Jesus focused on a small group of twelve disciples, and the rest is history.

By Larry Kreider

Jesus took twelve young untrained men (Mark 3:14) and fathered them for three and a half years. His model worked, and is one we can follow today. Jesus focused most of His time on this small group of twelve disciples, and the rest is history. Training and releasing younger leaders is a key for effective kingdom expansion in our day, also. We will do well to follow the example of Jesus.

Deryl Hurst, a DOVE International lead elder from DOVE Westgate Church in Ephrata, PA says, “It is critical that older, more experienced church fathers and mothers are active in raising up a new generation of leaders. Young leaders bring fresh, new ideas that the church desperately needs in order to stay current and relevant. It has often been said that the church is one generation away from extinction if we are not taking the initiative to bring in younger leaders.

“We need to always have our eye on young people who show initiative and promise. We can call out and affirm the gifts we see in them and give them opportunities to exercise those gifts. Undoubtedly this will result in some less-than-stellar performances and perhaps some outright failures, but we should be ready and willing to deal with these, all the while keeping the larger goal of leadership development in mind.”

Deryl emphasizes, “Installing younger leaders in the local church makes younger attendees feel more valued and attracts more young people, which also attracts young families.”

When asked if he receives any resistance from older congregational members when taking this approach, his calculated response was, “There are times older persons push back when we give young people high levels of leadership responsibility. But Paul the apostle gave a very young Timothy oversight responsibility for one of the most important New Testament churches and then said others should not look down on him because of his youthfulness. The solution is to keep casting the vision of raising up the younger generation of leaders until it is understood and embraced.”

It is time for the church to take up the mantle of spiritual parenting. The church will only realize the potential of spiritual parenting if elders set the pace.

Next Generation Leaders Speak Out

What is it like to be a young leader? How does a young leader feel when giving leadership to older persons? Do some in the church question youthful leadership? These are just a few of the questions we asked a group of young leaders in the DOVE family. What they revealed is so valuable. We trust their input will help you release, take a chance on, and give opportunities to the next generation of leaders around you.

The youngest local church elder within the DOVE family was just twenty-three years of age when he began. Now, at the ripe, older age of thirty, he explained, “I questioned my own qualifications, but at the same time felt so honored to be considered for the role of an elder at such a young age. After seven years of serving as an elder, I have had the opportunity to walk with and learn from others in so many different circumstances. I recognized I was bringing a new view toward the challenges we were facing as a local church. Once I got beyond the idea of ‘being an elder,’ God gave me peace, strength and wisdom that went beyond my years.”

Another young assistant lead elder who began in this role at age twenty-three said, “The Bible gives qualifications for elders, and age is not one of them. Elder teams would benefit from having diverse age groups on their teams that allow for feedback from the next generation. And, serving with older, more seasoned leaders expedites a young leader’s personal growth process.”

Most young leaders do not feel ready to serve in a primary leadership capacity like local church government, but the Bible explains how David was also seen to be too young to fight Goliath. Despite the objections, he handled Goliath very successfully. The key? The Lord was with him and he knew he was called to that task. One young leader told us, “My wife and I knew God was calling us and knew He would be with us every step of the way.”

“Mentorship is vital for a young leader as he or she is being equipped,” one local church leader shared. “As younger leaders, we have less ‘head trash.’ That is, a young leader doesn’t have the mindset of ‘here we go again’ and can approach each situation with a fresh viewpoint.”

We need to see potential in the young men and young women in our lives. We need to believe in them and express our confidence directly to them. One young leader told us he did not see his own potential for primary leadership until a gentleman in his late fifties looked directly at him and said, “Josh, I could see you leading your own church one day.” What was Josh’s first thought? “I thought that if I pursued anything like that, people would think I was arrogant and rebellious.” But Josh also knew he was a leader and had a passion for making disciples. His wife knew they were “pioneers and had a proven devotion that would keep them going when others would quit.”

Investing in young leaders takes time and our finances. We should strategize and also do some research to come up with an intentional plan for mentoring and training. For example, is there a leadership school to attend? A mentor to connect with? An area of responsibility they can take that will develop the leadership gift? Hundreds of young leaders in the DOVE family and beyond have been trained through the DOVE Leadership and Ministry School both in a classroom setting and the on-line school.

Sometimes the team of elders in a local church is made up of individuals in a similar age group. That makes it even more important for elders on the team to continually mentor younger leaders. These younger Christians may look and act differently than the elder team, but these are the very ones the team should be listening to.

Is every young person called to a position of primary leadership? Obviously not. But young leaders will attract other young leaders. Young leaders are more likely to be open to change. One elder put it this way, “Our team of leaders are age thirty-three or younger. There is so much we don’t know, but we do know we are the right leaders for this season and are doing the best we can to honor God with what we have even as we seek Him about the unknown.”

Paul the apostle told his young protégé Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (I Timothy 4:12)

Releasing Spiritual Sons and Daughters

Mature natural and spiritual fathers and mothers always release their children to step out and try new things. They protect them but also allow them to make mistakes.

Similarly, secure church leaders have the opportunity and glory of seeing their spiritual sons and daughters develop as leaders and succeed. True pastors and elders are experienced and mature leaders who mentor, coach, train, support, correct, trust, and believe in younger leaders. Their fathering and mothering gives the younger leaders a great sense of protection and confidence to pursue the call of God on their lives.

Small group ministry is an ideal structure for spiritual parenting and for training leaders of all ages in our churches. This is one reason why it is important for church elders to have successfully led and multiplied a small group before being appointed as an elder. The small group is a spiritual family. It is the perfect training ground for future elders and pastors. The small group leader and assistant leaders are spiritual parents. Parents take responsibility for their children and young men and women. They have a heart of compassion for them.

Do you remember the spiritual parents in your life? Consider calling them or sending them a note of appreciation. Let them know where you are today because of their role in your life. They will be blessed and encouraged.

Taken from the book The Biblical Role of Elders for Today’s Church. Check it out here