7 Traits of Compelling Young Leaders

Leadership / Personal Development //

Paul was stuck.
Behind the bars of his jail cell, he thought about his church.
The Philippians: Young. In love with Jesus. Alone.

Who could he send to convey his love for them? The answer came to him: Timothy. Traveling companion, trusted friend, and courageous pastor, Timothy was the perfect partner in ministry.

Timothy’s life as young leader serves as an enduring metaphor for discipleship and courage. Here are 7 characteristics that made Timothy a compelling young leader:

But I hope to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they seek to their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving with his father.” – Phil. 2:19-22

1. A Kindred Spirit

This phrase is a curious one. Used only here in the New Testament, the word literally (and beautifully) means “an equivalency of soul.” Paul wanted to ensure the Philippians that he knew and trusted Timothy deeply. They were cut from the same cloth. Everything the Philippians loved about Paul, they’ll love about Timothy.

How well do you know younger, emerging leaders in your church?
How can you begin to build the kind of relationship Paul had with Timothy?

2. Sincerity

Sincerity is rare. Even in Paul’s day. Many people wanted the outside influence that came with leadership, but few were actually concerned about the people they would serve. Paul follows up his first comment about Timothy by letting the Philippians know that this young leader is sincere.

Many young leaders are agreeable. But few of them are characteristically sincere. Sincerity fosters trust because it has nothing to hide. How can you build into the sincere young leaders in your church?

3. Christ-centeredness

This trait is probably Paul’s most direct. This comment is designed to set up Timothy as a contrast to other leaders who have seeped into the church (cf. Phil. 1:14-17). In a way, it’s Paul’s highest compliment to Timothy. In a sense, Paul’s saying “Timothy is all about the things of Christ.”

There’s a rare unselfishness in this trait that isn’t reflected in many leaders. How can you begin to cultivate this trait in emerging leaders around you?

4. Approvedness

This word means “proved by trial,” “tested,” and “approved.” The idea here that although Timothy was younghe wasn’t naive. He wasn’t inexperienced. His travel with Paul had given him a window into some of the most critical aspects of church leadership. This put Timothy a cut above his peers.

The young leaders around you need something. They need experience. They need to see what you’re doing, where you’re winning, and where you’re failing. Inviting emerging leaders into your ministry will give them the insight they can’t get in a book. How can you open up your ministry? An invitation to share your ministry is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

5. A Servant Heart

The image of a servant everywhere in the New Testament. But Paul uses it here to highlight something unique to Timothy: his tenure. Though not stated in the text, Timothy had been serving with Paul for 10 years. In that time, Timothy never wavered in his posture.

Think of the emerging leaders in your church: are there any who characteristically take a servant posture? Are there those who love to serve even when there’s no applause? Give your attention to those who serve without recognition.

6. Love for the Gospel

Timothy was committed to the gospel. That commitment is one of the reasons why Paul felt comfortable sending him to this fledgling church. In an age of doctrinal confusion, Paul needed someone who got the essentials right.

Are there young leaders in your church who are taking risks for the sake of the gospel? Are they going outside of their comfort-zone to share the love of Christ? Develop them. Give them your time and affirmation.

7. Childlikeness

We’re told that Timothy was “like a child serving with his father.” Elsewhere, Paul refers to Timothy in son-like terms (1 Cor. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:2, 18; 2 Tim. 1:2). The childlikeness that Timothy exhibited is like the faith that Jesus commended (Luke 18). It’s an uncomplicated joy that comes from an uncrowded heart. Timothy’s leadership style was simple. Not ignorant. But simple.

The word that Paul uses for Timothy above is the Greek word teknon – a familial term of endearment. Paul didn’t use paidia which (although also translated “child”) has overtones of immaturity. As you consider the emerging leaders around you, it’s worth noting that there is difference between childishness and childlikeness. Childlike leaders have uncrowded hearts. Give these leaders a platform to lead. Let others learn from them.






About the Author

Brannon Marshall is Director of Global Church Engagement for Awana and serves on staff at Christ Community Church. He has served as a church planter and youth pastor, and is a frequent speaker on issues relating to church health. Brannon and his wife, Mandie, live in Elgin, IL, with their children: Joseph, Carston, and Hannah.