Written by: Noel Heikkinen
Noel is the teaching pastor at Riverview, a multi-site church-planting church in the Lansing, Michigan area that is actively engaging younger generations in both in-person and digital spaces. In addition to his work at Riv, Noel serves as the US Midwest regional director for Acts 29. He is an author, podcaster, speaker, and leadership coach. He is married to Grace, and they have four children and a son-in-law.
This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked here: https://www.acts29.com/the-difference-between-good-leaders-and-great-leaders/
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Gospel Coalition.
In my late teens and early 20s, I was an arrogant young punk. I thought I knew everything about the Christian faith and how ministry was supposed to work. I had ideas, dreams, and, of course, verses.
For several years, I bounced around between various churches and college ministries looking for something I didn’t know I was missing—until I found it: men excited about training younger men.
Over the past two decades of ministry, I’ve observed many young guys who remind me of my former self. They bounce from church to church, probably unsure of exactly what they’re looking for.
Here’s what I think helps to explain it: Bad leaders repel young leaders, good leaders raise up young leaders, and great leaders launch young leaders.
Bad Leaders Repel
Young leaders usually think they’re looking for a place to lead. If they can just find that church or organization where they “fit,” then they’ll flourish. But what young leaders are really looking for—whether they know it or not—is a person who will help them learn how to lead.
Leadership in the church—and especially in the work of church planting—is not gleaned by osmosis. It won’t just “happen.” It takes older leaders intentionally pouring their lives into younger ones. Paul told Timothy to “teach others” what Paul had taught him (2 Tim. 2:2). To raise up young leaders, you don’t need a big leadership program; you need an intentional life. Leadership in the church—and especially in the work of church planting—is not gleaned by osmosis. It won’t just “happen.”CLICK TO TWEET
When an older leader is insecure, he’s unlikely to keep alongside a younger leader who challenges his way of doing things. The older leader sees these challenges as an affront to his preferred methods and systems.
On the flip side, an older leader who doesn’t know how to lead will often abdicate to a younger leader too quickly, thus violating Paul’s warning to “not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22).
Both approaches will eventually cause the young leader to bail, get frustrated with ministry, or burn out.
Good Leaders Raise Up
Good leaders recognize talent in younger people and are excited about the opportunity to train the next generation. They create or adopt plans and systems to mentor with the skills these young people need.
Unfortunately, things often stall here, since many older leaders fail to take the crucial next step that great leaders know they must take. It’s not enough to identify and train young leaders; older leaders must let them lead. This means giving them responsibility in specific areas.To raise up young leaders, you don’t need a big leadership program; you need an intentional life.CLICK TO TWEET
Older leaders who only delegate responsibility on the basis of fully developed skill will never delegate responsibility. Leadership development means trusting younger leaders even though they won’t do it as well as you could (at least initially).
Great Leaders Launch
After spending years mentoring and training me as a leader, the pastors at my church noticed I was bouncing off the glass ceiling of our organization. So they did something few older leaders are willing to do: they opened a skylight in the glass ceiling to launch me farther than they had gone.
Giving younger leaders opportunities to surpass you in ministry takes profound humility, wrought only by the Spirit of God.
From my experience with these godly men, here are a few ways you can launch young leaders:
- Give them a chance to lead (and not just when you are on vacation). If they are an up-and-coming preacher, give them a prime spot in the preaching rotation and sit in the front row, listening attentively and taking notes.
- Be their biggest public cheerleader. Encourage them in their strengths in front of those who are watching.
- Be their behind-the-scenes coach. Help them learn to face their weaknesses and apply the gospel to their own soul. This is crucial for anyone who desires to lead others.
- If they are a church planter, encourage them to take anyone they can convince to go with them. Give them permission—even encouragement—to poach your best people.
None of this is easy. It takes humble dependence on the Good Shepherd (John 10). But that’s the greatest leadership trait I’ve learned from the men who trained me. They were, and continue to be, the most humble servant leaders I’ve ever met. I know this because they are still on the pastoral team I now lead. Bad leaders repel young leaders, good leaders raise up young leaders, and great leaders launch young leaders.CLICK TO TWEET
That was never the plan. In fact, they did all this work with the intention of launching me to plant a new church. The biggest reason I stayed, instead of planting a church, is because we had a good team. Together, we hope to train hundreds of young men to plant churches all over the globe.
And now, I’m trusting God to eventually provide the leader who can take the church farther than I could ever dream. At that point, it’ll be my turn to fade quietly into the background.