General Mark W. Clark, a veteran of World War II and Korea, said that his entire life had been spent “in a search for the mysterious intangible—the quality known as leadership.” Field Marshall Montgomery called leadership “the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose.” No matter how we define it, one thing is certain: there is never enough of it available.
Where does juvenile delinquency begin? In leaderless families. Where do slums fester? In leaderless cities. Which are the armies that falter, which political parties fail? Poorly-led ones. Why are many nations facing economical problems? Greed and poor leadership! Why are families disintegrating? There is no leadership in the home!
As pastors and elders, we have a tremendous responsibility to lead the church family into the kingdom of God and to provide a healthy environment for them to grow in their Christian experience.
During my ministry with young people, there was one story that really touched me. This was during the 1960s, when young people faced a lot of problems. The problems were reflected in their appearance, their music, and their “hippie” lifestyle. On one particular Sabbath, as the pastor delivered the sermon, the congregation was amazed to see a colorfully dressed, long-haired hippie walk in.
The pastor and the congregation froze as an elder walked toward the hippie. Everyone assumed that the elder was going to throw him out, but to their surprise, he sat right next to him. That day the congregation learned what true love was all about. Everyone was reminded that Christ died for everyone, including that hippie.
Over the years, young people have faced problems ranging from depression to violence. When pastors and elders work for the youth alongside teachers and parents, we can rest assure that the future of our church will reap a bountiful harvest.
Youth today are crying out for quality relationships with adults. Because our youth are not being fed, they are looking to other pastures, and the media is constantly feeding them negative values. The challenge now is how to deal with these problems in such a terrible world.
Just as God uses adults to reach youth, He also uses high-quality peers to plant the seeds of good morals in the hearts of our youth. When our youth are driven by the love of God, they are empowered to do wondrous works, just as in March 2009, when a group of teenagers went to Florida on spring break—not to party, but to perform community service.
YOUTH AND THEIR PARENTS
According to researchers, parents and children differ in areas such as drug use, occupational goals, marital relationships, and child-rearing. Youth often view adults as hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another. They witness the frequency of unsanctified marriages, divorce, and adultery.
I ran a workshop for a European youth congress in which I spoke to 400 young people on the topic of marriage. When I challenged them to model and observe their parents and other married couples, one youth said afterward that there were no role models in his church to follow.
Ellen G. White says: “The Christian home is to be an object lesson, illustrating the excellence of the true principles of life. Such an illustration will be a power for good in the world. Far more powerful than any sermon that can be preached is the influence of a true home upon human hearts and lives. As the youth go out from such a home, the lessons they have learned are imparted. Nobler principles of life are introduced into other households, and an uplifting influence works in the community.”a
YOUTH AND THEIR LEADERS
Some time ago, Youth for Christ, an organization involved in youth ministry, released findings of an extensive research project in conjunction with Michigan State University. The survey focused on the qualities young people most desired in a leader, whether an adult or one of their peers. The study examined 11 desirable and 11 undesirable leadership behaviors. They ranked one set which dealt with peers and one set that dealt with adults. The findings showed that the characteristics many young people look for in good leaders are characteristics they see in their parents. Here are some samples of the most important qualities:
• People-oriented programs
• Avoiding authoritarian leadership
• Listening (the most important behavior listed for both peers and adults)
• Hypocrisy (ranked as the most undesirable behavior that young people see).
However, it was interesting to see what qualities parents, ministers, elders, or teachers should have as they work with young people in the home, school, or church.
Hannibal believed he could lead an army of 66,000 men and scores of elephants over the Alps through a blinding snowstorm to attack the Romans. That confidence in himself was planted and nurtured by his father, the great Carthaginian Hamilcar, and it resulted in the most daring march in military history.
We see this quality in the life of Jesus. Ellen G. White says that “He honored man with His confidence, and thus placed him on his honor.”b She also says that “when men will show confidence in their fellowmen, they will come much nearer to possessing the mind of Christ.”c
To work with youth, a leader must be energetic and in good shape. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was a frail man. But every morning he rose at 4:00 a.m., delivered his first sermon at 5:00 a.m., and was on the road by 6:00 a.m. Every day he traveled 60 or 70 miles on horseback, preaching to anyone who could hear him. At night he sat up writing books or composing hymns by candlelight. In all his 87 years, he never once spared himself, and people admired and followed him because of it.
