The other day I asked the Church (myself included) if we think we set up young pastors to fail. You can read it here.
I want to build on this question by sharing how I think we can support young leaders to develop into great leaders and pastors. My comments and thoughts come from my own experience both as a young leader and as a leader of young leaders. I admit that I haven’t done a great deal of research and study into this of late but I have lived it. Today I’d like to share how I was encouraged as a young leader.
My path into church leadership was somewhat unconventional.
At the age of sixteen I was regularly working with young people on camps and was part of various groups working with young people in high schools in my city. At the age of eighteen my pastor asked if I’d be part of the youth ministry he wanted to start at our church. I said yes and this began some of the best and most challenging years of my life.
My pastor took a punt on me.
He saw something in me that gave him the confidence to let me, a young person, lead a ministry. I had no formal training, hadn’t been to Bible College, all I had was a desire to share Jesus and some knowledge of what young people were into.
I’m so grateful for what happened next.
My pastor allowed me to fail.
He allowed me to try what I thought was right, to let it play out, to assess how it went and think about how I’d do it differently in the future. He didn’t leave me alone to my own devices, he made sure we met regularly and he asked me a ton of questions. He showed up from time to time at events to show his support (or check on me, still not sure to this day ;-)) and he always encouraged me.
And I learnt a lot! Through my successes and failures. I learnt what it meant to be a leader, to work in a church and how to live every day with people who think differently to you. I learnt to relate to all age groups, to communicate effectively, to know what I believe and why, and how to share that with others.
In essence I did a ministry apprenticeship.
I think when it comes to ministry; apprenticeships are something we often overlook. Ministry is a “hands on” role; it involves being with people, working with people and living life with people. All these things you can’t learn from a book, principles sure, but they are no good unless you can apply them, you can only do that through experience, by actually doing it.
Don’t get me wrong, a theology degree is important; in fact I think it’s vital for long term ministry, but we need to think long and hard about the benefits of allowing people to do it while working in ministry.
Let me explain
The opportunity I had to serve in ministry and study at the same time was invaluable. It helped me put complex thoughts and ideas into context. I was able to test and apply theories right away and it turned information into action, which in turn made me remember it. It was obvious talking to other students that this was a genuine advantage.
Secondly, I simply don’t understand the purpose behind uprooting someone from a ministry and sending them away to study subjects that are supposed to help them be better in ministry. Isn’t that a little backwards? Shouldn’t we be supplementing their ministry efforts by educating them while they are doing ministry? Most of these uprooted students don’t have a ministry to go back to because in their absence, and the need for the ministry to continue, someone else has taken it over.
It begs the question;
do we need to rethink how we train leaders and pastors?
If an apprenticeship is the way to go then we need places for apprentices to learn. This in itself is tricky because most churches simply aren’t set up to do this. For whatever reason there seems to be a reluctance to take a chance on young leaders, probably because its time consuming and can be messy. It’s hard work to mentor someone, it’s messy cleaning up mistakes and let’s be honest, correcting and teaching through discipline is not something many like to do.
It’s also very personal. An apprentice gets to see behind the curtain of your life, the good times and the bad times. If we‘re honest not many of us are comfortable in being this authentic with ourselves let alone someone else.
I think Jesus gave us a great example of an apprenticeship model.
He took twelve no-bodies and trained them to become twelve of the most influential people in history!
Jesus taught them as they lived life together. He instructed them, corrected them and never missed an opportunity to teach. He didn’t send them to the local synagogue to get a degree, He taught them through life itself. As I mentioned earlier I believe theological study is a requirement for long term ministry so don’t jump on me for using this example –
But isn’t this something that we need to think about?
Shouldn’t we be taking the time to assess what the most effective ways are to develop and build young leaders?
Dont we owe them, God and the church that much?
In my next post I’d like to share my thoughts from the other side, as a leader responsible for leading young leaders.