Looming leadership crisis?!

“Tom won’t be our youth pastor from tomorrow; we don’t think he fits into our plan for the future.” That’s how a local congregation was told the news, which Tom had received only six days earlier. James went to his church leadership to present his resignation. He had received a better offer from a bigger church. What had happened to their youth pastor? “Umm, I think he burned out…or something.” I know of countless similar stories and I’m sure you know of some too. The associate pastor has been overworked to the point of burn out, or ran out of ideas and, without support, bailed.

You may also be familiar with the phone call from a senior pastor to a “young gun” in another (probably smaller) church which goes like this: “Your name was given to me; I hear you have a heart for youth and our church provides added opportunities. Are you happy in your current role?” Perhaps you have made that call yourself. Or perhaps the person you called was not a “gun” at all but had some spark of talent and you were willing to take on anyone with a modicum of potential to look after the kids.

We have a long history of random selection and appointment of leaders, from senior pastors to children’s workers. Our regional pastors and Unions offer some direction but too often they seem to embrace the get-the-best-for-your-church-and-don’t-worry-about-the-others approach. Yes, we have a leadership crisis and it’s looming large. We have churches without pastors and pastors without churches; the churches don’t want the pastors, the pastors don’t want the churches, or sometimes both! Churches are unable to find youth pastors, let alone address their burgeoning need for children’s pastors.

We do not have the volume of young people coming through our seminaries, nor, dare I say, the quality of training and preparation, to meet the demand. Rather than being identified for vocational service and set apart, our dedicated young give Bible College a go without a clear sense of where it might lead. Underlying this is our tendency to regard the role of youth pastor as a kind of apprenticeship for ‘real’ pastorship, a place to do their time. (An undeserved reputation, given it is the youth yielding most of our conversions and disciples.)

It’s time to ask where our next leaders will come from, with many senior pastors due to retire over the next ten years. Baptist Youth Ministries Australia has been examining this subject for over a year. We see many issues, but three are paramount:
1. The church has yet to take seriously the need to identify, set apart and nurture those upon whom God is placing His hand for leadership.
2. Communication between churches concerning appointments and transfers is poor, divisive and does not bespeak church as family, but as competitor.
3. The church is falling short in ‘employing well’ with regards to terms and conditions, clear definition of roles and reasonable workload expectations.

Over the coming months we shall be tackling these problems and considering the ways in which our culture of leadership development may be more biblical and unifying in its approach. Let us all take seriously the need for the church to identify, develop and care for its leaders, not just the reverse.

“Do we have a looming leadership crisis?” By Colin Waddell. Colin is an Associate Pastor (Youth, Children and Family) at Mt Pleasant Baptist Church, Perth. He Chairs Australian Baptist Youth Ministries and is passionate about seeing the next generation of young leaders take their place in ministry. prac8.