When leading young adults, we sometimes find their lives to be too scary or unclean for the general populations of our churches to be exposed to. They forget things, they cuss, they over-commit, they listen to strange music, they make out with each other, they’ve grown up in church and still don’t seem to understand the Gospel, etc… Thus we either attempt to filter or all together hide them from the masses. Yet when we endeavor to see young people develop as leaders in our particular contexts, we have to cross these lines. The clean-cut people in the pews will eventually be exposed to our ministries and the mixed bag of people who comprise them. None of this means to overlook or forget about the young people who lead their lives as followers of Christ and seek to emulate His character. It is simply meant to clarify that character and lifestyle are often big issues for the people in this life stage.
I think that one of the many mistakes I’ve often made is asking a young adult to lead simply because they demonstrate competency. What I’m learning now is that there may be other qualities which are of greater value; character being one of them. Someone recently told me, “You can train for competency.” If a young person’s character is on the right track, then competency is a wonderful blessing. However if their character is somehow off track, then no amount of competency will compensate. Eventually something will have to give. Sometimes it is a moral failure, sometimes it becomes abundantly clear to others that this person simply isn’t ready to lead.
Stepping into a leadership role is an opportunity for growth, but there is some growth that must be there already. Though we all know that this does not imply perfection of any sort, there must be some sort of foundational discipleship. They must be responding to the Gospel and the Spirit. I have witnessed and participated in situations where a young adult whose character was not on track was asked to participate in leadership for the sake of their growth. It didn’t take long for these situations to become problematic and both I and others have learned some valuable lessons from these. I think that ultimately we do these people, not to mention those whom we’re asking them to lead, a disservice by not addressing their character before putting them into these positions.
But again, we aren’t looking for perfect people. There may be times to custom fit a small, entry-level or less-consequential position of leadership to a young person’s life. There are also other opportunities for us to invite them into positions of service, before they enter into leadership. Getting them doing something in a non-leadership ministry position, hopefully as they are discipled by you or another leader, can be a great time to start them on the growth they need. At the same time, we cannot afford to assume that they are all lacking here. Ultimately we gauge these things in the context of our relationships with them.
Jesus knows their potential in the same way that he knew yours and mine when we were in their shoes. He sees them now as he saw us then. They are his precious children who, with repentance and submission, will be transformed into his likeness and released for the building of his kingdom. I’m trying to remember this perspective as I also struggle to know how to develop them into leaders.