A chronic case of making decisions for others

December 1, 2022

I remember the first time a senior leader turned and asked “Anna, what do you think?”

At that moment, I was grateful for the chance to share my perspective. I’ve never been someone who didn’t have an opinion. Ask my mother and surely she will have a long list of my opinions at the ready. I digress.

As my colleague Ruth Langkamp and I have been working with congregations and leaders, we’ve begun to notice a familiar trend. Often senior leaders will say, “Well, I think the young people want X, Y, and Z.” To which we often reply, “Do you think? Or do you know?”

In the church in particular, we have a chronic case of making decisions for others and very rarely with them.

So for this week’s challenge, I’d like to invite us to explore a concept that Ruth and I call sponsorship. It’s the act of extending credibility as a seasoned leader by inviting a younger leader to come lead alongside you.

Sometimes it even requires them leading FOR you.

We see this concept a number of times throughout scripture:

  • In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say(A) in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
  • And in Philemon Paul writes, “So if you consider me a partner,(A) welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”
  • And finally, there are several times throughout the epistles when Paul sends Timothy or Salias on his behalf.

What do we learn? Paul was not just leading from the front but from alongside extending his credibility and creating spaces of leadership for the sake of God’s kingdom.

This all seems fairly obvious. But I can assure you, this work does not happen unless we practice and extend a certain level of commitment. Again, thinking back to last week to my seasoned leader friend; not only did I encourage him to come alongside the younger leader, I also pressed him to begin advocating within his organization on the young leader’s behalf.

This is the second most critical part of raising up leaders. Often these leaders will come to serve with enthusiasm and vigor and they are crushed by the weight of “we just don’t do things that way.”

For evolution to take place, including in the church, we need young leaders to not just participate, but find places of leadership where they can shift and challenge and grow the culture. But again, this work can’t happen if seasoned leaders aren’t willing to take a risk and say “we need to listen to them,” or even “they’re okay, they’re with me.”

This extension of credibility fosters trust, and invites everyone to consider the changes that are being encouraged.

So for this week, consider who you know that might be looking not just to be heard but to be supported. How might you better come alongside them, lending your credibility to support their efforts to passionately love and serve the Lord?

By Rev. Anna Radcliffe, RCA Director of Future Church Innovation

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