10 Things We Need to Hear from Young Church Leaders

By Chuck Lawless

I have the privilege of spending much of my life with young church leaders. As a seminary dean and missionary trainer, I hang out with people younger than I am. I’m the teacher, but I learn from the young generation as much as—if not more than—I teach them. Sometimes they teach me something new, as with technology and social media. In other cases, they simply remind me of something I’ve forgotten or have taken for granted.

Of course, all young church leaders have room to grow, and nothing I say here can be applied to every young leader. With that understanding in mind, here are some of those general reminders that I, and perhaps other older leaders, need to hear from young church leaders.

  1. The Bible is still our guide. My own denomination spent several decades affirming the inerrancy and authority of the Word of God. Today’s young church leaders were not part of that struggle, but they are the recipients of that teaching. They may at times differ with us in interpreting and applying the Word, but it is not because they doubt the Bible’s veracity.  They read it, study it, believe it, and teach it with passion.
  2. Christianity is intended to be life-on-life. This generation understands that no Christian is to live in isolation. Accountability is non-negotiable. Small groups are centers of life transformation rather than only weekly fellowship gatherings. To young leaders, calling someone “brother” or “sister” means much more than, “I’m sorry, friend, but I don’t remember your name”; it is recognition of members of the family of God.
  3. Authenticity is critical. Young church leaders have watched other leaders fall. They have been raised in a culture of political games. For many, even their families of origin have been marked by duplicity. They want to trust other church leaders, but, frankly, they have seen too much. Anyone whose life models authenticity will catch their attention.
  4. Mentoring matters. The most common request I hear from young church leaders is, “I want someone to mentor me. I need someone to walk with me through ministry.” Given that Jesus and Paul discipled others primarily through mentoring, we older leaders cannot ignore this request. If we do, we share the blame if those following in our steps fail.
  5. Christianity is a “doing” faith. For my generation, Christian commitment has sometimes been limited to church attendance and monetary support, with little attention to service and ministry. Young leaders, though, assume a “hands on” personal faith. Christianity without action is at best an incomplete faith, at worst a false one.
  6. We cannot ignore social ministry. We older leaders have often neglected social ministry, for fear we would lose our focus on evangelism. The young generation, though, is striving to correct our omission. Their faith is a Great Commission faith (Matt. 28:18-20) that does not miss the hurting and disenfranchised (Matt. 25:31-46).
  7. Church discipline is biblical. Leaders of my generation have largely ignored church discipline. Not so with young leaders today. They may at times lead too quickly into discipline, but they are willing to tackle this biblical responsibility. They understand that ignoring this need is neither loving nor godly.
  8. The local church is the missions sending agency. We older leaders often delegated this responsibility to other agencies and organizations. Young church leaders recognize the church’s mandate to raise up missionaries and church planters, send them out, and then care for them while they are on the field. The wise missions agency will invite these leaders into the conversation and seek to work alongside them.
  9. Denominational loyalty must be earned. Many in my generation have invested in a single denomination. Young leaders, though, do not share this loyalty. We must take some responsibility for this reality, for we have not adequately convinced them of the value of cooperative work. Rather than judge them, we must hear them, teach them . . . and be willing to adjust if needed.
  10. If faith requires death, that’s okay. This commitment is perhaps the one that most grabs my attention. Young church leaders are often less concerned about big church buildings and earthly recognition; they are most burdened about getting the gospel to the 1.7 billion people who have little access to the gospel. If doing that work requires moving their families to the most dangerous places in the world, they are ready to go. That kind of faith often puts mine to shame.

What other insights have you gained from young church leaders? What else do we need to hear? 

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.


Posted on May 20, 2014

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • David Williams says on

    Spot on! This is coming from a 26 y/o SBC pastor! I have reached out to several older pastors for mentorship only for it to not work out for whatever reason, and I could still use it!

  • Thanks Chuck for sharing these insights. I love and appreciate the young pastors and church leaders I work with daily. I am encouraged greatly for the church because of them. I wish more of my generation would truly get to know the hearts of the young people I work with. Thank you for the work you are doing with our young leaders.

  • I don’t know if this applies, but being in the ministry myself, although I am serving beside my husband, I feel that older church leaders need to know that younger staff members are still sheep that they are called to minister to. Your staff may be paid employees but they are still the sheep that need shepherding. They are not just the people that carry out your vision, and bare the brunt of your disappointments and frustrations, they are real people with real needs themselves.

    We personally have felt shunned as people in a ministry where we serve although there is roughness that comes from the pastor through anger and pride. We need to know that although we do not have the same amount of tenure, that we are loved and valuable. We do need mentors, but not mentors to shame us or be hateful when we don’t live up to your expectations. We work with you, but we serve God even though you may treat us badly. We may be faithful to the Lord’s work despite how we may feel about what is going on. We may be praying and waiting for the Lord to open the next door, but because he hasn’t we stay.

    We are looking for understanding that we cannot always be or do everything you can because we are trying to also raise our family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We need you to understand that family sometimes comes before extra church events. That it is okay for the mother to stay home with sick kids because she is a mother first.

    We need help, not a lecture or a sermon when we come to you. We are vulnerable, we are discouraged by wrong attitudes and never a humbling and asking for forgiveness. We need older men to be real men of God, not just act like it.

    We can stand by all the things listed in this article, but it won’t matter if we leave the ministry we currently serve in and want to quit and walk away from the work of the Lord because of how we have been treated.

    Value those young church leaders and instill into their lives confidence that their work, however small or however great, is significant to God, and they will go on to do the hard things that are required in their next ministry because they learn that love and grace cover a multitude of sins (and even bumbling errors).

  • Chuck Lawless says on

    Thanks for the insights, William.

  • William Wheeler says on

    I am not a young man by no means, but still a young seminarian student studying to be a full-time pastor one day. And fortunately I have a senior pastor who continues to mentor and advise me on a weekly basis. And I know he is always there for me to question regarding theology or pastoral ministry or any other Christian topic or doctrine, but also to advise me on leading the church. But also, I have Elders or Deacons, as well as church members who speak encouragement to me very often. As far as being a young church leader, I feel we have to preach, teach, and speak the gospel, first and foremost. That is not always the case for some today. Anytime we step in the pulpit or even teach a small group or evangelize one on one, the gospel needs to be proclaimed. Also, we are not perfect and should never act or claim that we are better than those we lead. We are in the same boat, sort of speak, as those in our congregation. We all are sinners and only saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. But I think traditionally, churches have been to busy within their four walls of keeping hell out and them isolated in, that we have forgotten to invite those who are truly lost in and we have been afraid to step out into our communities and speak with our neighbors. It is easy to go on a mission trip and evangelize to someone far away, because we may never see them again. But those in our community, we will see them almost ever day. And believe me, they know us. I think we constantly need to be vigilant, setting the example that Christ has given or taught us. But most of all, we just need to love on people, whether they are in our congregation or not. I think this is so important in today’s society. People feel like they just aren’t loved any more and no one cares about them. They have no one they can trust. We have to show them that we really do honestly love and care for them, in and through Christ. And we truly care where they spend eternity. We have to be truly passionate about what we say we believe in!

  • Michael VG says on

    I think number 9 is an issue because my generation feels like denominations are more divisive than cooperative. We love working with other churches, we just don’t see why Baptists have to stick with Baptists. We understand the theological differences, but we don’t let those be game changers.