7 Vital Practices for Young Leaders

Full disclosure, this post is helpful for all of us who lead, but I’m writing today with young leaders in mind.

Looking back at decades of local church ministry, all seven of these practices are essential and will always add value to your life and ministry.

Most of the practices are easy to comprehend, and you so might be tempted to read the main points and skip the content; that’s a mistake.

It’s not about this post; you can probably find similar content elsewhere; the mistake is about taking shortcuts while trying to grow as a leader. That never works.

Shortcuts always short-circuit your growth as a leader and, therefore, shortchange your leadership effectiveness.

It’s not a good idea to cut corners.

Dig in. Take time to think and process. For example, you may listen to a speaker one day and think, “Yup, I know this stuff.” OK, that’s good, but:

  • At what level?
  • With how many people?
  • Processing what degree of change?
  • Under how much pressure?
  • At what pace?

You get the idea, and we haven’t even mentioned your family’s priority.

And in all this…

The key to your growth is consistency.

Not flash, not quick success, not a bump to a bigger church, but the consistency that delivers long-term productivity and deep abiding joy.

Productivity (fruit) and joy… I promise you want both of these simultaneously for the journey of ministry leadership.

7 Vital Practices:

1) Being your true self

I’ve been blessed by incredible coaching and mentoring, but my fears, insecurities, and tendency toward performance as a young leader reduced my ability to become and be myself. And, of course, that slowed my growth as a leader for many of those early years.

I could work harder, and I did, and while working smart and hard are always good companions, over-working and performance crowd out room for authenticity and margin to learn and grow. Under pressure, this can undermine your character.

Always remember that your character is more important than your performance.

Discovering the person God made you to be and permitting yourself to be that person allows you to become the leader God designed you to be. That process starts with self-awareness.

2) Growing in the right environment

You are always wise to value the right environment over the perfect position.

Your growth as a person, a Christian, and a leader is about being in the right environment around the right people.

Here are 3 characteristics of an environment that will serve you very well.

  • Healthy culture (trust, honesty, grace, high standards, light-hearted, accountability)
  • Developmental mindset (growth, training, coaching, etc.)
  • Spiritual Leadership (Godly leaders who care about you and are passionate about the vision.)

In the right environment, your potential for growth is significantly increased. However, the leaders may give you a seat at the table and deliver great teaching and coaching, but ultimately you are responsible for your own growth.

3) Asking the right questions

John Maxwell’s book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, is an excellent source of practical guidance in asking the right questions.

Good questions demonstrate humility, a hunger to learn, and a curious mind.

Good questions require some thought on the part of the one asking. We should not require the one coaching to do all the thinking.

Good questions are not generic; they are thoughtfully prepared, specific, and relevant to something we need to learn.

The next step is to practice the insights we gained by putting them into action through our leadership. (The purpose for which we asked the question.)

I’ve had many young leaders say they don’t know what questions to ask. That’s legit. Start there, “Can you teach me to ask questions?”

If you and I were talking, and you didn’t know what to ask, I’d start by asking you questions about yourself personally and how you could be a better leader. Then I’d ask you questions about the problems you need to solve.

We’d be off and running quickly, and you can learn that same pattern. 

4) Making your best decisions

Andy Stanley’s book Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets is an outstanding guide for making wise decisions.

Decision-making is one of the most important skills every leader must learn. There are practical elements like those I’ve written about in this post.

There are also emotion-related elements that highly impact your decision-making process and ability.

For example, the amount of pressure and what kind of pressure you are under require a certain level of emotional maturity to still make your best decisions. Therefore, it’s often necessary to have wise counsel around you to ensure it’s the right timing and you possess an appropriate frame of mind.

Other examples are things like learning not to make a decision when you are angry or learning to wait when you really want something now but it’s not the right time.

I say making your “best” decisions because none of us make great decisions all the time. It takes years of experience. That leads us to the next practice.

5) Learning from your mistakes

Most of our mistakes as leaders come from poor decisions, which are sometimes the result of a lack of experience; the good news is that we can learn from them.

All leaders make mistakes. That comes with the territory. If we are not making mistakes, we are most likely not actually leading, that is, solving problems, making progress, and helping people.

A helpful process when it comes to making a mistake:

  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
  • When you make a mistake, own it. Never blame someone else.
  • Identify, as best you can, why you made a mistake.
  • Clearly determine what you learned. (Write it down in one sentence.)
  • Determine not to make that same mistake again.
  • Continue to learn how to make better decisions.

6) Serving others with joy

My hunch is that you entered into ministry because you love God, are called, love people, and enjoy serving them for the benefit of their continuing spiritual maturity.

After years of ministry leadership, that’s not always so easy. The people we serve are just as human as we are, which means they are imperfect too.

The key to serving is to do so with joy, not out of duty, but because your heart is compelled.

Don’t get me wrong; there are days, even seasons, when just doing the right thing is required. But you won’t last in ministry without genuine joy in your serving.

Joy comes from:

  • Remembering your call
  • Sensing how much God loves you
  • Loving people just as they are
  • Seeing people grow is a passion
  • Choosing joy. (Sometimes, you simply choose joy.)

7) Following Jesus with passion

Jesus is the head of the Church and holds things together. (Colossians 1:17-18) The longer you lead, the more that will mean to you.

That scripture means more to me every year. It reminds me that I’m not in control, and God is with me no matter what the challenge.

As leaders, we may be in charge but not in control. We depend upon God for the power and favor for anything of eternal value to take place.

Like me, I’m sure you are grateful for the comfort, grace, wisdom, power, gifts, and fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the great gift that Jesus promised just before He ascended into Heaven. (Acts 1:8-9)

But even more, I’m grateful for the ultimate sacrifice Jesus paid on the cross and the gif of eternal life. Without that, without His resurrection, we serve in vain.

In this light, take time to pursue your personal relationship with Jesus. Quiet, reflective moments of prayer is a great gift to yourself.

This devotional for leaders, Leadership Alone, Isn’t Enough, may be helpful to you. Take a look here.

2 thoughts on “7 Vital Practices for Young Leaders”

  1. E.D. Hirsch said the one thing students wanted to see in their teachers is that they were learners. Leadership is not just being out front but also learning along the way. I want to live a life in which I am always learning and growing. When I was in seminary I had many questions. One of the professors I highly respected was a man who was also the doctoral program director. There were several times I asked him questions and he said, “I don’t know.” I thought to myself he is sending his students a good message. His health is poor at this time but he is still learning. A man I have known 50 years told me a few years ago that he was starting to understand. I felt the same way at that time. It seems when I was younger I was trying to figure “it” out but now I know the importance of trusting God and learning from every situation. I am reminded of Hebrews 13:7, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” If I do not live out the faith it is nothing more than an idea.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.