Lessons on Developing Young Leaders: Recognize That Other Areas of Ministry Benefit from the Perspective Shift
Key 4 of four keys on how to develop young people as leaders in the church from six seasoned Latin@ leaders whose congregations and parachurch groups are leadership incubators for the young people in their communities.
Growing a Brighter Tomorrow in Gulfton, 2018, Rahmaan Statik
Key 4: Recognize That Other Areas of Ministry Benefit from the Perspective Shift
Rev. Alejandro Montes: When we invest in nurturing youth as leaders, the whole church is affected! Young people contextualize and keep our ministries relevant. They teach us what is needed in “real time”, and they have the ability to reach other youth. Young people in our congregation taught us that there is no need to be running around attending expensive events that only tire us out; what matters is the environment we cultivate and the quality time we spend doing meaningful hands-on things together. Our congregation grew to the point where we didn’t have enough seating for the 500+ people who would come to the worship service every Sunday. We had to start a second service in order to accommodate everyone. People are attracted to places where they find meaning, acceptance, compassion, love, growth, and the space to use their skills.
Priscilla Rodriquez: When I was younger, I faced a situation where some of the seasoned leaders did not support my involvement in church leadership because they did not approve of the color of my lipstick and the style of my hair – even though it was quite conservative. I had the passion and commitment to serve; however, not all leaders could focus on these aspects. Thankfully, there was one seasoned leader who advocated on my behalf and encouraged others to remember what was important: my good testimony and my leadership abilities. This is what young people need, seasoned leaders that will advocate on their behalf and open pathways. When young people are involved in leadership opportunities, the whole church benefits. Our role is to pass on the baton, be a mentor, and make it possible for them to be involved in learning all aspects of church leadership that interest them.
In the Pentecostal church, we identify and recognize the spiritual gifts of all, even from childhood, and we seek to put those to use. The church is multigenerational; therefore everyone, no matter their age, needs to be involved and bless others through their gifts and abilities. For this to take place, as leaders we need to maintain a learner’s attitude and disposition, and take time to reflect on the things taking place around us so we can discern how to best guide others. We also need to let it go! Accept that not everything is going to be and/or look the way you imagine or expect it to be. However, it is through the trial and error dynamics that we are able to learn more about the interest and talents of the young people around us, and thereby help them discover these for themselves. We can then invite them to identify and think of creative ways of putting these to use, and guide them through the process, while also giving them the freedom to figure things out on their own; this is where innovation emerges.
Marcos Canales: Even with all our efforts in implementing distributive leadership models, and cultivating in our congregation the values that sustain the importance of our investment in young people, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have challenges in helping the members of the congregation connect with youth and understand how all ministries in the church are interconnected. On one end, we are constantly having to deal with the ecclesial structural influences that have been imposed on us by the religious institutions in the Anglo culture, which stress the concept of “success” in ministry by the number of attendees and well-run programs. I have to constantly remind those who struggle (especially those with a more legalistic view of the Gospel), that our congregation neither ousts its younger members, nor ousts its older members – we are one. To create bridges, I try to help seasoned members connect with young people through empathy, relationality, and mutuality – accompanying them to remember times when they haven’t felt welcomed or valuable, and imagining such experiences in the lives of young people today. There is also the constant need to remind the congregation that “success” is rather “measured” by the faithfulness we each have to Christ and the spiritual growth we each help cultivate in our congregation.
To help the congregation connect with these concepts, we have held worship services with a time of lament. We name the loss of the congregation – those youth who are not among us – and we name the reasons why. We name the hopes we had for our youth that didn’t become reality. We mourn. We take time to confess our shortcomings, and to define reality. We reflect on the impact it has in our congregation when youth are not present or involved. We seek to be an intergenerational church; thus, we recognize that brisk changes tend to leave the older generations behind. Shifting ideologies takes time. We don’t want to be a congregation that operates in reactionary mode. We also don’t want to fall into a pattern of having youth serve in different leadership positions in the congregation, but only from a programmatic or utilitarian approach. So, we are careful to engage everyone in the gradual process of seeing all aspects of the congregation as one.
Anyra Cano: We don’t view “youth ministry” in a compartmentalized perspective in our congregation. The youth are the church, they are members of the church, youth ministry is part of the entire structure of the church, and we all work together to move things forward. Testimonies, joint projects, and youth involvement at all levels of work in the church help drive this concept forward. We take time to publicly acknowledge and share stories with the entire congregation about how the youth made an impact through their involvement in a certain project. We also constantly have intergenerational projects where all age groups work together to make things happen, like in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. Everyone has agency and shared responsibilities. For example, we once had a situation where our congregation went out to evangelize in the community, and adults and youth were paired into small teams, with youth taking the lead in some of the teams. These youth had received previous training and felt confident in going door-to-door around the neighborhood. It gave those adults who participated, but who had not yet received training, the opportunity to observe and learn from them. Youth are involved in all areas of church in our congregation, such as in preaching, being part of the church council, and being responsible for planning and carrying out events for the children. Thus, they impact and benefit the entire church with their fresh perspectives, questions, energy, and ideas.
Noemi Vega: Young people benefit every aspect of the church, because they are the church. What does worship look like when young people lead in this area? How can they help it become more intergenerational? Communal prayer is also strengthened as young people are at the frontlines of cultural change, since they know exactly what we need to pray for. Evangelism is impacted when we build up their skills and competency so that they will be able to witness. Gone are the days of the celebrity or outgoing evangelist on campus. People connect with those who witness out of who they are, their skills, their assets – genuine and transparent people pointing people to Jesus. This is part of the strength young people bring to every aspect of the church.
Obed Arango Hisijara: When people have agency, then the interconnectedness arises naturally. At CCATE we serve 275 families through 32 programs in 7 different fields. Because the approach of our work is holistic and there is a spirit of familia (close-knit family) cultivated throughout (very much in alignment with our cultural values), we see each other and all the work we do as one. Everything and everyone are affected by what everyone does and everything that takes place at CCATE. We walk in unity and warmth with the built shared purpose.
Where do we go from Here?
The conversation needs to continue, as we have only touched upon the tip of the iceberg. The How? question has more room for answers. The more we share our stories and experiences in ministry, the more we open up spaces for meaningful conversations – the more we are able to learn from one another and expand our imaginations and know-how in fostering innovation in the church. We welcome your comments and look forward to hearing your stories! What have you learned in your journey towards nurturing youth as leaders?