I grew up through Sunday school and youth groups. I remember the first time we started a youth worship band, (although it was called praise music back then. I am not sure when we made the switch). We were pretty terrible, I played guitar which always involved awkward silences between the chords. That was around 20 years ago and the result is that to my knowledge most of the people in that band are still involved in music teams today. A small investment in a few young people with some potential and limited ability has led to involvement in churches later on. I remember at the time thinking we should be leading the church songs every week. We were cooler than the older people. I even quoted a verse, you can probably guess. 1 Timothy 4:12, ‘ don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.’
It’s a great verse and has been repeated and memorised by thousands of young people. It wasn’t until around five years later that I began to notice that it was a half the verse. I had conveniently memorised the part that meant that other people needed to do the hard work of honouring me as a young person and forgotten the hard work that it called me to do, that is, “but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
I have had the privilege of being able to invest in young leaders in the last ten years. Some of these have been on gap years giving whole years to working for churches, some have been volunteers, some have been members of youth groups who have taken on a role of peer leadership. I was always keen that they took this verse on board. As they stepped into leading ministries, or preaching for the first time or leading worship, I was keen that they knew that their age did not mean that the same Holy Spirit that shared His gifts through the experienced and well known wasn’t going to use them. This is a good thing to do, confidence in God makes all the difference in a young leader.
I wonder if I have ever put as much energy into the second part. How do we create leadership development that engages in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity? As we think through how we are developing leaders in our churches we often focus on skill. We train and coach preachers in communication skills and writing structure. We coach worship leaders on song selection. How do we best coach in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity?
If you are in the position of encouraging a young leader take time to build these things into them. These are the things that will hold them when their leadership becomes more difficult. When they face some opposition or crisis of confidence their ability to select songs will be much less important than their character. How can you best invest in your young leaders to create leaders who can last and weather storms that will come?
Building young leaders is hard work, there is a lot of sacrifice involved, don’t waste opportunities by only concentrating on their skills. It can be draining investing in someone with little experience, but it is more than worth the legacy it brings.
If you are a young leader seeking someone to invest in you, find older Christians who will invest in your character before they will invest in your opportunities. If your character grows opportunities will come. It is more important to become a strong leader than a busy one.
A great example of this is my good friend Tom Holmes. I met Tom when he was 16, he came to church full of energy and enthusiasm but lacking some confidence. Over the years I have had the privilege of being his friend and getting to invest some of my time into his life. This year he started as Head of Music and Worship and St Michael-le-Belfrey. When Tom got this job some people said to me and to him that they thought he was younger than they would have expected someone in that role to be. I am not surprised by his selection at all, Tom took time over all the years I have known him to build friendships and relationships that developed his character. He worked hard on his skills but he made himself open to people like myself and our other good friend James Hand. When he messed things up he made effort to correct his mistakes, he took time over decisions to make the right ones. He worked hard to become a better man.
If you are a young leader dying for a position to serve in, take a lesson from Tom. Work hard on yourself, take the time to grow stronger and allow God to bring the opportunities. They will come in time.