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

By Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation

Part 3-What Values Will Drive Our Relationships With Young Leaders? (Part B)

In the previous post we considered how established leaders could lean into younger leaders to prepare them for the inevitable positions they, as our denominational sons and daughters, would eventually fill. It is important that relationships be preserved, that the hearts of the younger leaders be heard and understood, and that lines of communication remain open.

In this post, we expand on three more values that can help further relationships between established and younger leaders.

Become an Advocate
What does it mean to become an advocate for a young leader? Daniel Montgomery is the founding and lead pastor of Sojourn Church in Louisville, Kentucky. At the Baptist21 meeting at the 2009 SBC annual meeting, Daniel shared about his friendship with me (Ed). Daniel confessed that he had made a number of mistakes as a planter and pastor, some of which forced me to take some arrows for him. Those arrows were worth it, though, as God has used both Daniel and Sojourn in powerful ways. Sojourn started with two people; now, it is a great force for the gospel in urban Louisville.

We must be willing to show patience as younger leaders learn just as God exhibited with us while we were learning. And really, who among us has stopped learning or should have? Should we assume that we have arrived and always have the insight needed to adequately evaluate a younger leader? Our goal should be to protect their reputation and effort while they are following Christ, regardless of our own reputation. Standing in the gap for a young leader will find a great harvest of discipleship and souls through the years.

Imagine how differently our convention would look and feel if older leaders stood consistently with younger leaders-encouraging, admonishing and helping. We can walk with one another, not against each other; fight for one another, not with one another. While Paul and Timothy are the normal examples of this, the better pair for this value might be Barnabas and John Mark. After abandoning the first mission team in Perga (at least in Paul’s mind), John Mark was almost out of this early church mission endeavor. Barnabas, the “son of encouragement,” stepped in, and, risking his partnership with the established leader, Paul, determined they keep John Mark in the ministry (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41). Barnabas demonstrated genuine discipleship, as he was willing to pour extra effort into the younger leader who was in danger of being bounced out of the mission altogether.

Strategic Intercession
In addition to advocacy, each of us needs to become a strategic intercessor. We naturally pray for our sons and daughters. Some prayer is based on concern for their future. They will face challenges that are beyond anything we have seen or known. One of the ways we prepare for the future is to pray for those who will lead us into it. Many of us can remember an unexpected time in our early ministry when a godly man, greatly revered, prayed over us a blessing for the future. Who can forget Rick Warren’s story of W.A. Criswell asking God for a “double blessing” to be on the young church planter?

It would not be surprising if much of the friction between older and younger leaders is due to a lack of strategic prayer. It is difficult to dislike and ignore those for whom we pray. Prayer builds up our confidence in God’s ability guide our churches and denomination. So when established leaders ask Him to bless, guide, and lead a younger leader, it empowers the younger, but it also assures the older that God is at work. Without prayer, how are we even in a position to determine whether a young leader has done something wrong or improper? With prayer, we can trust that God is doing what He wants to do even if we do not particularly like it.

Welcome Them as Family
The last value that we will examine is that we should view young leaders as family. The trend is probably starting to become clear at this point. Emotional detachment from young leaders will demoralize them and put the SBC’s future in jeopardy. To ignore or criticize people from a distance is lazy and irresponsible. To be a bit more prophetic: to ignore and criticize young leaders from a distance is dysfunctional and sinful. The New Testament plainly teaches that we are, collectively, the household of God. Treating our own children as many have treated the young leaders of the SBC would be a clear violation of parental responsibility and a complete abdication of parental love.

Imagine that the next church planter called by God was your son? Imagine that the next young lady who walked into your office sensing a call to lead contemporary worship was your daughter? Would it affect the conversation? Would you listen differently? Well, guess what? He is somebody’s son and she is somebody’s daughter. More importantly, they are God’s sons and daughters. We should treat this next generation of leaders as a prized possessions in Christ.

Certainly, the relationship between generations is often difficult. Those established in leadership must find a way to gracefully raise up those coming close on their heels. The ones that are assuming leadership must do so respectfully and with humility toward the work. From our vantage point, the relationships necessary for a bright future are growing. It is encouraging to see more leaders from various generations interacting at association meetings, convention events, and simply befriending one another on their mission fields. As we press forward with the work of the GCR, godly relationships will continue to be a linchpin issue. For the church to do God’s work, it must live as God’s people consumed with the effects of God’s gospel at work within us.

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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