Helping Young, Amoral, Christian Leaders Succeed in a Traditional Church Context

Fall is upon us, and with Fall often comes the beginning of many young leader's first stab at vocational ministry within the walls of a church.  Many of these young Christian leaders grew up in church, participated in student leadership, were a part of college ministries and camp, and have finally graduated.  They are now putting their gifts and talents to work in a local church context.

This is all well and good.  In fact, this should be commended.  For most of us in vocational ministry, we can remember a church or a ministry leader taking a risk and hiring us as we fumbled our way through our first year or two of ministry.  We struggled finding that invisible line between identifying with students and maintaining the respect of those who paid our salaries.  

But over the last half decade or so, there has been a fundamental culture shift.  Those of us in student ministry see it every day with our students.  Our students have a firm ego-centric faith that can be summed up with the worship of self song, "How He Loves."  They get grace, in fact, it is all they know.  Their grace has transitioned into entitlement.  And the only rights that matter are their own rights.  

Our students don't really have a systematic morality or a filter for right and wrong.  They thrive in situational ethics where their own comfort and well being determine the rubric what is acceptable or not.  

These amoral, grace loving, egocentric students have gone to college and are now the young leaders many churches now seek to employ.  

So, the question is, "How do we help this generation of young leaders understand their place in the world, in the church, and in our ministries, so they can leverage their gifts and abilities to serve Jesus and His expanding Kingdom?

This question is almost too big to tackle in one blog post.  But I would like to address one piece of it.  In fact it is one of the most important pieces because it has to do with morality, with boundaries, with convictions, and the wide chasm between these young leaders and the parents of the students they hope to minister to.  

For these young leaders, drinking, smoking, cussing, hookah, pirating movies, pirating anything, porn, etc are all in the great, gray area of morality.  How do determine what is right and wrong?  Who are you to say?  

Instead of fighting the battle over what gray areas are now firmly in the white or black categories, what if we appeal to their larger call to ministry and their love for Jesus.  

What would it look like if we gave them the benefit of the doubt and let them be the stronger Christian.  They are the ones who do not see cussing and drinking as stumbling blocks.  They don't even understand reproach, let alone living above it.  Rather they are FREE!!

Maybe this freedom is ok.  But the freedom only works in the context of a relationship where we are also willing to be servants to our weaker sisters and brothers.  

Instead of being insecure about talking to our young leaders about their behaviors and worrying that we are judging them, or instead of not saying anything and then one day, out of the blue, firing them for their "inappropriate" behavior, lets just call it out.  

YOU ARE INVITED TO SERVE IN A LOCAL CHURCH CONTEXT.  IN ORDER TO SERVE MORE FULLY IN THIS CONTEXT THERE ARE SOME FREEDOMS THAT WE ARE ASKING YOU TO GIVE UP. 

In our context, that means that drinking and smoking are a no, no for this year.  This means that porn is a no, no.  And your language needs to be in the PG13 range.  This allows everyone to relax and for us all to do ministry together.  And by framing it this way, we are not being judgmental or condemning, or using behavior modification as a rubric for spiritual maturity.  Rather, we are recognizing the unique cultural context that is our church and graciously giving up some of our freedoms in order to serve her and her students better.  

This doesn't solve all the problems, but it at least solves one of the biggest issues that seem to come up with younger leaders as they seek to do vocational ministry in a local church context.  

I would love to know how you lead younger leaders and how you clarify your behavioral and work ethic expectations.  For how us older leaders do this matters because it will send ripples through this next generation of church leadership.  And our churches NEED these younger leaders to lead and thrive!

May God have mercy on all of us as we navigate these choppy waters.  :)