3 Reasons Some Churches Struggle to Empower Younger Leaders

Intuitively church folks know that their churches must empower younger leaders. Simply stated, if a church fails to engage new generations, the church will eventually die. Yet while people know a church must empower younger leaders, some churches struggle to do so. They struggle to hand significant responsibility to younger leaders, to empower younger leaders to launch new initiatives, and to joyfully allow themselves to be led by a new generation. In churches that struggle to empower younger leaders, these three cultural realities exist:

1. The familiar trumps the unknown.

Empowering younger leaders may mean that things will look and feel different. Younger leaders may make different decisions and approach things differently. So empowering younger leaders introduces some unknown variables, and in churches that struggle to empower younger leaders, the unknown is too risky. What if we don’t like it? So the familiar, even if it is a familiar that fails to engage new leaders, is preferred.

2. Position trumps influence.

To empower younger leaders, older leaders need to make room at decision-making tables. To empower younger leaders, older leaders need to give up positions so younger leaders can have them. In this season, older leaders are necessary and have significant influence on wise younger leaders who long for their counsel. But only older leaders who are humble are willing to enjoy the influence without the position. Older leaders who need a position to retain their identity squelch the empowerment of new leaders. In churches that struggle to empower younger leaders, there are older leaders fighting to retain positions.

3. Excellence trumps development

Many churches face tension between two commonly held values: leadership development and excellence. They preach that every believer has a ministry in the church and a mission in the world while also championing the value of excellence—offering their best to God. Great! But while both values can exist, beneath the surface they sometimes collide. For example, a children’s Sunday School teacher is challenged to find an apprentice to invest in. He does but hesitates handing the lesson to a younger leader because “it may not be excellent enough.” The small groups director, though she talks about development often, has never handed the microphone to someone else during the quarterly training meetings because she has “worked hard all week to make sure this meeting is the best ever.” Without realizing it, the longing for excellence can steal attention from development as part of development is handing responsibilities to others and letting the work of ministry develop them.

Can churches still have the familiar? Indeed. The familiar that is rooted in Scripture must be cherished and defended. But the familiar that is rooted in preferences must not be treasured more than raising up new leaders.

Can older leaders stay in leadership positions? Of course. But influencing and empowering leaders, including young leaders, must be more important.

Can excellence and leadership development exist in a culture? Absolutely. We can offer our best to Him and develop leaders. From an overarching vantage point, we can do both. But when the two values collide, development must win.