I have the tremendous joy of teaching an introductory ministry class for college students. Many of these students are pursuing full-time vocational ministry but others want to be equipped to serve as God leads them in other areas of vocation. Over time I have come to clearly see that these students have hearts centered on the Great Commission and a genuine desire to reach people with the hope of the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ. They are examples and inspirations to me and what drives me to do what I do, which is cultivating and calling up this next generation of Great Commission leaders.
As we discuss ministry and the potential they each have to serve God well in kingdom purposes, I have discovered there exists a very real gap between what these students understand as God’s call on their life and ministry and the lack of intentional pathways that can exist within the church to help them cultivate their callings.
How can we as ministry leaders step into this gap and cultivate intentional pathways as we come alongside them? What are some pivotal steps we can take to call out their giftings, call them up to serve, to train, to mentor, and to intentionally bridge and build relationships with them? As followers of Christ, they are indeed the church now, but they are also the future leadership of the church.
As we consider what it means to cultivate next-generation leaders we want to look at some principles about why that matters. As followers of Christ (who is the ultimate leader), we are called to be faithful stewards of our leadership roles. What exactly does that mean? It means we are passing down and calling up. We are passing down the batons of leadership wisdom and knowledge and we are calling up young leaders to carry those batons as they run their leadership races.
Scripture is full of some great examples of this. In Deuteronomy 3:28 God instructs Moses: “But commission Joshua and encourage and strengthen him, for he will cross over ahead of the people and enable them to inherit this land that you will see.”
In 2 Timothy 1:5-7, we see Paul encourage Timothy as he charges him to carry out the work of the early church: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also. Therefore, I remind you to fan into flames the gift of God that is in you ….” v.13 “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
As we consider what it means for us as ministry leaders to cultivate next-generation leaders, I’d like to set forth some practical steps toward developing the young leaders in our circles of influence. There is always someone coming behind us – are we bringing them along? Or are we leaving them on their own?
Cultivate means “to nurture, encourage, develop.” I created an acronym of the word CULTIVATE that contains some intentional steps we can all take in this process, so for each letter, there’s a word that will help us remember these principles.
C–are about those who are coming up behind us. Look around, pay attention and begin to notice and comment on a skill or gift you see in them.
U-nderstand their perspective. We need their insight as we seek to build connections with the next generation.
L-isten. Listen to their concerns, to their real-life circumstances.
T-ake Time to get to know them. Notice the things they like, the ways they serve, the causes, and the people they care about.
I-deas – this generation has some great ones! Seek them out and ask for their input.
V-alue younger leaders. Lean into their creativity and passion.
A-sk Questions. Start a dialogue to learn from one another.
T-each and Train. Provide opportunities in apprentice-type environments for younger leaders to step into leadership roles.
E-xpect Growth. As young leaders step into leadership roles, we should encourage them as we see positive leadership qualities emerge.
We need younger leaders now more than ever if we want to connect and create meaningful ways of reaching people with the Gospel. May God lead us to pour into the next generation and provide an environment that will help shape them into the ministry leaders He has gifted them to be.