I love baseball. From the crack of a great hit when the ball hits the bat at 95 miles an hour to the smell of a stadium hot dog, baseball is truly one of the great American pass times. Last Friday night (August 2012) Pastor Miles Welch, who oversees our intern process, and I got to hang out with about 15 of our 12Stone® Church ministry interns at the Coolray Field. We watched the Gwinnett Braves play the Syracuse Chiefs. The GBraves won and the fireworks were fantastic!

There are few things better than connecting with twenty-something leaders who are highly gifted, love Jesus, and want to make a difference. I left that night thinking several things. First, our future is bright. These young adults have great potential. Second, we need to invest well in their leadership development. And third, I ate too much, but I had a great time!

There are mixed reviews about today’s twenty-somethings. I often hear things like they don’t want to work hard, their lifestyles don’t reflect serious faith in Christ, and they will leave a church in a heartbeat for a better deal. Well, I want to go on record saying that I have met the “other” twenty-somethings, and they are fantastic! I love doing ministry with them. Let me share some of my observations from a significant number of these high potential young adults.

  • Willing to sacrifice

This example isn’t limited to ministry interns, but let me just use our group as an illustration. They come for two years of training, and in terms of remuneration receive only a modest stipend and also housing. They all have a part time job in addition to their ministry hours. They work hard and give up much for a greater Kingdom impact.

  • Dedicated to making a difference

These young adults genuinely care about people and are passionate about life transformation in others. The push back I get from other church leaders is: “Yeah, but they are inexperience and make mistakes.”  Well, of course, that’s where we all started!

  • Want to learn and grow

They are hungry to become better leaders. Throughout the game, between lots of hot dogs, BBQ pork sandwiches, and huge soft pretzels that were awesome, they talked about how much they love growing as leaders.

  • Have great ideas

This gets me fired-up. We all know ministry methodology is meant to change. Not for the sake of change, but to improve results. These young leaders have tons of ideas. Ok, so they are not all great ideas . . . but they are thinking and in the game!

  • Love Jesus and take their faith seriously

I was personally encouraged just by getting to know them that night, hearing parts of their stories, even if just a little part, and every time it was easy and quick to see the sincerity of their faith!

Sitting in that Triple-A stadium that night made me again reflect on the purpose and power of the farm team system. In baseball, AAA ball is about developing players who will become really good at what they do. Every player on the Gwinnett Braves is digging in hard to improve their skills with hopes of one day playing on the Atlanta Braves . . . or another team in the Big Leagues!  The Triple-A players are the Next Gen of baseball. And little league is the next, next generation!

In the church, we need to be just as serious and dedicated to a process that will develop the Next Gen leaders!  At 12Stone we do a number of things to develop our young leaders. Both Pastor Kevin Myers and I are dedicated to teach leadership with passion and consistency. We also have a specific two-year program for high-capacity young leaders right out of college who have a call to full time ministry. And our student ministry team is gaining great traction developing the next, next gen leaders!

My goal in this article is not to provide a detailed plan and curriculum, but more so an overview of some big ideas, some big targets, that would serve you well as you invest in your young leaders.

  • Self-Leadership

From self-awareness to self-discipline, leadership is truly won or lost internally. Helping young leaders understand who they are in Christ is a great gift you can give. I talk with leaders in their 40’s who still don’t have that figured out, and as a result, their influence is greatly reduced. John Maxwell taught me the principle “pay now and play later” when I was in my late twenties. That simple but profound phrase has shaped how I’ve embraced and practiced discipline. From focus and priorities to good old-fashioned hard work, discipline is essential for great leadership.

  • Spiritual Intensity

Next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership. That’s a true statement, but let’s focus on the front half. “Next to the favor of God…” because that’s where it all begins and ends. Without the presence and power of God, church leaders are dead in the water. You can force things in the natural realm but they won’t last, and if they appear to be sustaining, your reward is exhaustion. Learning to depend upon God and build your ministry on deep, fervent and consistent prayer is non-negotiable for great spiritual leadership.

  • Skill-Training

Leadership development does include skills! That was part of my passion to write the book Amplified Leadership. I have long watched leaders languish because they just don’t get how to leverage the most basic of leadership skills. The ten practical (and relational) leadership skills I think every church leader should know and practice include how to connect, appreciate, encourage, inspire, invite, equip, select, include, develop and empower. I cover these in my book, in sequence, and the larger the environment you lead in the more challenging they become!

  • Servant Heart

Jesus set the standard of servant leadership and we, as Christian leaders, are indebted to pursue what He modeled for us. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45.  Genesis chapter three teaches us that our sin nature is bent toward selfishness. We all drift in that direction. So to lead like Christ, a heart to serve is crucial.

  • Social Interaction

This last bullet might have been better stated as something about relationships or people skills, but that doesn’t start with the letter S! Ok, more serious now. As John Maxwell teaches in his book, The 5 Levels of Leadership, level two is about leading with permission. Bluntly put – people follow you if they like you! Learning what makes people tick and how not to tick them off is important! Knowing how to get along with people, even difficult people, is essential if you will lead long and well in the local church!

I hope this encourages and inspires you to invest in, develop and empower young leaders. They are our future!