A New Generation of Church Leadership
I’m on vacation with my wife this week, skiing New Mexico in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The snow is great and the weather is perfect.
Rainer Ski Report:
Sam = 4 falls and 1 injury (bruised derriere)
Erin = 2 falls and 0 injuries
Erin and I have differing approaches to skiing. I push the boundaries of my abilities; she takes the runs slowly and methodically. But we both plan our runs down the slope. We both think ahead, checking the trail map and the conditions before heading down the mountain.
Since I’m enjoying my time in New Mexico, I’ll make an analogy between successful skiing and successful vision casting.
Accomplishing a ski run requires three decisions made in advance:
1) Choose a trail according to your ability: you don’t want to end up on a lift taking you to the double blacks if you’re still struggling to snow plow.
2) Pick a line: before descending on the chosen trail you must decide which approach or “line” will best get you to the bottom.
3) Watch for unforeseen obstacles: even the best skiers encounter objects they didn’t notice (sometimes the moguls looked easier from the lift).
These same types of decisions play out when casting a vision. Leaders must choose a path – this decision involves long-term goals. Once these goals are identified, an outline is formed to facilitate the progress between point A and Z – this stage involves mid-term decisions. Lastly, even with the most thorough planning, obstacles may appear – like a skier encountering a large rock in the moguls, leaders are often required to make quick and short-term decisions that could affect the entire vision.
One of the biggest obstacles facing the church today: a lack of younger leadership.
As a young leader of a church, my perspective is perhaps different from others. But clearly, many churches are getting older, and church leaders are getting grayer. This trend is alarming not because church members and leaders get older (that’s part of life), but rather because another generation is not rising up behind them. As I’ve mentioned before, 70% of people who drop out of the church do so between the ages of 18 and 22. We’re losing a generation. But since so many are leaving, we’re also losing the ability to train a new generation of leaders to reach their own generation.
In my denomination, recent stats by Ed Stetzer show a precipitous drop in 18-39 year-old participation in the area of church leadership. Worse yet, the trend is accelerating. While some church leaders saw this day coming, most put their heads in the sand. But the giant obstacle is upon us – it’s time to deal with it without harping on the past. Those new leaders beginning to emerge can whine about the lack of planning, but such practices are counter-productive.
Many churches and denominations are at a crossroads – develop a base of younger leaders or continue to tumble down the mountain of irrelevancy. Compounding the problem is that many within the younger generation aren’t growing up and accepting responsibility – see this USA Today article. This problem is not one easily solved. It will require cooperation from both generations. It will require one generation to grow up and another to train up.
The solution comes when we all realize that we’re in a race…together. It’s not a sprint, but a relay. The baton needs to be passed. Passing a baton requires both parties to be running in sync, and the church is not there yet.
But we have time to change course. We’re not so far down the mountain that we’ve missed an opportunity to get on the right trail. We still have a chance to pass the baton without faulting and disqualifying the finish.
The next step requires that we pick a new line. Existing leaders in the church must begin to prepare for this handoff. New leaders must be prepared to take the baton and run with it.
As my father has stated on this subject: We really can do more together than we can do apart. How I pray younger generations can get that. How I pray older generations will teach that in edifying and encouraging ways while incorporating the best of what younger generations have to offer.
I agree with my father – all generations can work together in relevant ways for the sake of the saving message of Jesus Christ. Together we can tackle the mountainous problem of losing a generation for Christ. And I firmly believe the church can avoid a fatal fall. We may have some bruised egos and sore hearts, but the church isn’t broken. Like on an expert ski run, the signs are clear: Danger! Expect Unmarked Obstacles! Clearly, we’ve got some difficult decisions and hard work in front of us. But we don’t have to crash and burn. Rather, I pray we’ll thrive with Christ and revive a lost world.