the shape of leadership

Unleashing the Potential in Young Leaders

Four ways to create a better partnership between generations

Alan Pastian on February 21, 2018

Stop making fun of millennials. There, I said it.

People have maligned millennials as snowflakes, hipsters, safe spacers and crybabies. The older generation has said 20-somethings are lazy, narcissistic and entitled.

Of course, the older generation is not free from ridicule either. Millennials tend to perceive those older than them as out of touch, unable to listen, set in their ways and judgmental. God wants a strong partnership between young and old.

Unfortunately, many older leaders with good intentions do not know how to harness the energy of millennials and unleash the potential in these young leaders.

One of the greatest generational tragedies in the Bible is when Solomon dies, and his son Rehoboam prepares to take over the Kingdom. This is his moment to lead, to inspire, and be someone who has the platform and the presence to bring a nation together under new political power.

Rehoboam consults the older leaders who served his father, Solomon, and his grandfather, David. Yet he ultimately fails to benefit from their counsel. In 1 Kings 12:8, we learn that “Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.”

The young king, set up for leadership, poised to lead the next generation into triumph, chose to disregard the advice of the older generation. This led to a divided kingdom. As you read on, the members of the older generation separated themselves, and those of the younger generation applauded themselves. The result was a nation that never came back together.

A lack of understanding between generations leads to frustration, discouragement and disunity. It can also stir up feelings of resentment toward the Church. So how can we create a better partnership between generations?

Cultivate Reverse Mentoring

Millennials are growing up with access to a volume of information unprecedented in history. Ask them about what they value and how they think about cultural topics, and don’t freak out when you hear perspectives that differ from your own.

Millennials are cultural landscape experts. Try collecting and using that information to build sermons, drive community life discussions, and examine new ideas on how things could and should work.

As a young man, David told Saul the older king’s armor didn’t work for David’s battles (1 Samuel 17:39). I’m sure it never crossed Saul’s mind that a slingshot could defeat an army. Saul got mentored in “Slingshot 101,” and maybe we should too.

Let the younger men and women among you try out their armor and see what they can do. When they challenge your armor, let them take up the slingshot. They might be the leaders you’ve been waiting for.

Give Them Permission to Fail

Millennials will fail. They don’t have the life experience or the maturity of the older generation. But it’s a mistake for older leaders to withhold ministry responsibilities from them, giving them mundane tasks until they earn their stripes.

Be a father or mother to young leaders in a fatherless and motherless generation.

This generation wants to make a difference now, and waiting years for a chance to serve takes incredible patience. Unfortunately, some millennials won’t stick around.

So, give them a seat at the table to contribute to decisions. If they make a mistake, give them permission to fail forward, and help them get up and go at it again. Try to be less dismissive and more developmental. People were patient with you, so be patient with them.

Leverage Their Passion for Personal Mission

Millennials are not as interested in climbing ladders as making a difference. Give them a calling rather than a career. Give them purpose to manage instead of portfolios to manage.

Cause is important. Tie in compassion and justice to their everyday work. Find creative opportunities to partner with your missions organizations. Have millennials create awareness campaigns for causes tied to your global projects.

Inspire your millennials to build bridges with local needs (backpack drives, food donation opportunities, etc.). It may not fit as easily in your missions box, but you are creating an opportunity for your church to be seen and heard.

Give Them Reasons to Stay with You for the Long Haul

In recent years, some have criticized millennials for their job hopping. Become the leader they never want to leave. Start by setting an example; millennials want role models they can trust. Many parental, political, spiritual, athletic and entertainment role models have let them down. Choose to be one of the few they can look up to.

Younger leaders are hungry for mentoring and discipleship. So, build it into your organizational environment. Create a monthly mentorship group at a coffee shop with you and your younger staff. Give them office hours to talk about whatever they need to discuss (both work or non-work-related issues).

Create a family environment with those you lead by having dinners together as a staff, with no work talk allowed.

Be a father or mother to young leaders in a fatherless and motherless generation; after all, they probably have plenty of instructors (1 Corinthians 4:15). Stop complaining about the person you wish they would be, and start being the person they hoped you would be.

Consider the words of Psalm 145:4-6: “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty — and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works — and I will proclaim your great deeds.”

Let’s tell this next generation who God is and who they can be in Christ. Let’s refuse to dismiss these young men and women and choose to bring them into our circles of influence, working with millennials to help them become the next generation leading the world closer to Jesus.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 edition of Influence magazine.

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