Any leader working with the youth of America can attest to the fact this generation is different than all others before it. Today’s youth speak in a language we don’t always understand, run circles around us with new technology, and think differently when it comes to religion and social issues. However, I believe they are the hope for our nation.
I recently partnered with The Barna Research Group to survey Christian adults ages 18 and older about their views on leadership. During this, we discovered 82 percent agree “the nation is facing a crisis of leadership because there are not enough good leaders now.”
Some in older generations have written off our country, believing we are spiraling down a dark chasm, but not the younger generation. Its members are more hopeful than ever.
It is true that we currently have a dearth of leadership in our country. In general, we trust our leaders less today than we have in the past. There is a lot at stake, and it’s time for a new generation of leaders to rise up and take charge.
Essentials for Young Leaders
I’m passionate about raising up great leaders, and I’ve devoted much of my life to convening and equipping leaders of all ages and stages in life who want to grow in their leadership abilities, particularly through Catalyst. I believe this generation has what it takes to change our nation and world for Christ.
Young people have a passion for God. This generation may not be into organized religion, but it loves following Jesus. Everyone seems to think we’ve lost a generation of Christ followers in our country, but just look at gatherings such as Passion, Urbana or IHOP One Thing that are attracting 20,000-plus attendees. This instills confidence that the next generation of leaders loves Jesus and is passionate about serving Him and making Him known for its generation.
As youth leaders, we have the responsibility of further developing these young men and women into the future leaders of our church, community, nation and world. I believe there are eight essentials we must help young, potential change-makers cultivate:
• Called by God to leadership and willing to seek His will
• Authentic and humble, becoming influential rather than impressive
• Passionate about God, committed to developing a heart for the Creator
• Capable and determined, working harder than anyone else on the team
• Courageous when the time comes to take a leap
• Principled in every decision made, unwilling to compromise for convenience
• Hopeful despite challenges, believing God can do what we cannot
• Collaborative, drawing on the strength of others and sharing praise
Notice I call these essentials, not strengths. These are the characteristics I have found to be necessary to create change makers—people who leverage their influence for the betterment of the world, the collective good of others and the greater glory of God.
It Starts with You
I believe this generation already exhibits many of the qualities of change makers and simply needs the direction and wisdom of those who have gone before to ensure they are fully developed.
For instance, this generation is willing to work together and share ideas. Its members aren’t afraid to collaborate with others. They trust each other—really—and see collaboration as the starting point, not some grandiose vision of teamwork that is far off in the distance. Collaboration is now the norm. This new wave of youth has tools/resources such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vines, Flickr, Instagram and tons more social media tools that make influencing much more readily possible.
They don’t care who gets the credit. For the next generation, it’s way less about who and way more about what.
They understand the holistic responsibility of influence. This generation is willing to connect all of life together—faith, compassion, charity, church, family, friends. It’s all connected.
They are ambitious and passionate about making a difference now, unwilling to wait their turn. They want to influence now, and they care about the poor and lean into causes and see the social gospel as a key ingredient to following Christ.
The foundation is there, but in order to instill these eight essentials in our youth, we must first lead by example. We also learn to exhibit these ourselves. We must practice the art of leading with humility and integrity. We must become authentic leaders. Only then will we gain the trust of those we are leading.
Cultivating a Generation of Change
So if this generation is primed for success, how do we help lead them? I have to admit this can be a tricky question. I don’t always get this right, but in my years of working with millennials—those born after 1980—I’ve learned a few things about how to successfully work with them:
Give them a cause. Opportunities to give back are important to them. As youth leaders, look for ways you can help tie in compassion and justice to the normal.
Embrace social media. It’s here to stay, and this generation is immersed in it. They don’t go a day without using one or all social media platforms. It’s vital that we are personally and organizationally participating in their social world.
Use technology. This generation is more tech-savvy than any other. XBOX, iPhones, laptops and iPads are just normal. We must bring this norm to our ministries, and when communicating, use texting, Facebook messages and Twitter direct messages to ensure a response.
Lead each person uniquely. Don’t create standards or rules that apply to everyone. Customize your approach to reaching youth in your ministry.
Make authenticity and honesty the standard. Millenials are cynical at their core and don’t trust someone just because he or she is in charge. Be yourself.
Give them opportunities early with major responsibility. They don’t want to wait their turn. They want to make a difference now. Empower them early and often. Allow them to lead music, Bible studies and activities.
Coach and encourage them. They want to gain wisdom through experience. Be a mentor. Come alongside them; don’t just tell them what to do.
Create opportunities for quality time. They want to be led by example, not just by words.
Hold them accountable. They want to be held accountable by those who are living it out. If you give them a responsibility, hold them accountable for making sure it is done and done well.
Recognize their values, not just their strengths.
Our young people want to make a difference. They want to lead, but they need a roadmap for leading well. Be that roadmap for them, and you will find there is hope for our future.
Brad Lomenick is president and key visionary of Catalyst, one of America’s most influential leadership movements, and author of “The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials to Becoming a Change Maker.” Follow him at @BradLomenick or BradLomenick.com.