But making room in the pew can be tough.
But as a younger leader myself (I’m 32), it can be awkward to lead my spiritual parents and grandparents.
I crave their wisdom to balance my inexperience, but if I’m not careful, my youthful impatience wins out. Like so many other areas of leadership, leading a church that’s an older generation takes balance, grace, and humility.
Here are a few tips for young leaders serving older churches:
1. Love what they love.
Everybody loves something about your church. Here’s the tricky part: the people may not know why they love their church. Maybe they’ve forgotten. Help them remember what they love by asking questions and digging deeper. They don’t love stained glass windows. They don’t love pews. They don’t love hymns. In most cases, they love what those things represent. Those images may represent better days, a sense of family, or a culture where the church had a greater foothold. Speak to that deeper reality rather than choose to fight about the small stuff. The gift of your empathy is priceless.
2. Honor by listening.
When you’re in a position of leadership, it’s easy to be critical of “what hasn’t worked” in the past. It’s really, really, really hard to listen and understand why that approach was taken in the first place. Remember that every stupid thing that you see was someone else’s bright idea. Get to the kernel of that once-bright-idea and honor it. Don’t try to erase it. Don’t try write over it. Don’t patronize it. Ask questions. Let them tell you stories. Listen without thinking of what you’re going to say next. Listen with an ear for understanding.
3. Serve Before Selling.
You have ideas. You can imagine the future of your church. You’re ready to share that vision with your people. But before you spend your credibility selling your ideas, earn the right to be heard by developing the posture of a servant. Remember: Influence is a result that is earned through servanthood. An interesting side effect: When you serve people first, you won’t have tosell ideas at all. You’ll find that more people will support you because you’ve showed them your character.
4. Squeeze the orange. Not the orchard.
It’s hard to effect change in an older church because it seems like “critical mass” is so elusive. Despite your best attempts, you can’t get a majority vote and you can’t quiet the dissent. When you look at your church, imagine an orange grove: Everybody has something to give although they may not be ripe for the harvest yet. An entire orange grove is juiced one orange at a time. Find a small group of people who are eager to do something new. Start with them. Fun is contagious. When people see others having fun, they’ll become more interested.
5. Cultivate patience and strategy.
Many of my friends have unnecessarily wounded their credibility in their church by adopting an “old is out – new is in” mentality. Wanting to bring change quickly, they’ve inadvertently run over those whom they hope to serve. Strategy without patience can be caustic. Patience without strategy can become anemic. Having both strategy and patience is a rare gift.
Are you a young leader?
Do you lead an older congregation?
What tips would you add from your experience?