I’ll never forget riding home from a weekend leadership event with my youth pastor. It was 1983 and I was bouncing along in the church van looking at the back of his head as the miles clicked off in the middle of the night thinking ”someday I want to be like that guy.” Little did I know that seminal moment as a goofy 13 year old would shape the trajectory of my life.
I don’t remember the theme, the games, if there was music, where we ate, or what we even did. But I remember every detail of the moment when he looked at me and said, “I see ministry in you.” Call it a calling, call it influence, call it what you want, but I never looked back after that comment from him. I stepped into whatever volunteer and leadership roles that I could at the local church. That moment would propel me into the next 3 decades til today.
My youth pastor intuitively knew what the people I’m around and I have come to live and breathe just about every day: finding the next generation of church leadership is on us. Those of us in influential roles at the local church level have to identify the ones who have the potential to be the next generation of influencers. Carey Nieuwhof said it best recently on our campus that “the Church needs more influential entrepreneurs and not just pastors.” These traits begin early in life.
It is true that we must teach, train, educate, and coach new leaders in radically different ways for the future health of the church. We are tweaking it all, but we have to start with a different type of raw material to wind up with a different result.
What does an entrepreneurial influencer look like in 8th grade or 11th grade or as a 24 year-old? Those of us in leadership at the local church have to find these key moments to look them in the eye and say “I see ministry in you.”
I guess I went all-in back in ’92 when I first sat in the balcony of the Lakeside Auditorium and heard Hybles say “the church is the hope of the world and nothing can transform communities like the church when it is lead well.”
I’m still all in.
My youth pastor didn’t take all one hundred of us on a leadership retreat. He tapped the short list. He looked beyond our awkwardness. There were probably sure-bets that didn’t pan out, and long-shots that turned out awesome, but he was the mouth-piece of God into my life.
Thirty years later, I always carry a name in my wallet of a student that I’m praying would answer the call. I get these names from current church leaders. They know best. We know who can recognize future ministry material. It’s youth pastors like the one I was blessed to grow up under, and it’s campus ministry, and next generation leaders.
“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to the fields.” From my perspective of where I’m embedded in the Kingdom leadership pipeline, the fields have never been whiter.