March 12, 2024

The “Do’s” of the “Do’s and Don’ts” for X-Gen Leaders

Kurt would be 57. Think about that for a while.

Okay, so last week I wrote about the “don’ts” for X-Gen leaders as we suddenly, and surprisingly perhaps, find ourselves in places where were are influential at a leadership level.

As I noted, for many of us in the Kurt Cobain cohort, we thought that we had been passed by. But as I also noted, just like with King Charles, who had to bide his time, he has come to the throne at a late, but crucial stage.

Now as X-Gen types, we are often typecast as a little bit negative, so we could probably list the “don’ts” of leadership simply by looking at the failures of the leaders whose moral elasticity and lack of godly character make the pages and screens of the Christian media (and often, sadly, the secular media).

So what should we do? While not an exhaustive list, here are some 30 thousand foot suggestions:

Just Do It

Okay it sounds kinda Nike and it sounds kinda Boomer-esque, but the church at the moment needs people to stay. And I don’t just mean the lay people who are doing the great “dechurching” that we hear about. The exodus of leaders from the church, pastors who are burnt out or angry – or a combination of both – ,or who have just had enough of the grind of the ministry machine post-COVID, is alarming.

If the average pastor is 60, as this blog post by Hamo explains, then it tells you that there is a ageing problem. The Boomers have stayed in the game, by and large, and the younger Boomers have managed to do so. But the late X-Gens are at a stage when they should be leading well, and leading by taking a hit for the next generation.

Here’s the point of leading. It’s not about you. It’s not about your career or comfort. Leading is about creating the right conditions for other people to flourish. And sometimes that requires taking a hit for the team. Often that requires taking a hit for the team. If you’re gonna get out of ministry leadership don’t get out of it when it’s hard. Perhaps God has placed you there because it is hard. He has gifted and shaped – and broken – you for this moment. So just do it!

Do Raise Up Younger Leaders

One of the great joys I have had is seeing younger leaders come through by first, taking a hit or two for them while they are in the young adult/lots of kids/no sleep stage of life. And the other great joy is being able to say to them “You are gifted in areas that I am not, let’s work on that and let’s see where it goes.”

Yet the experience of many of my generation is being used like vassal slaves for an ego-driven Boomer leader (and not all are Boomers), who at the finishing line of his ministry, having crushed or train wrecked many a gifted leader in his toxic wake, “You can’t get a good associate these days.” Chances are, if you’ve had ten bad staff members who don’t work out, then the problem is you!

And many of my generation have not had good ministry leadership modelled to them. Well we have the chance to change that. And it will often be painful and difficult work raising up younger leaders.

And here’s where the ego problem kicks in. What if they are better and more gifted than you? That’s the point in your life where you will discover what your true driver is: Is it he gospel or is it your ego? Is it Christ’s kingdom or is it your empire? Sadly those questions have often been ignored or answered in the wrong way.

I said it jokingly, but when I left working as a senior pastor in the church I had planted, and when we handed it on to a gifted young man, I made the comment:

“My second biggest fear is that you will destroy this place. My biggest fear is that it will grow like crazy!”

If your biggest fear is that someone might be better and more suited than you in the role, then you have a problem. First and foremost with God.

My God’s grace – and the gifted nature of that young man under God – the latter has been happening and it’s amazing to see. Even now there are people becoming Christian and joining the community of God’s people because of the ministry that he oversees. And I mean the term “oversees”. That’s what makes a good leader. Someone who oversees, not over-controls. The fact that he has a staff team that also contains my daughter, tells you that things have worked out in a positive way.

Do Seek New Challenges

If there’s one real danger for us as we lean into a Western society in which the Christian faith is under increasing pressure, it is to settle down and keep our heads down. To “rent seek” so to speak.

I recently commented to a pastor who has moved countries – and sides of the planet – a number of times with his wife and children to do ministry, that I was “scared” about an upcoming ministry shift I have to head into. His answer? “Go scared!”

Now he has done that when his children were younger, but it’s often the case that God brings new challenges our way, or brings them into our line of sight as our children reach late teens or early adulthood. And often that’s the time we want to go “Phew, now for a little settling down time.” Maybe – just maybe that’s the time God wants you to lean into new challenges.

And it suddenly struck me. At 57 years of age, many of our X-Gen peers – those who do not know Jesus – are looking for ways to land the plane as age suddenly catches up with them. They’re asking themselves questions such as “How do I ensure my comfort and ease in my impending retirement?” “How do I ensure that this thing works out the way I envisioned it would when I was in my late twenties?”

The short answer: You can’t ensure any of that. But you can know that God is sovereign over all, or at least those of us trusting in Jesus can know that. You can know that whatever decision you make that is seeking to honour God in all of your life will – whether in this age or the age to come – work out. God is no person’s debtor.

So go scared! Go into new challenges not with arrogance and self-justifying reasons, but with humility, in all of the turmoil and external insecurity that these thing often bring. A number of my X-Gen friends have made significant ministry moves as couples that have pushed them back onto relying on God even more, and tested where their actual trust was. That can’t be a bad thing if eternity is what matters.

I want my children to see a father and a mother who tell others that trusting God in the clinches is the test of our trust, but who go out and do that themselves, and at a very time in life when they could just settle in for the next twenty years. I say it to our shame, but the number of my generation whose young adult children are more godly, more resilient and more trusting of God than we are, even in the face of a hostile culture, is telling.

Sure there’s been a drop-off among young people from church. But those I see who are sticking with it have a resilience and reality about life that we often did not have.

Of course there’s plenty more to say around the “Do’s” of ministry for X-Gen leaders. I’ve been somewhat busy these past few weeks and wanted to write more, but for the moment we will leave it there. I’d be keen to hear what other things my generation of leaders in the church could do as we take the reins of leadership for a shorter, but no less significant period of time.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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