the shape of leadership

Give Young Leaders the Support They Need to Succeed

Strategies for recruiting and keeping youthful team members

Chris Railey on April 13, 2018


Attracting and keeping good, young ministers and team members is vital to the continued health of your church. We need the next generation as much as they need us. If we want our churches to continue on after we’ve gone, we have to take steps now to make sure there will be leaders ready to take the reins.

They can be hard to find, though. It may take changing a few things you currently do, either big or small. But look at those changes as an investment in the future. Prioritizing good, young team members means you are preparing your church for future growth, not just this month or this year, but for years to come.

I’m afraid that many churches today do not provide the atmosphere young leaders are searching for to grow. They can be too confining or downright toxic in some cases. This is nothing new.

Paul warned Timothy not to let others despise his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). That tells me there was a portion of Timothy’s audience who thought he wasn’t old enough to lead, creating a negative environment that restricted health and growth.

Here are a few ways you can create a positive environment for young leaders to thrive. By no means is this exhaustive, but it should give you a head start.

Give Space but Stay Close

Young leaders need room to grow, to explore and to expand their own skills and influence. You could use the illustration of a potted plant. As the plant grows, you have to move it to bigger and bigger pots or else its growth will be stunted.

By giving young leaders space, you give them room to fail but also to excel. One way to do this is by allowing them to define their own job requirements or performance expectations.

But they also need you to stay close to them. While enjoying freedom to explore their own abilities is great, they also crave guidance. As a leader of leaders, you need to stay close to them to make sure they have what they need from you. And part of that is letting them know when they’ve strayed too far.

Ask the Right Questions

Influential leaders are curious. They ask good questions constantly, admitting they don’t know it all. And in asking your young leaders those questions, you can leverage their unique perspective and expertise.

But you also need to ask in the right way. Older leaders are used to working with more experienced ministers and team members. That means you get right to the point. They’re used to your specific leadership style. They know the difference between a direct question and a disciplining question.

So, ask questions of your young leaders in the right way with the right amount of grace.

Hold on to Them Loosely

Good, young leaders want to lead. That means they may be looking to leave. Be open about what you want from them. Value who they are now, but also who they will be.

Value who they are now, but also who they will be.

I’ve seen some older leaders try to hang onto younger team members through manipulation. Don’t underpay a team member just because they’re young. Reward them for their contributions. And never hold a salary over a staff person’s head as incentive to stay.

Give your good, young leaders a reason to stay. Be open and honest about their future prospects in your church, and address the succession that needs to happen eventually. If they do leave, celebrate all they’ve meant to you while they were there.

Give What They Value

Find what they love, and work toward it. This does not mean you shift your mission or vision, just your values. And that does not mean your core values, but the secondary ones. In order to fulfill your vision, you’ll need both core values, principles that are nonnegotiable, and moving values that address the changing climate inside and outside your church.

For example, young people may value being active on social media more than you do. Is your church engaging as it should? Or they may want more interaction between staff members and teams. How are you helping them feel they’re valued by respecting their values?

Speak Clearly and Speak Often

In the early days working with younger staff members, don’t be afraid to over-explain everything. Leave no doubt about what you expect from them. They may also need more feedback than older, more experienced team members do.

There is a difference between a lack of experience and a lack of maturity. Young leaders can make mistakes because they honestly didn’t know, or they can fail time and again because of character lapses. Speaking to them often can help you decide which is the case.

Set High Expectations

Good, young leaders want to do a good job. Don’t be afraid to let them swing for the fences. Harness their energy and youth right away. But also provide them a soft landing. The higher the expectation, the harder the fall if they miss it. And too many hard landings can be discouraging.

Reinforce the values you see in them, but never lower your expectations of what they can produce.

Take Time to Celebrate

Young leaders need to know that you saw what they did, and you appreciate it. They’re not just looking for affirmation; they’re seeking guidance. They see you as someone who has been there, done that before. They want to know whether you approve of them because they want to emulate you.

But they also need to learn to be self-motivated. Celebrate the large wins externally and regularly but show them how to keep going with smaller-scale victories internally. Celebration done correctly, both outward and inward, is one great way to produce resilience in younger team members.

Our mission will never change, but how we get there has. It will take good young leaders to help us see the way. A church that appreciates the contributions of youth will be positioned better for the future.

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