Flip the keys

Reaching the next generation of leaders in the church: Part VII in a series

By Rev. Rick King
Aug. 25, 2022

We just hired a new office manager, Chris Becker, and he started in his new position Aug. 1. And I realized that I went from being the youngest person on staff when I arrived in November 2017 to being the oldest on staff now.

The church is always being renewed. But we have to let go into the new chapter the Holy Spirit is leading us to. This is true of all leadership, whether it’s staff or lay leadership serving voluntarily in the church.

In this column series, we’ve focused on how the church is going to reach the next generations with the message of God’s love made real in community. And a central answer to that question is that it happens through the raising up of younger leadership from the generations we want to reach: people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

It’s clear that if a church wants to move into the next chapter of its life, it needs younger leadership—not just pastoral, but lay leadership.

One of the best pieces of leadership advice I’ve ever encountered is from the book “Healthy Churches, Faithful Pastors,” by David Keck. Our Pastoral Relations Committee, whose job is to attend to the health of the pastor-congregation relationship to ensure a healthy and vital ministry together, has read and discussed the wisdom in this book, and it informs a lot of our practices.

Keck says the pastor should think of themselves as a steward of the church entrusted to their care for a period in the church’s life. And the job of a steward is to leave the church better than they found it.

Carey Nieuwhof has been looking at the succession crisis happening in large churches whose founding pastors are retiring, and he says many of them are staying too long to ensure a smooth succession to the next ordained leader—past the point of their greatest effectiveness. His advice? “Flip the keys to the next generation. Sometimes that’s some of the keys. In other cases it’s all of the keys.”

The same general principle applies to people on a church’s board, and to a lesser extent, its ministry teams. I generally think most of the leaders at FHC who are my age and older want to flip the keys of leadership to the next generation of leaders, but maybe they don’t know how, or they want to make sure those to whom they flip those keys can be trusted to lead well.
It’s not enough to simply have an influx of young adults and young families into a church and expect that to produce renewal; we have to make it possible for those younger people to step into positions of leadership—to receive the keys and actually lead and learn, the same way those older leaders did.

Do YOU have somebody in mind you think needs to consider a leadership role? Do they exhibit gifts of leadership, even in the rough? Let Carol Holm, Joyce Reistenberg or me know! We have keys for them.