Ellen White says this about leaders: “Courage, energy, and perseverance they must possess.”d She adds that “Christian life is more than many take it to be. It does not consist wholly in gentleness, meekness and kindliness. These graces are essential; but there is need also of courage, force, energy and perseverance.”e
Pastors and elders cannot have Model-T leadership when Model SS is in the marketplace. One of the most unsuccessful launches of an automobile was the famous Edsel. It had some marvelous looks and features, but Americans did not like it. It was released at the wrong time. Today it has become a classic!
We need to be aware of current events and trends. The saying “In my day . . .” has been said all too often. Let us try and reach the youth at their level. Let us try to understand their language, goals, and aspirations without compromising our principles. The Bible says that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4, ESV).
There were other qualities listed in the Youth for Christ survey: clarity, tenacity, boldness, concern, and morality. They are all important. However, I like the last one.
Leaders must believe in the youth and believe that God can help them. They must be believers in God who study the Word, are exemplary family members, who take time with their families and with the youth, and are humble shepherds. Faith means Forsaking All I Take Him. Not only must leaders have faith in the young people, they must also have faith in themselves that they can help the youth reach their goals.
William George, former CEO of Medtronics, said, “To create lasting value in our corporation, we need a new generation of authentic leaders to step up and take charge of our companies. Only then we will regain the trust of the American people.”f
Prophetic words for our times! In the same article, Warren Bennis, at the University of Southern California, said that “leadership is based on character.” However, I would like to close by mentioning one of the essential qualities that pastors, elders, parents, and teachers should hold as they deal with the complicated issues and problems that young people face.
In the book The Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White describes how Jesus, in His youth, learned the lessons of patience and endurance. His patience, His treatment of people, and the lessons from His parents were displayed during His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. During their dialogue, Christ listened with attention and tried to communicate with this poor woman. “Patiently Jesus permitted her to lead the conversation whither she would. Meanwhile He watched for the opportunity of again bringing the truth home to her heart.”g
What an example from our Master! Patiently we must wait for the opportunity to bring the love of God to the young people of our church. Patience is one of the qualities of the saints in the last days: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
At the end of His ministry, when confronted with Herod, Jesus displayed calmness and patience. Here is what Mrs. White says of this famous encounter.
“Christ might have spoken words to Herod that would have pierced the ears of the hardened king. He might have stricken with fear and trembling by laying before him the full iniquity of his life, and the horror of his approaching doom. But Christ’s silence was the severest rebuke that He could have given.”h Some time ago I heard Dr. Arthur Bietz, then-pastor of the Glendale Seventh-day Adventist Church in California, describing Jesus’ encounter with Herod. He said that “Jesus was faced with nothing and there was nothing to say.”
Let us follow the example of our Savior by demonstrating faith in our young people. Yes, they will make mistakes. The famous Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, winner of eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, tarnished his image when he was discovered smoking marijuana on camera. He admitted his mistake and apologized.
That is why we need patience, love, and understanding as we deal with our youth. We must have faith in them in spite of their foolish mistakes! Our youth and children are the most precious treasures we have in our churches. They are not only the present but the future of our church. Many of the young people that I have met in my ministry are now pastors, doctors, nurses, and administrators of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“With such an army of workers as our youth, rightly trained . . . how soon the message of a crucified, risen and soon-coming Savior might be carried to the whole world.”i
a Ellen G. White, Messages to Young People, 328.
b ———, Testimonies to Ministers, 190.
c Ibid., 189.
d White, Gospel Workers, 39.
e Ibid., 290.
f The Costco Connection, March 2004.
g White, The Desire of Ages, 186.
h Ibid., 730.
i Messages to Young People, 196.
Leo Ranzolin, now retired, is a former Youth Director and Vice President of the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists.