Last week I was asked to come down to Bethel Seminary to give a short talk on some of the distinctives of leadership in the next generation. Here is the list that I came up with. I would have loved to have time to unpack these more fully, but I found it to be fruitful in my own life to think through them.

Next generation Christian leadership must be defined by:

  • Being gospel centered: I must be gospel centered on both entry and living. The up-and-coming leaders have to understand that changed hearts lead to changed lives, not the other way around (Eph 4:17-24). We can no longer be leaders who are content with moralistic deism (meaning that people change their actions, but have no affection for Jesus, aren’t drawn to His beauty, etc.), but we must push people towards a real and true encounter with the living God. Of course, if we are going to push people to that spot we must be people who have gone there, and regularly go there ourselves. A cognitive agreement with a static statement of faith will no longer get the job done. Implicit within being gospel-centered leaders is that we are people who understand where we stand before God without the blood of Jesus, and where we stand before Him with the blood of Christ. It is this ‘gap of grace’ that motivates, molds, and changes us. It’s the ‘gap of grace’ (not will power) that empowers us to fight against sin and seek to become more like Jesus.
  • We must become incarnational leaders: By this I mean that we have to be Being willing to lead people starting from where they are at. We cannot wait for people to come to us to be led, we must be willing to go where they are at, meet them there, and lead them to fullness of life in Jesus from wherever they start.  This is the leadership that Jesus exhibited and is expressed in Philippians 2. This is a leadership that is defined by being adaptable rather than systematic. There will not be one ‘catch all’ that will be able to meet every person and lead every person.
  • We must have an appreciation of the adaptability of the gospel. We have to see the opportunity that post-modernism presents… it can’t just be a threat to us. The fact that we live in a post-modern world (in the US at least) presents a great opportunity for the church. Because of post-modernism, my interactions with people on college campuses look a lot different than they probably did 20 years ago. Last week we surveyed over 250 people at Palomar and 60-70% of the people said that spirituality was ‘very important’ to them. We have to see that as an “in” not a threat. Now, that means that the starting point with people might be different (“If you were to die today, where would you go might not be the best opener anymore), but the opportunity to talk about Jesus is very real. People aren’t afraid of Jesus, they are drawn to Him, they just don’t know Him. The gospel has always been extremely culturally adaptable, that’s why there is no clear-cut description of what a worship service looks like in the Bible. Evangelism is the same way! Read about the way Paul presents the gospel at the Areopagus in Acts 17. Brilliant… and different from the way he way he interacted with Jews. It was an intentionally different starting place… but the end was the same! That’s the way we have to interact with postmodernity as well.
  • A movement from conveyor of information to painter. Thomas Friedman wrote The World is Flat in 2005. In this book he asserted that the spread of information is taking place at an exponential rate. Indeed, since the book was written the pace has accelerated even more. There are significant implications of this for the next generation leader. He/She cannot merely hold information and deliver it – that’s not unique anymore! Pastors have to realize that merely acquiring information is not a job niche anymore. In fact, people can get about 70% of the information that you deliver in a sermon on their phone while you are speaking! As someone who communicates regularly, that’s sort of scary. So, our goal has to change. Because people can get most of the information they want, we have to move from merely delivering information to painting for transformation. We have to synthesize information, take truth, and with that truth paint a picture of Jesus that people’s hearts are drawn to. We have to exalt Him and lift Him up… point to Him… paint a picture of Him for people. The painting is with our words and with our life! This requires us to be personally invested in the gospel and the people we lead!
  • Leadership has to be transparent and authentic – I’m in this with you. The next leaders have to be people who live it with their people – gone are the days when the leader is viewed as otherworldly or that they have it all together all the time. It means for me that I have a group of guys in my life who I am honest with and who I’m doing life with… (1 Thessalonians 2:8). I have to be willing to admit that I haven’t arrived, but that I’m fighting to know Christ more and be found in Him. There has to be humility and a desire to learn.

There is my short list that I shared at Bethel. I’d love to know what you would add or subtract.