A Letter to Young Leaders: 5 Ways You Can Lead By Example
Today's article is a guest post from James Bloedel, a good friend of mine from college who has served in the Church his whole life, is passionate about healthy ministries, and does great creative work through Zebedee Media.
Dear Young Leader,
I write this letter to remind you of a simple truth: You are a leader. You have studied and you continue to study. Older, wiser leaders have poured into you and given you the opportunity to hone your skills. You are learning that ministry can be hard, very hard. You’ve realized that people are broken and you’re beginning to understand the depths of your own brokenness.
Still, you are young. Many have gone before you and there is much to be learned. However, I want to remind you that your age does not limit your impact or the scope to which God will use you.
Consider Paul’s young protégé, Timothy. Timothy was a leader in the church at Ephesus. Paul (and God) had charged Timothy with the daunting tasks of refuting false teachers, supervising the growth of the Ephesian church, and appointing church leaders. While Timothy was ready and willing, he no doubt felt held back by his age. Surely, there were older and wiser leaders who were more qualified? Maybe, maybe not. However, Paul chose Timothy and encouraged him not to lead by his age, experience, or qualifications, but rather by example:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”. – 1 Timothy 4:12
Often, as a young leader, the only influence you have is the example that you set through your actions. In this short verse, Paul tells Timothy (and young leaders everywhere) of five key areas where he must lead by example.
Today, our ability to communicate is almost endless. No longer is our voice limited to in-person conversations, handwritten letters, or sermons preached from a pulpit. Through social media, video platforms, and streaming services, our words can reach across the globe. Your voice has power, influence, and an audience. Set an example to those around you by using your speech to honor others, promote truth, encourage, and create unity. Let Ephesians 5:4 be a guide to your voice: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” Use your words, regardless of their format, to glorify God.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” Young leader, guard your actions and intentions with integrity, not because you are watched by the world around you, but because your actions display who you worship. Remember that we are not working for the approval of people, elder boards, executive directors, or senior pastors. We are working to be found as good and faithful servants in the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ. God knows of our actions not just in public, but in secret as well. Become an approved workman before the Lord, and your earthly supervisors will approve of you as well.
"We are not working for the approval of people, elder boards, executive directors, or senior pastors. We are working to be found as good and faithful servants in the eyes of our Lord Jesus Christ."
As a leader (especially a young leader), you will often encounter more critics than encouragers. You’ll discover volunteers, peers, and even friends that seek to undermine or disqualify your ministry. On the less extreme end, you’ll also encounter bad attitudes, selfishness, and thankless hearts. It’s easy to react to these people and meet their bitterness with a wall of your own. However, as a leader, you are called to something greater.
Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” It’s easy to love those who love you, but it’s much harder to care for those who seem to have no love for you. Pray for the difficult people in your life, seek good things for them, and act in love towards everyone always.
As a ministry leader, many will look to you for guidance as they navigate their faith journey with Jesus. As you pour out into others, recognize your need to be poured into. You will never reach a place where you no longer need to be discipled, and your faith will never reach perfection. As you walk with others, make sure someone is walking with you. Seek the council and wisdom of those who have gone before you. Find time to meditate on God’s word and prioritize prayer, even in the busiest of seasons. Let Christ and the lessons He is teaching you be on your lips, always.
It doesn’t take more than a quick Google search to reveal the names and stories of countless ministry leaders who have fallen due to moral failure. It seems every few months we find another story of a pastor who seemed to have it all together but lived a life of secret sin and self-indulgence.
Young leader, it is crucial that you seek to live a life of purity before God and the earthly authority that the Lord has placed over you. Seek purity and transparency in your relationships, finances, web history, workplace, and every other avenue of your life. Create accountability and stand strong against the temptations that will come your way.
Being a young leader is difficult. I was only 19 when I found myself on staff at a church working with adults and volunteers that were sometimes 40 years my wiser. In the last 6 years, I’ve experienced failure, success, humility, pain, excitement, betrayal, redemption, and the joy that comes from serving the Lord and His church. Through all of it, Jesus has continued to sanctify and draw me closer to Himself.
Young leader, I believe in you. The Lord has placed a calling on your life and I pray that you will live into it. Keep pushing, keep learning, keep growing, keep serving Christ.
James Bloedel has served in the Church his whole life, is passionate about healthy ministries, and does great creative work through Zebedee Media. He currently resides in Chicago with his wife Rachel and holds a Communications degree from Moody Bible Institute.