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How can we empower young leaders in our church?

I recently had the privilege of meeting presbytery staff who have a strategic link with Synod work through eLM (equipping Leadership for Mission). Wonderful women and men who will work faithfully and creatively, and I’m excited about the opportunities.

However, I came away conflicted because not one of them was born after church union. They all grew up in a church and society that no longer exists. Let me be clear: ministers of a certain age are not the problem, but they are a symptom of a problem we all share.

Does age limit the capacity of people to minister intergenerationally? Of course not. But it reveals our default assumptions around experience and requirements.

I wondered how we might have elevated young voices into the planning and discernment processes that preceded these appointments. How might young people have been invited and included in the meetings, panels and consultations which were part of the process?

Indeed, of the 20-plus new ministry roles created across our eight presbyteries, not one had an explicit focus on Intergenerational ministries, despite each presbytery having the capacity to design funding according to their needs and priorities.

Several new roles are at risk of appearing to focus only on maintaining the status quo. How might we ensure the remaining positions be supported to imagine a future intergenerational landscape for our church?

There is a gap between what we say and how we act. Empowering young leaders is a catchphrase we all use, yet when the opportunity presents, we are paralysed by our inherited understanding of leadership.

After all, if we are a church “on the way”, why might we assume those who have led us to “here” might be the ones to lead us to “there?”

A few case studies, if you’ll indulge me.

  • Mark Zuckerberg was 22 when Facebook went public.
  • Debbi Fields was 21 when she started Mrs Fields cookies.
  • Steve Jobs was 21 when he launched Apple.
  • Nicholas Molnar was 26 when he launched AfterPay.
  • Even Jesus was wrapping-up by his mid 30s.

Look at the impact of the #SchoolStrike4Climate – an international movement started by a young woman, Greta Thunberg, who describes herself as being “diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism”.

Greta was 15 when she coordinated the first School Strike in 2018 in Sweden. On March 15 this year, tens of thousands of students around Australia joined hundreds of thousands around the world demanding urgent action from their elected leaders. I certainly hope their prophetic words and actions will have a significant impact, for the sake of our planet.

The risk of infantilising our young leaders through our words and expectations is significant. They are detrimental to young adults who are seeking a community where they can be nourished and are able to contribute.

Today’s young people are learning skills and acquiring experiences that equip them to lead us into a new and exciting future. Imagine inviting that optimism and energy into leadership. Sadly, there are countless stories of entrepreneurs who, after failing to receive permission to lead within the church, “check out” and forge their own path.

For the institution, whichever council of our church we choose, our hesitation and naivety, indeed our preference for familiarity, ensure we too often “check out” from the missional possibilities and ecclesial transformation before us.

I encourage each of us to mind the gap. In a society where words are cheap and consequences are temporary, and hollow promises are spewed daily from our government, we might dare to model that we mean what we say.

When we have the chance to invest and trust the young leaders in our community, might we do so boldly.

My colleagues Chris Barnett, Robin Yang and I are always happy to support congregations and presbyteries who want to address this gap and determine a new direction.

Please get in touch and may we rewrite stories together.

Bradon French

Bradon French is the Youth Ministry Coordinator within the Intergenerational team. He is a passionate advocate for young people and enjoys challenging the status quo.

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