Positions of leadership come with unique temptations, especially for those of us in faith communities. We can easily find ourselves wanting to be a “celebrity Christian,” the next best-selling author or the favorite Instagram pastor. Yet, as time passes, I have learned that being a celebrity does not make you a better Christian. It just makes you a celebrity.
As we begin a new year that will surely be full of challenge and change, I think those of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership need to collectively make a resolution: we need to engage the next generation. God isn’t calling us to make social media influencers, leaders, followers or donors — he’s calling us to make disciples.
Here are three steps for discipling and empowering the next generation:
Be a student of the next generation.
In Matthew 19:14 Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (NIV). God calls us not only to lead but also to learn from those younger than us.
If we are going to connect with the next generation, then we need to understand their context – what they listen to and watch, what influences them. At Pulse, we like to say the next generation will only be our future if we make them our present. If we care about reaching the next generation but aren’t involved or invested in them then it is time for us to take the position of students rather than teachers.
Listen to the next generation.
In my time in ministry, I have found that young people are desperate for leaders to speak into their lives. I know I was. When I started in ministry, I asked five of my personal heroes to mentor me, and they all got a glazed-over look in their eyes like they didn’t know what I meant. Some of them pointed me toward a class instead.
We know how to program people better than we know how to be in relationship with them. As leaders, we have to remember that relationships must come first. We need to take the time to listen to the next generation’s needs and ideas. If we don’t, we risk missing the depth and insight this generation offers to the church and the world.
Take a risk on the next generation.
Far too often, leadership is overrated and discipleship is underrated.
If we want to impact the next generation, then we have to be willing to risk our reputations, platforms and resources on them. All of us in ministry are doing what we do because someone took a risk on us when we were just starting out. They gave us opportunity, influence and responsibility before we thought we were ready because they believed in us and the God we serve.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he commanded his followers to baptize and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Part of that command involves mentoring the next generation. Wisdom is useless if it is not shared.
So, when it comes to engaging the next generation, let’s focus on the things that matter —not church attendance, attire or media choices. Let’s evaluate whether or not discipleship is happening and if people are sharing their faith, serving others and reading God’s word. We don’t need high-tech conferences to do the work of engaging for us. If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t place our hope in large events. Instead, we need to intentionally invest in a few to impact the many.
Nick Hall is the visionary of the Together movement, author of Reset, and the founder of PULSE, a ministry at the center of the largest millennial-led prayer and outreach efforts in the world. Follow him @NickHall.