The final part of the recent article written for Partnership
Are our leaders allowed the time, resources and freedom to bring on the next generation?
This leads to the second question: are leaders allowed the time, resources and freedom to bring on other leaders? A businessman said to me "if you work the hours and patterns I work to make my business run, I think you will be being unfaithful to your leadership calling." He went on "you will be constantly exhausted, you won't have spent enough time on your knees with the Lord, you won't have spent enough time deep in the scriptures. You won't be fresh. And therefore you won't have anything to feed me with when I come to church on Sunday."
I don't know any Christian leaders who don't work very close to the maximum possible all the time. This is one reason why stress levels are permanently high. Worse still they and their congregations fall into the assumption that maximally high work levels are the sustainable norm. Therefore to do less feels like unfaithfulness and anything we opt not to do will feel like dropping a primary responsibility. Leaders often struggle to meet core expectations from their congregations. Whether or not the expectations are realistic given the hours in a day, they will very rarely include an expectation of bringing on other leaders. It is built into the system that our leaders will not have the time, resources and freedom to do so.
However, to not give effort, time and manpower to this question at this juncture will be a fatal false economy. Regardless of what other ministries we devote effort to in our churches, if we have no leaders in 15 years time because we ignore this question then all those other ministries will wither as well. And we will have no leaders in that time scale if the present trends continue. We will see mass retirements from leadership, or the vast overweighting of lay eldership among the increasingly elderly. There are currently nowhere near enough obvious successors in the next two generations. Many individual churches and some groupings of churches in the UK are already past the point of no return, with almost no leaders and no possibility of developing new ones. By God's grace may it not be true in any church connected with Partnership.
If the situation is to change it will be because a church actively allows its current leaders the opportunity to develop new ones, whether elders, home group leaders or service leaders. This will mean giving significant time and space to allow them to receive investment themselves in developing the necessary skills, and more time yet to disciple juniors. It will mean that churches have to deal with less experienced leaders trying out a range of gifts and skills and sometimes getting things wrong.
I conclude, therefore, that the first step for dealing with the leadership crisis is for the local church to own that it is the context for training, developing and sustaining leaders.
To summarise, our vital need is to find ways to nurture:
- A lot of Christ-glorifying, biblical leaders, including younger leaders
- Who are constantly growing and consistently thrilled with the Lord and his word
Who are nurtured and sustained over the whole period of their leadership and who therefore continue to love leading, love the Lord and love the Church
And to do so in each of our churches, for those churches, not assuming that it is the responsibility of someone outside.