Recently a friend who’s planting a new church in New England – in some of the hardest spiritual soil in the United States – wrote to me and a few other mentors, asking what advice we’d give him as a young leader. He’s 27, with a wife and three young kids. He’s aware that youthfulness can bring with it some blindness, and he’s trying to mitigate that blindness by seeking wisdom from others. I am humbled and encouraged by his initiative… unfortunately, too few young leaders have the foresight to learn from the mistakes of others instead of making their own.
He asked for three nuggets of wisdom I’d have wanted someone to tell me at his age. Here’s what I wrote him.
- Build a discipline NOW of taking one day of solitude every 6-8 weeks. A full day, away from the city where you minister, and away from technology – just you and a Bible and a journal and a few good books. The value of this is incalculable. And most young leaders ignore disciplines like this in favor of “pushing hard” or “building the church” or “training leaders” or a thousand other lame excuses that basically come down to “Jesus needs me to build his church, and if I take a day in solitude the ministry will fall apart.” I trust you can see the self-worship and lack of faith inherent in those excuses.
- Your kids will never be little again. DO NOT, ever, feel guilty for leaving ministry work “un-done” in order to go home and enjoy your kids. If your weekly rhythm involves working “normal hours,” make a habit of leaving the office at 3 or 4 PM to get home early and enjoy your children. Hard-working pastors often question this practice by saying, “But the people in my church don’t have the freedom to do that – why should I?” The people in your church also don’t generally go to the hospital every time someone has a new baby, meet with people for marriage counseling on their day off, or work an 8-hour day before noon on Sundays. I have yet to meet a church planter who’s guilty of sloth, working too little, and taking too much time off. I have met dozens who work too much, can’t shut their minds off, and are addicted to their smartphones. Enjoy your kids. Make memories. Build a culture of rest and joy in your family. Be the dad your kids remember as being PRESENT.
- Lead out of weakness. Too many young men are still trying to figure out who they are, and therefore they want to lead out of strength in every area. Mature, wise leaders know their weaknesses – and they know that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. They know the gospel shines in weakness. They know that people trust weakness more than they trust strength. Wise spiritual leaders run right into their weakness, and allow Jesus to be known and magnified in that. If you can’t preach very well… Say so, and urge your people to pray for you. They’ll start to love your preaching. If you have fear-of-man issues – say so, and ask people to pray for you. They’ll stop complimenting you to stroke your ego, and they’ll start REALLY complimenting you with genuine affection – and you’ll be able to receive it. If, like me, you tend to be harsh and intimidating – say so, and urge people to pray for you and love you in the midst of that. The Spirit will develop a humility and gentleness in you that you never knew was possible.