I preached my first sermon as a 16-year-old sophomore in the high-school gym. I began co-pastoring a youth group at 21. I made the rounds at a few local conferences as a 31-year-old college and teaching pastor. I’m currently an executive team member at a gospel-preaching megachurch.
And today, I’m more suspicious of myself than I was in any of my last 13 years of ministry. I’m confronted every year with blind spots I didn’t previously see. I can’t help but wonder what I’m not seeing today that I’ll see this time next year.
Here are three blind spots young leaders are particularly susceptible to—ones I’ve discovered from experience.
1. We’re Not as Authentic as We Think
While we say we value authenticity, we may not be as honest with ourselves as we think. Many of us are still discovering our own preaching and leadership voices. We imitate far more than we know. I’ve seen many of my peers leak Keller, Chandler, or Piper mannerisms while they preach (and outrightly regurgitate content as if it were their own). We talk about the theology of cities without knowing any demographic statistics about the suburban city where our own church resides. We passionately hold to positions because of a seminary course we took three years ago, even while we’d fumble through the Bible to find our proof text for that position.
It’s okay to be an echo before you become a voice.
The point is, we’re still in process. We are growing, learning, and evolving as communicators and leaders. As much as we claim being a more honest, “true to ourselves” generation, we’re betrayed by who (plural) actually shows up in our ministries week to week. It’s okay to be an echo before you become a voice. But that echo should have enough integrity to not feign complete originality in what you teach or tweet.
2. We’re Not as Submissive as We Think
I remember sitting with a young leader in his mid-20s who wanted to discuss his difficulty relating to his lead pastor. I wasn’t taken aback by his questions so much as by his surprise at how hard submitting was. I’ve had this conversation many times with different leaders.
Now, I fully sympathize with this struggle. The combination of a broader leadership crisis, all-too-common morality falls, and a Western individualism that makes “me” the ultimate authority has made us naturally guarded when it comes to external authority. But the irony is we’re blind to the danger of our own authority in the process. We’ve mastered the art of being suspicious of others while rarely being suspicious of ourselves.
We’ve mastered the art of being suspicious of others while rarely being suspicious of ourselves.
It’s easy to give lip service to our supervisors . . . without really submitting. It’s easy to gossip or slander behind their back . . . while nodding in agreement to their face. But real submission is uncomfortable because it is vulnerable; it invites another person’s guidance to hold real sway. If submission never feels uncomfortable, we may just be may bowing to an idol of people-pleasing acceptance.
3. We’re Chasing Platform More Than We Think
Given the ubiquity of “platform-building” in the internet age, younger leaders—who’ve grown up in the age of likes and followers and Twitter mentions—are particularly susceptible to this temptation.
How do you know if this is a blind spot in your life? When you simply use the people in your immediate sphere of influence to gain the attention of people outside your immediate sphere, you’re trying to build your audience. If you’re great with SEO, social media, and blogging, but don’t know the pains and struggles of the people you’re called to lead, you’re after platform.
We need to constantly remind ourselves of the privilege it is to minister in a local context. You get to be in actual, embodied relationships, with a front-row seat to watch God transform lives. In fact, the people to whom you minister are in a sense the ultimate platform, since in loving Christ’s body well, you love him well.
Consider for a moment how much influence you have in your church as a student pastor, worship leader, or ministry intern. Your Christike faithfulness or self-centered folly can have a lasting and profound effect on those around you. While this may feel less romantic than collecting likes and retweets as a digital influencer, it’s just as real of an influence, if not more so.
How to Adjust Your Vision
So how can we, as young leaders, adjust our vision to better see these common issues to which we’re blind? Here are three suggestions.
1. Get around older leaders who don’t need you.
I recently had a conversation with a pastor in his 60s who was not impressed with me at all. He let me have it with sound counsel, and it was gloriously clarifying (and humbling). We have a tendency to want to be around those who only affirm us. But it’s also important to be around those who don’t need our approval and are willing to speak truth and model faithfulness, rather than just telling us what we want to hear.
2. Build friendships with those different from you.
“Different” can mean ethnically, culturally, in ministry philosophy, or even someone from a different theological tribe. In doing so, you’ll see your own echo chamber shrink (“My world is not the world”) and your view of God’s kingdom grow (“Wow, his reign is bigger than what I thought”). If you can walk away encouraged and challenged through fellowship with someone different from you, you’ll be the better for it, and so will the people you lead.
3. Listen to those closest to you.
My wife knows my tendencies better than anyone else. When she speaks into my life, I know she’s on to something, even if I don’t like what I’m hearing. Ministry has a way of drawing us toward the public scene, since that’s where the excitement appears to be—but the up-close-and-personal life is where people know us best. Be tethered to the discomfort of the ordinary. It’s where God does some of his most extraordinary heart work.
It amazes me that Jesus waited three decades before starting his earthly ministry. He knew who he was. His mission was to do the work of the Father, not to build a platform. He came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He was interested in being a servant, not a celebrity. May we follow his example in our own ministry.