Randy: Jason, you’re a youth pastor, married about a year, and you’re expecting a child in about a month. Congratulations! Do you have a question?
Jason: Yes. My question has to do with the area of church leadership. I love being in and serving in ministry. I wrestle with the idea of being prepared enough, getting the right experience, but also not spending my whole life waiting. Being bold and following 1 Timothy 4:12, and setting an example. What advice would you give me in the area of knowing when I should go for it, and knowing when to learn and sit under other leadership?
Randy: Great question. The 1 Timothy 4 passage relates to not letting anyone look down on you because of your youthfulness. I have vivid memories of being a full-time pastor when I was 22 years old. Looking back at it, was there a lot I didn’t know? Oh yes! I mean, the world could be filled with what I didn’t know. Did I make a lot of mistakes? Yes. And before that I’d been a part-time youth pastor and made a lot of mistakes.
But was I grateful for the opportunity! How do you learn and grow without the opportunity to make those mistakes? You’re 27. So you are five years older than I was.
I would say approach it with a humility that says, “Yes, I’m not always going to be right. Some of the things where I’m positive I’m right (and I’m not thinking so much of doctrine but in terms of strategy), are going to prove to be wrong. But then I don’t know what those are. I need to listen carefully to people. I need to be humble. I need to respect the ‘grey hairs’ that Scripture talks about—those who are older and wiser. But I also need to say, ‘You know what? God has gifted me. God has called me. And with all the mistakes I’m going to make, I want to be His servant. And I’d like the opportunity to serve.’”
Sometimes that opportunity to serve means doing a lot of hands-on, behind the scenes type of service, not just preaching all the time or whatever. So there’s humility but there’s also stepping forward to serve.
Jason: That makes sense. So with that in mind, what are some of the best experiences that you had that really developed you as a leader—in your character, your training? Like you said, you’re going to go for things, but you’re also going to fall on your face. How do you best prepare yourself for really taking that next step?
Randy: I think in terms of preparation, the most important thing is your own personal walk with God—time in His Word and time in prayer. Read great books, books that move you toward God and deepen your walk with Him. A. W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy was extremely formative to me when I first read it at 19 or 20 years old. Knowing God by J. I. Packer came out when I was 21 years old and I read it as soon as it was released. It is a powerful book and had a profound influence on me. Read books about God—not just books about us, books about the church, books about youth ministry—but books that are really about God and walking with Him.
Then I would say what really helped me was simply being given the opportunity to succeed or fail. What that means is, how does a duck know that it has the spirit of swimming? It gets out on the water. You’ve got to be in the water before you discover whether you can swim or how to swim. What happens sometimes is that in the church we keep waiting for people to rise up to some profound great high level before we give them opportunity.
Years ago when I was a pastor, I would recruit people to be over youth groups and small groups and small groups within youth groups. Maybe they weren’t ready. But they became ready through having that experience.