For many rising leaders the modern messaging of faithfulness is code for futility. Being told that faithful reps are the fastest path to results feels manipulative. A lot of young leaders just aren’t buying it like their fathers did. The message feels too institutional, like a one-directional win for the guy in-charge and no one else.
Spending valuable developmental years alongside someone who doesn’t embody my future ambitions is too ambiguous. This makes no sense to an expectant generation of all-access leaders. It’s like being asked to load up for a long ride in a parked car. So a new set of questions has emerged for the future-centric leader. But there’s also a dark side effect – a dishonesty that some young leaders need to own. For some, trusting in God for their future has been supplanted by all the human elements of career mapping. For many of our young leaders, there’s an unholy urgency to leverage the seen world instead of walking by faith after the unseen. But that is how this generation feels safe about tomorrow. It’s facts or flight. And frankly, I can’t blame them for the struggle.
Helping young leaders to see that meaning and influence is hidden inside the little behaviors they begrudge is a tough sell. Young leaders need to learn that obscurity is not some type of leadership-cancer; that when it comes to spiritual formation, advancement is universally linked to adversity.
Biblical leadership is not about becoming the expert or the executive. It’s about being the example. But becoming genuine is an extravagant process, and therein lies the rub. The generation with the most time on their side seems to despise anything that requires time.
I Timothy 4:12 says, “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”. (NIV) The world “example” comes from the Greek word Tupos. It means “to form by a blow or impression of a figure or image – to become the template of something.” Becoming a fixed imprint or image, like the face of President stamped on a coin, is a violent process. It has to be for the image to endure. Spiritual formation, or becoming an example, is about getting the image of Christ stamped on you in such a way that people will recognize Christ’s value both in you and on you. The person they first meet and the person they get to know over time are the same person.
The guy who executed Goliath understood this. David knew that fast is slow and slow is fast – that when you push, things slow down. But when you trust, things speed up.
King David was first kid-David. He was part of the sheep police. He medicated his boredom with target practice – plucking bullets from a brook without a single set of eyes there to notice. Killing trees with your sling is a tough way to kill time, especially when you have a passion to kill giants. But that is nothing new.
I’ve watched young leaders roll their eyes when asked do to things that feel fake. Back in Bible College, my homiletics [preaching class] syllabus said I had to preach a canned sermon to pass the class. So there I stood, sick and sweaty, before a fake congregation asking for a fake response after my fake sermon.
It was an exercise in make-believe.
Two years later I graduated and found my way onto a church staff where I was assigned to the 8am service. My job was to give announcements between the offering and the sermon. This amounted to first greeting a small crowd of tired-faced church goers followed by welcoming mythical guests to a service entirely void of visitors. My emotions told me the whole thing was a waste of my time and talents. I wanted to preach for real instead of experiencing more of the same. But it was my time to “wax on, wax off.”
I probably needed someone like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid as my mentor. My punkish little Daniel-san attitudes were raging. I was failing to realize that my public speaking muscles were slowly but surely being developed.
God was growing an important piece of me in a safe and sterile environment. I was learning how to communicate in a petri dish. But I saw none of this while it was happening. I felt like my passion was in prison. I wanted to say real things to real people. Instead, I was taking snaps against the scout team. I was killing trees, not giants. And it was killing me.
Had it not been for those brief years of “waxing on” and “waxing off”, I never would have developed a legitimate skill set for connecting as a communicator. Here’s some free advice when someone you respect tells you it is time to wax on and wax off.
Do not blow it off. Don’t quit.
Grab every opportunity you can, even when it feels small. Trust me, living idle and pessimistic while waiting for the phone to ring with your big break is a bad strategy. Pessimism is nothing more than gravity. The only way to rise above bad mentors and slay boredom is by practicing passion.
So go after small assignments to speak, communicate, write – no matter what it is.
Do it for free.
Take the stuff nobody wants. Do not despise small things. [Zechariah 4:10]
And smile big while doing it … like you know something nobody else in the room does. If there’s even one shred of activity tucked inside the assignment that smells like the future, don’t think twice.
Just take it.