How to come alongside budding leaders
by Caitlin Friesen
“Children are our future leaders.” I often hear this phrase at children’s ministry forums, educational seminars and services directed at our youth. Quoted by kind-hearted authors, influential politicians and Christ-serving pastors, it is meant to inspire the next generation to work hard, study well and prepare for a time of service and leadership. I’m sure I have used a version of this phrase when speaking about the children in my own congregation to inspire hope for future generations.
As I walk alongside the students in my flock and hear their thoughts week in and week out, I have discovered there is a problem with this statement. Yes, these children will be leading us in years to come, but they are also ready to be leaders now.
Across the board, adult-run ministries struggle to find an appropriate spot for children to lead. And rightfully so. Most aspects of leadership require credibility and training that take years to grow into. No leadership role can be handed to a person without proper guidance and clear structure. So how do we as adults come alongside our budding leaders and allow them to serve?
Mentorship is key when developing our youngest community members and giving them a chance to use their craft. Ask those who are already serving in leadership capacities if they are willing to take on an apprentice. It will require more of their time and energy, but it will also provide one-on-one training and a safe person for the student to talk to and work alongside. In the end, building relationship is more rewarding for the child than perfecting a skill.
When giving young leaders a space to serve, plan on and allow for mistakes. I have heard firsthand from adults that they are uninterested in including children in their area of ministry because they believe they will mess up…and they will! Instead of saying no, provide a space where a child can try and be given gentle correction. In time they will learn the rhythm and routine of their team.
Don’t set up our young leaders for failure. There are certain aspects of leadership that only called and qualified adults have the privilege and burden of carrying. Children should not be asked to count the offering or do work that involves confidential information. Someone without experience should not be asked to be the spokesperson. We do our young leaders and ourselves a disservice when we put them in positions of power they are not ready for.
Lastly, do your best to look like Jesus and encourage young people to do the same. Paul tells the blossoming church leader Timothy, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith and your purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
Let’s remember that children are not just our future leaders; they are current torchbearers who need our guidance and patience to serve their best.
Caitlin Friesen is associate pastor of children and family ministries at North Fresno Church. She has a passion for Jesus and a heart for kids, both of which have been put to use as a backpacking guide, outdoor educator and camp counselor. She is married to Ben.