This year’s theme is “The People.” Today we are exploring…..
The People we need in church leadership
Daniel Potter is originally from Chapel Hill, NC and is a third year M. Div student at the Wake Forest School of Divinity. He is a current CBF Leadership Scholar and a past recipient of the Daniel and Earlene Vestal Scholarship. Daniel was ordained in March of 2015 at Mount Carmel Baptist Church of Chapel Hill, NC. He is passionate about youth ministry and hopes to find new ways to empower youth to be the current and future leaders of the Church.
In earlier times, apprenticeship was not only a staple of society, but it was also the chief means of passing on technical skills and expertise to younger. This concept still exists today in some fashions as students of all ages, both in primary and in secondary education, clamor for internships that will offer necessary skills or networking for eventual job placement. Such opportunities offer adolescents a chance to really learn the ins and outs of a certain trade or line of work in a way that can be mutually beneficial for both the individuals and the communities they serve. The issue I’ve seen, however, is that the church is not always well equipped to offer such opportunities. Certainly, there are congregations that host internships for prospective ministers, but I think there needs to be a more intentional effort to reclaim the opportunity for apprenticeship for youth.
If there’s one thing the church is really good at, it’s telling youth and college students that they are the important future of the church. Churches also try to offer some leadership opportunities for children and youth in worship in hopes of passing on tradition and developing a personal understanding of faith. The biggest gap I’ve seen, though, is that youth may be named “future leaders” of the congregation without being provided the tools needed to grow into that role. Then, when youth crossover into young adulthood they are thrust into roles on committees and church leadership assuming that their professional or personal development away from the church makes them viable leaders in the congregation. What if, instead of banking on some growth or transformation outside of the church, churches made use of youth’s involvement to help raise up the good church leaders that we need?
In my own experience, I’ve seen the apprenticeship idea work really well. For example, when I was in the youth group, some of my buddies and I began helping with our church’s semi-annual barbecue. We would show up on Friday night to help load the cookers, stay up for the night watch, and help chop the barbecue on Saturday morning. This experience taught me invaluable lessons about helping to continue this particular, important tradition of my church. Apart from certain culinary vocations, many youth might go through adolescence without learning how to continue this important work of the congregation. And yet, when they eclipse the magical age of 18, or 21, they might be expected to immediately step into a role of leadership for such an event. Similarly, youth have served on the Youth Committee at Knollwood Baptist for the past few years. This provides youth the opportunity to share their voice in the development of the ministry, to learn important elements of accountability and teamwork, and an opportunity to lead their fellow youth by seeking feedback and representing their ideas. These elements of serving on a committee, and many more, aid youth’s personal and professional growth. Further, experience from serving on committees will help young adults later down the road when they are asked, or expected, to serve.
Youth apprenticeship at churches enables youth ministries to more fully walk alongside youth as they grow. It can provide useful mentoring and guidance to shape one’s personal and professional growth. Also, serving in intern-type roles in the community allows youth to connect with a variety of adults and to develop leadership, communication, and management skills. These skills will benefit the youth as they grow into adulthood and can benefit a congregation by providing more voices and ideas. More than all of that, though, youth apprenticeship at church allows them to most fully step into their identity as part of the body of Christ. The church needs their voices to ring alongside those of many other members. It needs the unique perspectives, ideas, and resources that each youth can provide. And, by allowing youth to serve in leadership roles, empower them to take ownership of the church community. Put differently, we offer them an opportunity to grow into committed, active, faithful church members by inviting them to learn how to lead the church more fully. It is not enough to simply label youth as the leaders of tomorrow. Such a tactic maintains a status quo of leadership that is guarded based on certain age, gender, or other characteristics. Rather, many youth are already able to help lead their congregations at present. We must help them experience all of the body of Christ to help them see how they might continue to be a part of it in adulthood. There are many worthy adults that are needed to help run the church. Youth apprenticeship does not imply a lack of adult presence. But, if we look openly at the future of our church and its members, we might begin to see that the people we need in church leadership are our youth.