I recently participated in a conference at Eastern Mennonite Seminary entitled Beyond Shoulder-tapping: Developing Meaningful Experiences in Ministry for Emerging Leaders. As participants, we were called a “think tank” of congregations and individuals that stand out among their peers in cultivating and developing leaders. We came together to share our stories of leadership, swap ideas of development, and stoke the passion we all have to continually bring up new generations of leaders.
My role in the conference was to offer the story of my calling and to highlight the themes of the things I had been hearing from our young adults since I began working at Franconia Conference. Two other young leaders shared their stories as well. We were charged to not only share about how we were encouraged on our journeys but also about the challenges we faced. Our stories were each different but they shared some themes. These included the importance of faith formation, recognizing that the clear leader is not always the best choice and highlighting the importance of viewing the Bible as a revolutionary text therefore sparking new creativity. But perhaps the most important and encouraging theme that arose from our stories were the examples of people who supported us in and trusted us with the tasks of ministerial leadership. What helped us most were the people who recognized a gift in us and encouraged us to use it by offering us a role.
As the conference went on and leaders from various congregations told the stories of their leadership development models this theme of our personal stories was repeated again and again. One man who was a participant in Walnut Creek (Ohio) Mennonite Church’s student pastor program, said the more he was loved, the more he wanted to do. It became obvious to me that these churches had taken a risk in order to reap the rewards of new leadership. They took the risk to let go of the controlled “tight ship” atmosphere that dominates many churches and put their trust in the ability of the inexperienced.
Reflecting on this experience, I feel honored to have been a part of it. I was in the company of great minds who took their ideas and put them to work. These are leaders who understand the value of being a growing leader while growing up leaders. They give up the paradigms of the past by letting go of having complete control. These are people who not only recognize but also have made room for one of the most important things I’ve heard young adults say: that we want to be an integral part of the leadership now. We want to plan, shape, participate and lead our churches, willingly engaging their challenges, in the hopes that theyâ€™ll continue on in meaningful and relevant ways. There are too few churches who allow space for the hopeful possibilities that the young and inexperienced can bring. Too few who are willing to take positive steps toward a life renewing future.
I am challenged to figure out how we can help each other share ideas and how the conference can assist its congregations in becoming places where growing leaders grow up leaders among themselves. What do the congregations of Franconia conference need to begin to develop an atmosphere that promotes leadership cultivation? What do individual leaders need to help make this a priority in their churches? What would help us all to let go and take the risk?