Leading Up: How to Thrive as a Millennial Leader

From Tyler: Today’s post is from a great young writer and leader in the church, Joel Mayward. He’s just about to release his first book. Check out the post below, and reach out to show him some support as his book launches.

I’m a leader in the church, but I’m ultimately not the one in charge.

That statement describes my present circumstances. I’m a youth pastor, serving under the leadership of a lead pastor, an elder board, and the overall church culture that seems to have a life of its own. It’s also the situation for nearly any church leader under the age of 30. We’re passionate and excited about the ideas about reaching our culture and generation in the name of Jesus, but perhaps our own church isn’t quite on board with those particular ideas yet.

I’ve seen far too many church leaders silently frustrated with the direction their community is heading, but feeling helpless to stop it. They feel like they’re standing at the front of a train with the brakes cut, seeing the potential wreck ahead and debating whether they can survive jumping off the train. Perhaps they have been shut down one too many times, so they quietly let the bitterness set in, slowly becoming cut off from other ministries and leaders. Or they stopped being silent and fervently shared their vision with anyone and everyone who would listen, only to get fired from the church for being insubordinate.

Is there a better option than silent frustration or outright insubordination? I believe there is. I call it leading up.

Leading up to fellow leaders requires a sense of differentiation between one’s identity and the mission of God for the church. When a leader wraps up their entire self-worth and emotional capacity in their own ideas, the result is insecure pride. I know that sounds paradoxical, but both insecurity and pride stem from the same root. Insecure pride comes from focusing on oneself, on struggling to maintain one’s value and worth and identity apart from the strength of Christ. Insecurity is a self-doubting anxiety that comes across as a deflated leadership. The other side of the coin–pride–is the outward manifestation of that insecurity, a pushing of one’s own agenda and ideas in order to be heard, and therefore valued. Pride comes out from our mouths, while insecurity hides itself in our hearts.

There is an alternative paradox: humble confidence. Humility comes from a realistic view of oneself in light of the grace given us in Christ. The word originates from the Latin “humus,” meaning “earth” or “dirt.” It is knowing and embracing the reality that we are dust (Psalm 103:14). Connected with humility is a confidence in one’s vocational calling and identity. A confident leader finds their identity in Christ, seeing his or her self as a child of God, deeply loved and called to His mission. We’re dust, but we’re loved dust. This Christ-based identity allows His love to foster a confidence in Him, knowing we are created in His image and any gifts, strength, or opportunities we have are a demonstration of His grace in our lives.

Insecure pride comes from attempting to form my identity and calling in myself and by my own efforts. Humble confidence comes from forming my identity and calling outside of myself through Christ. It is allowing Christ to be King, to shape my desires and ambitions instead of trying to construct them on my own. When this happens, I can share the God-given vision for my church with a sense of clarity and purpose because this isn’t about me. Much like the advise given in Acts 5:38-39:

If their purpose or activity is from human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.

Perhaps I didn’t properly finish my opening statement:

I’m a leader in the church, but I’m ultimately not the one in charge. Jesus is.

Let’s humbly-yet-confidently lead as part of His kingdom.

Joel Mayward is a pastor, writer, husband, and father living in Langley, British Columbia. He is the author of the upcoming book Leading Up: Finding Influence in the Church Beyond Role and Experience. Joel loves youth ministry, movies, and theology and writes about it all at joelmayward.blogspot.com.