How to invest in young leaders: an assorted and incomplete list

If you've ever wondered, “Wow! We actually have a potential future church leader among us! What do we do?” This list is for you, writes Walter Canter.

Photo by Nicola Ricca on Unsplash

I exist in the strangest church-age segment. By most standards, I maintain the status of a young adult (which, apparently, lasts until you are 40), yet I also have over a decade of experience leading congregations. In that capacity, I have worked with and supported a handful of members who are now ordained or who have otherwise experienced the immense joy of being prepared for ministry by a presbytery committee.

Most of the people I’ve worked with may be older than me, but they are the future of church leadership and, at least for the next few years, I am church young (which is what I tell myself on the days after I sustain back injuries while sleeping). As a longtime pastor and short-time human, I wish to share the following helpful, assorted, and incomplete list with you.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Wow! We actually have a potential future church leader among us! What do we do now?” The following list of “Dos” and “Do nots” was developed just for you.

  • Do feed your future leader. Inquire what sort of foods they enjoy eating and acquire such foods for them. While eating these foods with your future leader, make sure to take the time to converse with them, and learn what sorts of things they find interesting.
  • Do not insist that you, in your age-earned wisdom, have all the answers to your future leader’s contemporary problems. It is okay to offer guidance and advice when the future leader seeks it, but do not forget the way we earned our wisdom: by being very wrong … a lot … like, seriously, we were wrong about a lot, and your young leader will need to be wrong to gain some of that wisdom. I know it is hard, but …
  • Do be patient. Young leaders are going to make mistakes and they are going to know it. The best thing to do when your young/future leader makes a mistake is to be present with them, and let them know that your love for them is deeper than their mistakes, whatever they are.
  • Do treat your young leader like they are a person. Your future leader is a human person, and you can treat them like a human person. They most likely have an annual birthday, which you can acknowledge with a small token of acknowledgement (perhaps, a food item that is of the sort of food they enjoy). Beyond the birthday …
  • Do check in at random times by text/phone/in person conversation regarding the human life that your future leader lives. Do this kindly and in a way that feels appropriate and non-invasive. Your young leader has a life. You can take interest in it, but don’t crash it. It’s a fine line, but, as a rule …
  • Do not act thirsty. That’s a bad look for everybody.
  • Do encourage the spiritual life of your young leader. Take a healthy interest. Ask what sorts of cool things they are learning in their personal Scripture studies or at their seminary or seminar or college, and if they go off on a wild, energetic tangent that doesn’t really make sense to you, but you can see that they are finding joy and energy in their growth as a Christian, share in their joy. Get wrapped up in their energy.
  • Do not stomp on a young leader’s vibes. If a young leader is grooving and jamming to the Word of God, don’t blow that candle out. Even if their jam is going off in some direction that makes you personally uncomfortable. If Jesus is at the center of the jam, and God is being glorified by the jam, let the young leader jam.
  • Do invest money in your young leader. If you are the sort of person who has a lot of money, give your money to causes that your young leader cares about. Give your money to support your young leader. If you have called a young leader to serve as clergy in your church, pay them with money. If you attend or lead a wealthy church, use your money to support young leaders in poorer churches. If your future leader is still youth-age, invest in the ministry ideas that they bring to the congregation. Put money behind the energy and joy that they bring to your congregation’s ministry, and let them determine how best to use the money.
  • Do not expect a financial return on your monetary investment in your young leader. Give your money away. It’s a gift for the glory of God, not an investment in the financial future of the church. Let your young leader show you how your gift of money can be used to proclaim the gospel.
  • Do share the good news. Share that you live as a person of hope because you see the love of God shining in the work and growth of your younger sibling in Christ.
  • Do grow this list of “dos” and “do nots” with a playful, open heart listening to the movement of the Holy Spirit in your own life and in the life of your congregation.

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