Encouraging the Next Generation of Church Leaders
There is a refreshing theme of generational training and leadership that runs throughout Scripture that ought to encourage the younger generation within the church in terms of leadership. Let me highlight three of those instances.
In Joshua 1, there is a clear generational shift in leadership that takes place between Moses and Joshua. From Exodus to Deuteronomy, it was clear that Joshua served a sort of leadership apprenticeship at the side of Moses. He was with Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 24:13) and again in the tent of meeting (Exod. 33:11). In Deuteronomy 34:9, we read these words, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses.” Furthermore, as Joshua assumes the mantle of leadership over Israel after Moses dies, the LORD gives him these powerful words: “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:9).
Another example of generational training and leadership is that of David and Solomon. In 1 Chronicles 28, David charges Solomon with building the temple. Solomon was going to do what David yearned to do but could not because of the blood on his hands. David’s hopes and desires would be fulfilled by Solomon. He charges his son in 1 Chronicles 28:20-21,
Be strong and of good courage, and do it, fear not, nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work of the service of the house of the LORD. And behold, the courses of the priests and the Levites, even they shall be with thee for all the service of the house of God: and there shall be with thee for all manner of workmanship every willing skilful man, for any manner of service: also the princes and all the people will be wholly at thy commandment.
One more example is that of Paul and Timothy. There is an obvious generational gap between Paul and Timothy; Paul calls Timothy his son (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:1), having mentored him both in the faith and the work of the ministry. He counsels Timothy by writing him two letters and encourages him by saying, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Timothy’s youth was not a strike against him for bearing office, but an opportunity to be an example to those around him. When Timothy’s life and ministry became difficult, Paul was there to remind him that things would not be easy, but to endure as a soldier (2 Tim. 2:3). In many ways, Paul groomed Timothy for leadership in the church. Paul’s parting words to Timothy were these, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:22).
How can these examples encourage a young generation of men to take up the mantle of leadership within the offices of the church as pastors, elders, and deacons?
Encouragement through older/younger mentoring
First of all, one source of encouragement is the involvement of older men in their lives. This is a constantly recurring theme that runs through these examples: Moses to Joshua, David to Solomon, and then Paul to Timothy. Older men are not to be shied away from as if the older generation is out of touch. Admittedly, there are many developments that have happened that separate the generations, but human problems stay the same and require the same age-old wisdom of Scripture to solve. This is what older men in our churches can offer to younger men.
The application of this older/younger model cuts two ways. First of all, young men ought to seek out older men whom they trust — whether they are fathers, pastors, or other office-bearers who are mature Christians — and seek to be mentored by them. The older generation has more to offer than just balding heads and white hair. They have life experience, spiritual experience, and hopefully their witness is such that it permeates their entire lives as an example to follow. Second, the older generation should not look down on the younger generation as naïve and out of touch with reality, but seek to enter their world, engaging the next generation of leadership that the Lord will be pleased to use to build up His church. The next generation bears tremendous God-given potential. The Lord is working spiritually in the hearts of young men and gifting them for the office, but do we as the elders recognize it and see an opportunity to shape youthful zeal and energy for the Lord’s service in the offices? We must recognize that from the standpoint of both generations we have a glorious opportunity to grow and challenge one another as iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17). An attitude shift may be required, but it is worth the messiness of relationships. These examples from Scripture prove that this is indeed how the Lord shepherds and provides for His church — through generational mentorship and leadership.
Encouragement from the presence of the LORD
The second and greatest encouragement from these examples of generational leadership is that the presence of the Lord runs throughout all of these examples. As Joshua takes up the leadership of over one million people, the Lord’s presence is there to guide him and lead him. Joshua is not leading alone: “The LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” He’s learned from Moses and now the Lord is with him. As Solomon takes up the monumental task of building the temple, these words form a firm foundation under him: “The LORD my God, even my God, will be with thee.” As Paul departs this life, he speaks these same words to Timothy, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit. Grace be with you.”
These words are meant to give courage to these young men as they lead, build, and shepherd. And these are not merely words. They are the promise from God Himself that He will be with those who lead His church. This is vital for the next generation because it is the presence of the Lord that gives courage. More than ever, as we face the challenges of an encroaching hostility towards the gospel from a culture that is anti-God, we need the presence of the Lord and what He gives when He is with those who depend on Him. He gives courage to face hardship. He gives courage to face challenges. He gives courage to speak truthful things. He equips in spite of our own inadequacy. He gives strength and power in spite of our own weakness. He gives wisdom through His Word when we lack wisdom.
Leadership in the church is never alone. Our God is always with His people. But leadership is never alone in the sense that the Lord also gives the necessary helps and means for leadership. This was true for Solomon as he faced the huge task of building a temple for the glorious God of heaven and earth. He had men who were equipped and skilled to help in this work. The people would be there to help him. So too, in the leadership of the church, the Lord provides human helpers in different ways — mentors, gifted men to serve alongside, people to pray for us. There is every encouragement from the Word of God to seek to serve in the leadership of the church. Do not thrust yourself into the office, but build a firm foundation through mentorship, dependence on the Lord, and surrounding yourself with human helpers. When the call comes from the Lord to serve Him in leadership, you will be as ready as you can be to take up the mantle for the next generation. Let no man despise your youth (1 Tim. 4:12). “Be strong and of a good courage, be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:9).