When I was a young man in high school, I had a mentor that created a deep impact on my life. His name is Wally Redinger. He taught science at the junior high and was the youth leader of my youth group. Wally invested in me as a teenager; he taught me how to study the Scriptures; he taught me how to lead a small group; he taught me how to have difficult conversations and how to lead. I look back on that time with a grateful heart, both for Wally’s willingness to invest in me as a teenager but also for God and His providential hand preparing me for what would come next in my life.
Senior leaders with decades of ministry experience, elder pastors with eyes on retirement from official ministry, churches layered with many generations, men and women refined by God’s grace, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, endowed with wisdom and grace and truth, have a responsibility to come alongside and invest in the next generation of leaders.
This is our moment.
We have a significant opportunity to extend what we have learned to the next generation. We’re all in this together, each helping reach the fulfillment of our shared mission to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people. Let’s not waste it.
We have a significant opportunity to extend what we have learned to the next generation...Let's not waste it.
The Scriptures are clear. The passing of the torch to future leaders is woven throughout the Bible. From Moses and Joshua to Elijah and Elisha to Jesus and His disciples to Paul and Timothy, God’s faithful people have equipped and invested in the next generation of leaders. In 2 Timothy 1:5 and 2:2, the apostle Paul writes this to Timothy:
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also…And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Throughout the Bible there’s a mindset of generational investing. You see it in the Book of Acts as well. Barnabas invests in Paul; Paul invests in Timothy; Timothy invests in the Ephesians. And even though Timothy leads his own church, Paul continued to mentor Timothy (sometimes from a jail cell!).
Throughout my time in ministry, God prepared me for the future through fellow disciples and mentors along the way. When I served in California, God brought godly businessmen into my life who taught me how to lead organizationally, something I needed more of at the time.
Today, we’re seeing a tidal wave of change. Many faithful EFCA pastors, missionaries and leaders have retired, or are preparing for retirement. If that’s you, I want to say how thankful I am for you and your heart for the Lord. God will reward your endurance in sharing the gospel. But allow me to say this as well: The next generation of leaders still needs you.
Challenges ahead for the next generation
In this present reality and in the days ahead, next-generation leaders face significant challenges. We’ve already seen the political polarization and rapid cultural shifts in our society today and only the Lord knows what things will look like moving forward. Antagonism toward the Bible has risen, with increasing opposition to biblical values. My concern for new leaders ministering amid these sea changes is that they not lead out of anger or fear. We can show them a better way because when we look at Jesus and how He led, He was winsome, wise, courageous, full of grace and full of truth.
I’m confident we’re in good hands. First, because Jesus is on the throne. Second, He’s raising wonderful leaders, pastors and missionaries to fulfill the mission He’s set out for us. Third, He’s helping us identify them through several EFCA ministries, like ReachStudents and APEX, while preparing them through AffinityGroups, EFCA GATEWAY, Prepared, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and EFCA churches intentionally investing in the next generation of leaders through internships, apprenticeships and residencies.
I’m confident we’re in good hands. First, because Jesus is on the throne. Second, He’s raising wonderful leaders, pastors and missionaries to fulfill the mission He’s set out for us.
Many young ministry leaders have already stepped into their calling and are leading right now. They’re not the leaders of the future; they’re leaders now, and they’re using the gifts and strengths God has given them to meet ministry challenges. These young leaders are doing a wonderful job today. Yet, how can we best come alongside them as they move through their ministry journey? How can we continue to build on the gifts they’ve been given and prepare them to lead well?
Foundation for developing leaders
I’ve found the best place to start when coming alongside someone in leadership is a shared respect and care for each other. Training, equipping, encouraging and releasing leaders must be built on trusting relationships and shared values. When you invest in someone, they need to know you care about them and you need to know they care about you. Trust, over time, will build, and your equal commitment to your common values, mission and purpose will reveal itself. These foundational principles create a starting point to a relationship that can lead to true flourishing, strengthening a young leader for the next calling.
Transitioning to new leadership
Yet, how can we intentionally prepare the next generation? Sometimes, the best time to help a new leader is in the transitionary phase of leadership.
When you’re in a relay race, the lead runner doesn’t stop, hand the baton and let the new runner pick up speed again. Instead, they run together in the transition lane before the next leader takes off running. The previous runner eventually stops running but is the next runner’s greatest cheerleader, shouting their name and encouraging them to go.
What you’ve learned through years of ministry isn’t always taught at seminary, because sometimes it’s not always about what you’re taught—it’s about relationship.
To best develop the next generation of leaders, let’s come alongside them, sharing what we’ve learned and then cheer them on when they take off running ahead in ministry. As a senior leader, your experience shepherding churches and people is invaluable. What you’ve learned through years of ministry isn’t always taught at seminary, because sometimes it’s not always about what you’re taught—it’s about relationship.
Early in my first church, there was a lay pastor named Al Jarvinen, who was a retired meat cutter in a supermarket, and he met with me and a handful of men to pray for an hour on Wednesdays. His investment in my heart was exactly what I needed, a senior leader taking the time to demonstrate deep prayer and faith. When a young leader faces an abundance of challenges, a senior leader’s steadfast support and humble posture may be just what that new leader needs.
A shared, beneficial relationship
Let’s remember that developing leaders is not a one-way street. You aren’t the only one carrying the leader to the destination—the new leader plays a significant role in that development, too. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and to develop that relationship, you both will need to work at understanding each other and value what each of you bring to the table.
Expect the next-generation leader you mentor to think differently than you and lean in to understand why. Learn and listen to how they do things and leverage their skills, gifts and perspectives for His glory and mission. In return, that young leader is likely to lean in more to your humble posture and open their ears to learn from you.
The development of the next generation of leaders runs close to my heart. I’m 64 years old and have just been elected to a second term as EFCA President. I want to make it count. Investing in the next generation of leaders is how we boldly move forward to the fulfillment of our mission. It’s how we strengthen EFCA churches. It’s how we extend gospel ministries. It’s because God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for me and for you and for that new leader desperate for another leader to walk alongside them through this broken world, so that others would hear the good news of Jesus. This is our moment. Let’s make it count, together.