How Do Older Leaders Follow Young Leaders?

Do you follow a leader who is younger than you are?

This reality is becoming more and more common and will continue as the Xer’s and Millennials rise into positions of leadership.

Perhaps you are a volunteer leader, and your pastor is young. As an older and more experienced leader, you have a powerful opportunity to impact that young leader, your church and the Kingdom of God in a big way.

On Monday I wrote on this topic from the opposite perspective. You can check out that article here.

For this post, let’s tackle nine practical thoughts that will help your Kingdom impact increase, and help you enjoy your ministry even more.

I’d like to give a special shout out here to Ken Shaffer, who serves at our Bethlehem Campus as the Audio Director on the Production Team. Ken shared some great ideas with me for this post. What an awesome guy, talented leader and faithful servant of God. Ken, you model this so well! 

1) Trust that God has His hand on your situation.

It’s important to trust that this unique leadership relationship did not catch God by surprise. He knows who your leader is and wants you to follow. These “older – younger” partnerships are great. The young leader brings things like fresh ideas, youthful energy, and a cultural connection. You bring experience, wisdom and a larger view. What a great team!

2) Settle the deeper reason for why you serve.

Strive for a heart level and steadfast resolve about why you serve as a leader. That resolve will settle your soul and remove the vast majority of potential challenges and conflict. If you serve first for the sake of the mission, your joy and productivity will increase.

3) Take the initiative to put out fires.

It doesn’t help when an older and wiser leader lets a young leader crash and burn. If you see a major issue brewing or consequence to a particular decision, say something. Take action yourself if you can. Don’t sit back and say “I told you so.” afterward. Or “I knew that would happen.” The church needs you and needs you at your best. Meaning, with a positive and proactive disposition.

4) Share your wisdom and experience.

Mistakes will happen. That’s how young leaders learn. I’ll bet you have made a few mistakes along the way. I know I sure have, and I deeply appreciated when older and wiser leaders extended me grace rather than criticism. It’s true that the young leader needs to be teachable and also possess a positive attitude, but when you are both aligned, it’s a powerful partnership.

5) Don’t undermine authority and confidence.

It’s so easy to make a quick off-handed negative remark around other volunteers that really hurts the team and the mission. And it’s nearly impossible to take it back. It’s too late; you just added a little poison into the culture. If you have a legitimate complaint, talk to your leader directly. Repeatedly asking things like “Are you sure?” Or saying, “If that’s what you really want, well . . . OK, but . . . ” is not helpful.

6) Avoid passive-aggressive behavior.

I loved the illustration Ken shared with me. The pastor says to the audio engineer, “Hey it sounds a bit loud, can you bring it down?” The audio tech says “Sure! No problem!” Then shortly after the pastor walks away, the audio tech slowly brings the fader back up! That made me laugh. We all know that has happened!! (But never at Bethlehem Campus of course!) Keep it real, be honest, and speak the truth in love.

7) Embrace change.

Give change a chance. Remember, you probably changed things when you were the younger leader. Change is not only good, but it’s also necessary. Without change, the church can’t grow. It might not be exactly how you would do it, but go with it. Rather than resist, offer your opinion about how to make a new idea better.

8) Keep learning.

If you keep learning, you’ll keep growing. And if you keep growing you can teach your younger leader things he or she doesn’t know. You can show them how. It’s funny how that works. You already have more experience, so you have valuable wisdom to share. But if you appear to have stopped growing and are locked in on your current answers, people are less likely to want to know what you know. Nothing stays the same. Keep learning and your influence increases.

9) Pray that God will grant legacy to your leadership.

You may have 10, 20 or 30 more years of leadership still to give. Great, that just means more legacy developing time! Legacy is about what lives on after you. That requires pouring into and lifting up younger leaders. Your investment in younger leaders as you empower them to lead exponentially multiplies your leadership. Pray and ask God to use you for His glory and to advance His Kingdom!

11 thoughts on “How Do Older Leaders Follow Young Leaders?”

  1. You have a gift Dan! That was certainly a quick one to write. Thanks for the shoutout, and thanks to you I have accountability for my tendency to be passive-aggressive 😉


    Ken, an older audio guy.

    1. Homer F. Carter, Jr

      Wow, what a timely article. We/I are going through these same situations at our church at present. Young pastor older church leadership, fire and oil and not a lot of give and take. Thank you for bringing me back to God’s purpose for me, that’s being a Servant Leader no matter who is my Leader.

  2. Great! Thank you so much for connecting these together. I’m going to share both of these with my church staff. I attend church at First Baptist McKinney in McKinney, TX and we have a new senior pastor who starts this coming Sunday, who just happens to be a little younger. This is very relevant. I love the last point and the idea of Legacy Leadership. We talk so much about servant leadership, but personally I like the term Legacy Leadership better. That is not to minimize the importance of being a servant but I believe ultimately the goal of discipleship / leadership is multiplication; making disciples who make other disciples and that is what legacy is all about.

  3. In one of my pastorates were two retired pastors from very different backgrounds. One was from a large church and the other from a small country church. I can still remember some of the conversations I had with them. I had asked both of them if they would give some sermons because I wanted to hear them preach and learn from them. They assured me I was doing well. Those two men continued to bless me and encourage me. They made a huge difference in my life. They helped me to grow both through the advice and encouragement they gave me.

    During the time I have been making disciples I have made changes. Some were excellent and some were failures and didn’t produce in people what I was hoping for. When I talk with young people and they do not listen I think to myself that they are going to have to learn the hard way. Even today I talk with some older men who have gone before me. One of those is a man who has been making disciples for over 50 years who was also a missionary in a former communist country. Even though I have been doing it a long time I am still learning. I want to more effective with each man I meet with.

    God has blessed me in so many ways as a result of regularly meeting with men who were older than me. When I was in my thirties one of those men was 92. He was one of the most teachable men I have ever met. I will never forget the first time he asked me a question I was surprised he would ask. His approach was that he was never too old to learn. There was a few times when he mentioned how little he knew.

    Some lived and died as though they never lived and others lived and died as though they never died.

    The legacy of the older men who have been in my life has not died and continues too live on in the men I meet with.

    It is because of an older man that I became the first Christian in my family and now most of my family are Christians today. Older men have had a huge impact in my life.

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