, and on video chats with leaders of a different generation. The communication possible with our sons and daughters today is critical to pass along the lessons learned from decades of leading in the church.

In the next post we will look at: becoming an advocate, becoming a strategic intercessor and viewing young leaders as family.

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. Erin   •  

    Great points. We need to embrace the young leaders and allow them space to grow. It puzzles me that in a time where so many things change on a daily or weekly basis, that we struggle so hard it other areas against change. Young leaders will need some guidance, but we cannot be afraid to allow them to expand into areas we never would have thought of and to expand in ways that others do not understand. They will make mistakes, but then that is also part of the learning process.

  2. Patrick Mitchell   •  

    I like points 1 and 2, but the 3rd one speaks loudest to me as a young leader. Having open communication is invaluable…in fact, that’s what makes us (at least me) feel valued.

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