Everyone in the congregation was waiting with great expectation. Sabbath School was over, and before the divine worship service began, the church was going to find out who would lead the leadership responsabilities during the upcoming year. As the nominating committee clerk stood facing the congregation, she began reading the list of proposed new officers, which started with the names of the elders. As the first five elders’ names were read, the clerk surprised the entire church by reading the last nominated elder’s name. A young adult had been selected to be part of the elders’ circle.
Just as man stepping on the moon was a major event in history, having a young-adult elder was a huge accomplishment. After serving the church for many years as a youth leader and with the congregation asking for a generational relay in its senior leadership, I had been elected to serve as an elder despite my young age in comparison to the other five persons.
Nevertheless, as my first year of duty came to an end, I felt frustrated and disappointed. I had so many plans and innovative ideas to enhance our worship service, to improve our congregation’s unity, and to carry the gospel. After my designation, I prayed and looked forward to inspiring my church as I had done with over 50 young people in past years. Instead, I felt awkward, as if I didn’t fit in the elders’ group. They were not just elders; they were older. They each had over 40 years of church service. When they spoke, they always referred to me as “the young elder,” as if they were juniors in college and I was a freshman.
The main reason why so many churches today struggle and fail at establishing a generational relay in their leadership is because senior elders are unconsciously closed to the idea of letting go. Our church has created a group of so-called young adults who already study the adults’ lesson; most are married, own a house, and have kids. They own successful businesses or have prominent professional careers in which they are encouraged to take risks, innovate, and make decisions that will positively impact the business. Despite being young in age, they still manage to have deep relationships with God through constant study and prayer.
But in spite of their grown-up characteristics, despite being accomplished adults, many are still viewed as young, which, in most cases, seems to come with an attached and incorrect notion of being immature, inexperienced, and even spiritually lukewarm. Older elders will not stop looking at young adults as such until they do the following:
1. Recognize that God chooses young people to lead. He did it with Joshua. He did it with Joseph, Solomon, and Daniel. And He did it with Jesus, who, by our definition of young adult—ages 19-35—fits perfectly well. While we tend to limit our judgment to external appearance, qualities, and traits, Christ looks at the bigger picture. When He sees the capacity and potential in a young person to lead, elders need to embrace the opportunity, too.
2. Leverage the new resource. When Josiah inherited the kingdom of Judah, he was only eight years old. Through strict faithfulness and obedience to God’s Word, he led—at age 16!—the nation into an amazing period of reformation (2 Chron. 34:3-7). Younger people bring new ideas that can always benefit the church growth and its purpose while staying connected to God, the main source of wisdom.
3. The more young people you have in your congregation, the more a younger elder can contribute. No matter how great the older elders are, the younger generation and millennial group of your church will better identify themselves with someone who is closer to their reality and speaks their language. They need someone who understands their way of thinking and can inspire them to service and daily surrender.
More than a hindrance, a young adult on your team of elders can be a great strategy as you make proper use of their energy and desire to serve God. Choose someone who can be a mentor for younger leaders, who can give them constant feedback and empower them to serve the church with the same love and humbleness as Jesus did.
Having senior and younger elders on the same team is the perfect combination of experience and innovation that, through the Holy Spirit, will lead your congregation into the heavenly kingdom.
Johann Dedier is an elder in the country of Panama. He is the author of the book Fuerte y Valiente and is a writer and editor for the CQ Lesson Study.