Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Challenges in Developing Leaders, Part 1

Our summer programs are going, our pastors are raising funds for the coming year, and we are prepping to bring on new apprentices and host our own Texas SICM in August. It's a pretty standard summer, and we are anticipating things getting back to normal on our campuses this fall!

In the meantime, I'd like to share some reflections on what I see as one of the most important parts of my role in FOCUS: developing young leaders. A lot of good happens just by empowering young people (who have already been gifted and empowered by God's Spirit) to go out and minister to their peers. But there are also a lot of difficulties along the way. The first I want to reflect on are the difficulties caused by the way they see themselves

First off, so many young Christians coming out of churches, even churches with vibrant youth ministries, do not see themselves as leaders and have been given little opportunity to lead in the church. To them, Christian leadership is about expertise and knowledge. They don't feel like they know enough to lead their peers. I think the disconnect is that so many of our ministers receive their training but forget their true calling as leaders in the church--"to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Eph 4:12). Too often ministry is only a matter for professionals. Even on my pastoral staff, I often hear people wanting, as a first step, to refer students to professional counselors. 

There is absolutely a place for extensive training and professionalism (especially for specialized needs), but that place is not making the members of the church into spectators rather than active ministers using their gifts to build others up. When we do empower others, we often provide very little training or higher-level development, or we simply hand out material and say "if you can read, you can lead." Reading the questions aloud in a small group is a very limited form of leadership. Few skills are being developed and very little pastoral thinking is happening. To grow, we have to do things we are not already good at. And to do things we are not already good at, we need someone to tell us that we could be good at them (and not lie to us about being good enough already).

As a leader with more years of experience, I can offer these young people perspective. I've seen people with their same level of skills and knowledge lead in powerful ways, and grow in the process! I've seen people who might not look like our cultural stereotypes of leadership bless people powerfully and move organizations significantly through their leadership. I get to share those stories and invite people into greater responsibility. I get to tell them I see them as a leader even if they don't yet see it in themselves.

Another area of how people see themselves that gets in the way is our understanding of our personalities. We are obsessed with personality tests! Now, I enjoy and use them as well, but here's the danger--we think they tell actually us something about ourselves. But as Brady Bobbink put it, "No, we tell the test something and it just tells us back." Garbage in means garbage out. There are things that I think I'm not good at or don't like that I've actually never really tried. There are things about my self-perception that hold me back. And when a test enshrines that (incomplete) information on paper, I assume it MUST be true. Sometimes as a leader, I get to share the things about another leader that they have not yet seen in themselves.

As Christians, my call is not to become the best version of an Enneagram 8 that I can be, or to fully live out my Myers-Briggs personality type--it's to become like Jesus! I can find out my strengths from the Strengthsfinder assessment, but that doesn't mean I can't learn new skills, and it doesn't mean that God won't have me minister in my areas of weakness, even if it's not fun! As much as God loves me, I don't think anything in the scriptures communicates that his highest priority is me having fun at all times. :)

Jesus ministered in both strength and weakness. He came in power and amazed people with what he could do, but it could be argued that his most important ministry was done at his weakest, on the cross. I know the cross has changed me personally a lot more than the fact that he walked on water or won arguments with teachers of the law.

When Paul was defending himself against the "Super-apostles" in 2 Corinthians 11, notice the defense he gives. He doesn't tell about all the churches he planted, the letters he wrote, the people he converted. Instead, he boasts in his weakness:

Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

God wants to use each of us, and as Paul says in the next chapter, God's grace is sufficient and is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:1-10). Weak or strong, God calls each of us to bless others. Skilled or unskilled, God calls each of us to lead, at least by example. Regardless of how much we know, we can all share the stories of what God has done and is doing in our lives.

One of my favorite things about campus ministry is that I get to invite students into leadership and then equip them and support them and help them clean up the messes they inevitably make. God seems to be okay with such messes. They are where his glory shines brighter than ours.

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