March 13, 2012

Raising Young Leaders


Any organization that wants to succeed will advocate for raising up leaders within their structures. Whether for volunteers or for staffed positions the importance of raising up leaders cannot be overstressed. This is important for any organization but is not always easy. Sometimes the difficulties arise from the people that you are trying to raise up to become leaders but on the other end it seems that many leaders just don’t know how to reproduce themselves. As a developing and growing young leader I find that it’s important for older leaders to prepare themselves for training up young leaders whether those young men and women are available or not. With that being said I wanted to give some tips for older leaders to use when raising up young leaders, like myself.

Don’t Assume Young Leaders Want Your Job

What appears to be one of the biggest hurdles for some older leaders to get over when training up young leaders is the fear that their young apprentices want to sneak in and take their job. The practice of training up young leaders sometimes seems to take on the storyline of a rich couple’s troubled marriage where the wife is afraid that the husband is going to trade her in for a newer, younger model. The older leader is represented by the wife, the apprentice is the newer, younger model and the church or elders are the husband.

Overall, the problem with this scenario is that it assumes that every young leader is selfish in their pursuits to oust the mentor and secondly, which is probably the bigger misstep in this scenario, it assumes that the trainee even wants to become the leader of that particular organization. There is always the chance that a young leader could be exactly what your organization needs but this shouldn’t be an issue as an older leader because as a leader your primary responsibility as said leader is to your organization and therefore, if the younger leader turns out to be a good fit then you did exactly what you were supposed to. On the other end, most young leaders don’t desire to replace you, they just want to learn so they can be sent out from you to lead another organization.

Outside Perspectives Are Healthy

Steve Sample, in his book The Contrarians Guide to Leadership, tells leaders that they need to learn to “think in the gray.” Part of what he means by “gray” is simply making sure that you take in all the information you can before making a decision which often means not operating in the black or white but maintaining a position in the gray until you have to move to the other options.

One of the important things as a leader is to recognize that other perspectives are healthy, they give information that you may not have gathered on your own. Thoughts or suggestions coming from a young leader are coming from a lens that you, yourself, do not look through, therefore take them to heart and evaluate them. This does not mean that you will utilize every suggestion or idea that is brought to you but that you will sincerely consider the information presented.

Ideas From Young Leaders Do Not Stem from Cynicism

This is directly related to the previous note. Older leaders often feel that ideas and suggestions that come from young leaders are in some way arising from the cynicism that the apprentice feels regarding the way the organization is being run. This isn’t true. However, if you disregard the ideas from your young leaders then ultimately this will lead to cynicism. So to avoid that problem altogether, practice the previous note.

Own Your Failures

Church leadership has taken on the personality of politics within our country. Everything is hidden within positive spins and only at the very lowest moment, after denying any failures, do leaders own up to a particular failure. Now, this isn’t referring to moral failures but rather organizational failures. One of the most vital thing for all leaders to learn is that they must learn from their failures, but if a mentor is not willing to acknowledge when his own ideas and strategies have failed then the apprentice merely learns that as a leader you do not acknowledge failure.

If the young leader is perceptive enough to avoid learning that particular mentality they will most definitely be affected by their own developing criticism of your leadership. Rather than trying to spin your organization's failures in a positive light, own them. Admit that something didn’t work and that you are looking to grow from it and move on. This will build credibility within your organization and also raise up these new young leaders to do the same and maintain the same integrity.

Allow Young Leaders to Cut Their Teeth

“Protect the stage.” That was what one leader once told me. He believed that only the most polished and excellent performers, preachers, and speakers should grace the stage of his church. The problem with this perspective is that it does not develop young leaders or provide a place for them to cut their teeth and grow. People are well aware that when a young leader is taking the stage early on in their career that most likely it will not be polished and there will be room for improvement. In knowing that, they look for the positive aspects of the message and let go of any flaws that might present themselves.

In addition, a young leader needs to be given opportunities to adapt to different contexts and if you keep them pinned down in one area they will not be prepared for the varied audiences or situations that may come up. Don’t be afraid to allow a young leader to fail. That is part of their development and a couple of minor failures by a young leader will not destroy your organization.

Over the past almost decade of ministry these are the areas that have stuck out to me as tension points between older and younger leaders. I hope that they will be helpful as we move towards raising up leaders for a successful organization.

Ryan Reed is a graduate of Fuller Seminary and currently resides in Washington with his wife and dog. He writes at

Originally Published: March 13, 2012
Category: Church Leadership
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