Why the Church Needs to Raise Up Young Leaders
By Emily Smith
The first time I led a children’s program I was petrified. The task was colossal: design a two-month summer curriculum for children. Not only were there themes, crafts, and Bible stories to create, but there were also leaders to hire, volunteers to inspire, and children to love. I had never led such a large ministry, and I felt entirely unfit to oversee children. Yet here I was. Why did I take this risk? The answer is my church.
My favorite story on leadership is John 13:1-20, when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. This beautiful example of humility reveals an understanding of leadership and power that is a stark contrast to the view our world holds. These verses show us a leader who did not hoard power but instead gave it away. As he had done throughout his ministry, Jesus modeled a rare form of love: servant leadership.
Jesus’ actions are a call both to the church and to young leaders. For the church, it is a call to humbly give away responsibility. Giving up control is not easy, especially when the stakes are high and everyone is invested in the outcome. Nevertheless, it is well worth the risk to say yes to a young adult who is interested in taking on leadership.
When you take this kind of step, you are recognizing the worth and value of young people. This is a wonderful gift. Millennials have experienced more divorce than the generations before them. Not only has the nuclear family changed drastically, but youth are also often alienated by friends and enemies alike, ironically due to social media. These new realities create mental and emotional anguish that plays a greater role in the life of our youth than it did in previous generations. So today’s youth feel less heard, less loved, and more abandoned.
This is where the church comes in. By valuing their younger members’ opinions and giving them opportunities to lead, the church shows that young people are important and that they are created by a glorious God who made them for such a time as this.
Jesus’ call also extends to young people, inviting them to lead. They can lead in the most powerful way by serving as Christ did. Young people have a deep capacity to love because they often know what it means to be unloved. They see the wrongs of the world and they are unhappy about it, leading to a growing wave of interest in social justice. By connecting young people’s interest in justice to church involvement, we will demonstrate a full gospel and reveal the message of love that young adults have been searching for.
What got me through that first summer of children’s programming was 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT): “Each time [God] said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
The Bible was written by the people God called. They were often young, but God still received glory through them. It can be a risk to let a young person lead, but there is much more to be gained from reaching out and asking. We live in a time where there are many social groups that vie for the attention of our young adults, but none of these groups will love them like Christ loves them—like we, as the church, are called to love them. The future is now. Let us engage all ages of the church in being the church.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, ESV).
Emily Smith is a member of Emmanuel Community Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta. She attended General Synod 2017 as a youth delegate.