Expanding the Role of Young Leaders in the Church

“Youth are the church of tomorrow.” This statement has always bothered me. I believe it shows a very limiting and minimizing perspective of the value of youth contributions to God’s Kingdom. While I do not disagree with the premise that youth and children play a significant role in the future of the church, I would argue that they are also of critical importance to the church of today. In my ministry setting, I have been amazed at the heart and passion that exists within the young leaders of my church and district. I have quickly learned that there is no age requirement for being a disciple of Christ or a leader in the church.

There are, in our churches and on our districts, young leaders who want a seat at the table in order to work for the Kingdom of God and who are searching for opportunities to learn, grow, and serve.

These young leaders do not want to be told to wait or that their time will come; they want to be a part of the church and a part of what God is doing in their communities now. We must…

Recognize Young Leaders for the Leaders They Are

Young leaders are not youth or young adults who want to be leaders; they are leaders now. It is imperative that we allow these Christ-followers a voice at the table and a chance to exercise and use the gifts that God has given them in service to the Kingdom of God. I have heard stories and testimonies of youth planting churches, leading worship, taking on the role of treasurer in a church, and contributing leadership in many other ways. I have come to the realization that when people are given the opportunity to lead, they step up and lead.

The obvious starting point to this process is in providing real leadership opportunities to our young people. Within my own ministry setting, I have witnessed young leaders taking on bigger and more prominent roles on our worship team, in vision casting, and in outreach activities. Through the support of the church family, these young leaders are growing in service to the Kingdom. There has been a marked shift in perception and perspective as well – the church young people are attending is not just their parents’ church anymore; it is their church. It is where they serve the Lord. They are contributing and by doing so, their sense of ownership and responsibility deepens.

These young leaders do not just serve in youth or children’s ministries, they serve in all kinds of different ministries in the church. I recall as a youth that I struggled with the labels that were placed on everyone, and I remember that I did not want to be known as the “junior” leader but simply as a leader. It was important to me that we did not just have a “youth band” but that we were involved in a “real“ worship band. I appreciated when our contribution was acknowledged rather than minimized.

Listen and Help as Opposed to Telling and Ordering

In finding ways to support and encourage young leaders, I have discovered that these leaders want to be listened to and guided rather than told or ordered what to do. Young leaders in my church and on my district are discovering new and unique ways to be Christ’s hands and feet in their communities. By listening to their vision, their calling, and their hopes and dreams, I have been inspired by their passion. As leaders, they want to lead, and they have great ideas and plans as to how to do just that.

In asking young leaders around me how I can help and encourage them, very rarely, if ever, have I heard them say, “Tell me what to do!” Instead, I have heard that they want prayer, support, and guidance.

Recently, I have made an effort to really listen to what they want to do and then offer guidance. We need to remember that by seeking to accomplish their own goals for building the Kingdom, young adults are not denying the experience and wisdom of other leaders. They simply desire the guidance of an open-minded mentor in achieving their own goals. God has been doing amazing things through the vision and work of young leaders in our church who have begun a high school Christian group, are putting on a Youth Alpha program, and who are exploring offering a second worship service. 

See Age as a Benefit as Opposed to a Hinderance

Recently, a few young leaders in my church began a Youth Alpha program at our local high school. Through efforts made to seek prayer support for this activity, a few people inquired about how we were able to get permission from the school to do this ministry. My answer– the youth! As an adult and pastor, I would not have been able to accomplish this; however, the young leaders of my church saw an opportunity and used it to begin this ministry. As students of the high school, they were able to begin a club and promote it. This is an amazing example of the age of our young leaders being of benefit to God’s work in our community. Beyond that, the young leaders of my church have been valuable in sharing ministry needs and opportunities in our community, especially those having a direct impact on youth and young adults. They are on the front lines of knowing the culture and what is going on in the school and on the sports fields. They understand where the church can help fill needs and share the Good News.

 Value and Appreciate our Young Leaders

This is perhaps the most important aspect concerning our youth today. We must recognize and value all the leaders in our churches, no matter their age or experience. Welcome young leaders to be a part of the church today. Welcome young leaders to take part in leadership development opportunities. Include them when seeking a vision for your church activities. Give recognition for their contributions to ministry. Celebrate young leaders and provide them with prayer and support.

Do not relegate our young leaders to the B-Team of church ministry, but make it a priority to invest in and work together with our young leaders to see lost souls saved and lives transformed.

Andrew Barker