“Back in my day, we used to walk to school – up hill, both ways, in the snow!” This was a common heavy-handed response to let someone know they don’t have it that bad. Essentially it’s a shot at a “softer generation.” The funny thing about that statement is that I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, which gets about 3.8” of snowfall a year and the average winter temperature is 43 degrees!
When dealing with generational leadership issues, however, “your generation doesn’t have it as bad as our generation” sentiment is a stale approach to leading up the next generation. And the truth is, no matter the generation you’re in, the next generation is the future. We should look to equip and encourage, instead of “toughen up” and ridicule. The next generation has a lot to handle that many of us didn’t. There’s a significant identity crisis, a mental health crisis and a post-COVID world to navigate. Technology has made division and dissension prevalent in nearly every circle we reside. We can feel more isolated than connected, despite having the world at our fingertips.
The next generation is our future – filled with future lawyers, doctors, politicians, teachers, pastors, missionaries, and more. Our future, our kids future, our grandkids’ future is in their hands. So instead of telling them how easy they have it, we would be wise to equip them to lead in ways that will advance the kingdom of God in our cities!
For an immediate impact, I see three ways you can lead the next generation today.
1. Give them community
When we engage with the next generation in our communities, one of the most endearing things we can provide them is real, genuine, authentic community. When they come through our doors, whether at home or church, make them feel like they belong. Make them feel seen. Use them in our illustrations, have a space for them to belong and help create community for them to exist in.
The next generation has the ability to connect with the world in a way many other generations did not, but instead of creating a “community,” that can actually create isolation. The next generation could be connected, and at the same time feel lonely, because there’s no face-to-face, personal interaction. Studies are showing that promiscuity is down in the next generation, but not for the reasons we’d love to celebrate. Promiscuity is not down based on choices, but because the next generation (due to technology) doesn’t engage in community in the same way previous generations did.
Create avenues to simply build relationships within your church. Game nights, hangouts, sports leagues or mentoring relationships can foster community for the next generation.
2. Give them access
The next generation respects you. The next generation thinks you’re a great leader. The next generation desires to lead the way you do. The next generation, though, has no idea how to tell you that and no idea how you’re leading the way you are. For those conversations to happen and transformation to begin, you have to give them access. As I think about leading others, I love the model Jesus showed us in Scripture. Jesus walked with the disciples consistently in everyday life. He didn’t just tell them about what he was doing, but he walked with them as he handled everyday leadership. He performed miracles, taught, healed and so much more with the disciples by his side. They had access.
If you’re going to lead the next generation, take them to meetings! Budget to bring them with you as you lead. Invite them in to listen, engage and even to give post-meeting feedback. I recently had a doctor’s appointment where a resident walked alongside the doctor through the whole appointment. The resident didn’t say anything, but was watching and learning. The resident had access to what the doctor was doing. Then after they left me, I heard them discussing the appointment in the hallway. The resident grew that day in their leadership and understanding of what it took to be a doctor.
We have the next generation of missional leaders in our communities, and if we want and desire to see God do a great work through them, we should give them access at every level of our current leadership!
3. Give them empowerment
Empowerment is the authority of power given to someone to do something. Notice that empowerment isn’t the authority to ask if it’s OK or to walk alongside of someone else that is doing it. Empowerment is giving over the authority to do something on their own. Oftentimes when I hear of empowering the next generation, it’s simply letting them in on the decision-making process or involving them with a ton of guidance and direction. That’s not empowerment.
To empower the next generation, we must allow them to walk through the decision-making process on their own. That may lead to success or failure in what we’re allowing them to do. We can’t micromanage or make decisions for them. We must give them the ability to lead from start to finish, because one day they’ll be leading everything from start to finish. We often avoid this because we’re more worried about “success” and our own image – which means our own identity is not in its proper place. As you give the next generation genuine leadership and empowerment, your church will see that as success, instead of what and how something is accomplished. Don’t give away low-attendance Sunday for the youth Director to preach while you’re out of town. Instead let your church see you giving ownership over a “regular” Sunday while they teach and you are present and engaged.
Find easy on-ramps for the next generation to lead out. Give them total control over the setup of an event. Let them lead out in a Next Steps class or assimilating visitors into the life of the church!
The next generation will not lead out in the way God has planned for them just because your generation subjectively had it “harder.” That is not a motivation for them to lead where God has called them to lead. And you, as a leader, can’t determine or demand your preferred future. Your role is to help a community define its future, then hold that vision of the preferred future in front of the next generation so they can refine, align and utilize their present activity toward reaching that future.
As you engage with the next generation, hold community, access and empowerment at the forefront so we can all see the preferred future we feel God calling us to experience!
Published April 19, 2023