As a young leader, it can take time and (lots of) energy to gain the respect of the people you are leading. This is true when those you lead are older than you, have been in ministry longer than you, and—especially—when they have children who are your age. If you are a young leader, you’ve likely heard the line, “I could be your mother (or father).”
What I first want to say is to not be discouraged by comments like these. Most are made without any intention of making you feel less than. Now, of course, there are people who will think they know better than you, and there will be those who actually do know better than you.
It’s important that we learn to discern the difference and learn from each person we lead. And the best example of leadership we can study is Jesus’ example. He was kind, loving, humble, but honest. It’s important to love people well when leading. But it is just as important to have healthy boundaries and guard yourself from burnout.
Give Respect Even When It’s Not Given
My first suggestion is to always be respectful to others, even when they are rude, disregard what you say, or have opinions that seem to constantly override what you are saying. You likely know someone who does this.
They may have been a long-time volunteer or maybe they led the ministry you are over at another church. It can be difficult to take the comments, criticisms, and even eye rolls. But giving respect even when you aren’t given it is a game changer and speaks volumes of your character as a leader.
People see how you treat others, and they will watch as situations unfold to see how you respond. Each time you choose right over wrong, you’ll earn more respect.
There may come a time where you need to address someone’s comments or actions toward you. I would encourage you to include your ministry lead in that as well, so that you are not alone in the conversation taking place.
Make Space for Input
It’s never a great idea to come in as a young leader (or even an older leader) and ignore what everyone thinks. Now, of course, you have to take suggestions with a grain of salt and make final decisions for your ministry. But it is important that you make space for input and feedback.
If you don’t make space for input, then you won’t learn your weaknesses and you definitely won’t learn your volunteers’ passions or strengths. Making space for people to pour into you and your ministry creates room for growth.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes when making this space, some things people say will hurt. It will take some ups and downs for you to find the right balance of when and where to ask for input, and who might be giving healthy input, as well as those who might just be criticizing with no solutions.
And that leads me to my next point.
Create Healthy Boundaries
It’s important to also create boundaries. This is anything from dedicated time with your family to not allowing people to speak to you a certain way.
Sometimes you won’t know what boundaries you need until you have experienced a situation. I’m not telling you to go turn tables over, but I am telling you to have boundaries for yourself as a leader, for your ministry, and for your volunteers.
If you are a young volunteer leader, it makes this even more important. You likely have a full-time job, a family, and other taxing responsibilities. Although leading ministry is so important, you are adding a full plate to an already full plate. So, be conscientious of your time and the time you are asking of your volunteers.
If you are a paid leader, then it is still true that you need to have healthy boundaries with your ministry, like anyone would need to have with a job they work at—although we all know ministry has more layers. Remember to be forgiving toward your volunteers, but just as importantly, be forgiving to yourself.
Own Your Role
The success of your ministry is ultimately your responsibility, so you also have to own it. What are the systems you need to have in place to help you succeed?
For example, if you aren’t highly detailed or organized, what are the tools that could help you stay on top of the details? Or let’s say you have organization down but struggle with being relational. What practices will help you in the relationships within your ministry?
Having procedures and processes in place to help you with your weaker areas will help you be a stronger leader, and they potentially could help you transform some of those weaknesses into strengths. Take steps to train your mind to think like a leader.
And, if we’re honest with ourselves, there are times for us to put our heads down and just get the work done. It’s important that we do the work we say we’re going to do. And that we do it well.
Have a Support System
Do you have people that you can lean on when you’ve had a rough interaction or day? Do you have a support system in place?
This can consist of family, friends, other ministry leaders, or anyone in your life that you can trust. This space should be one where you can be vulnerable and honest about what’s going on in your life and your ministry.
It’s important that within your support system that you don’t get so comfortable that it becomes a complaining space. It should be one where you can sort through problems to find solutions, receive feedback for how you could become better, give and receive encouragement, and—of course—it’s okay to have the moments where you need help moving past something.
Remember that it’s also okay to feel excited, discouraged, joyful, or even defeated. Ministry has its ups and downs. Surround yourself with people who can celebrate with you, challenge you, and lift you up when you need it most.
Never retreat to your shell simply because you are younger than your leadership. Learn from your leadership and honor them. But also, don’t be afraid to speak up with ideas, concerns, or needs when you have the opportunity.
If your ideas are not initially considered (or heard or supported), continue to lead up by how you respond to leadership and how you lead your team.
You could have great leadership, or maybe even not-so-great leadership, but your integrity in everyday life and ministry is important. Keep working at it every day. And no matter how many times you fail, get back up and keep going.
Stay Rooted in Your Mission and God’s Word
No matter the challenges you face, it’s important to stay focused on what matters most—and that’s your relationship with God and the life you live. Of all the things that you do, it is ever so important that you continue growing daily in your walk with Him.
Staying focused on living your life for God will keep you on mission and following His plans over your own.
Stay encouraged and continue to grow as you lead. And no matter how old you get, never forget to keep changing and growing as needed. When that time comes, remember what it was like to be a young leader. Look at how far God brought you. And know that He’s not done with you yet.
Strive to be a leader worth following.