Lionel Messi. If you are a fan of soccer (or “football” to the international audience), you are familiar with this athletic superstar. Awards and records continue to pile up for this young Argentine star. Widely regarded as the top footballer, Messi is considered by some to be best of all time. Where did his team, FC Barcelona, find such ability? In a youth league of eleven year old boys. Eleven years old! Sixth grade! FC Barcelona signed him to the club with a crude contract on a paper napkin. When he and his family moved from Argentina to Spain, the team covered the remainder of his education and paid a hefty medical bill for treating his growth hormone deficiency. High level of investment. High level of risk. Enormous return on investment.
In life and ministry settings, we often have young, potential leaders around us. Some are young in age, others are young in experience or leadership roles. But, can we identify and develop these diamonds-in-the-rough? Not only can we do this, we must!
Why is it so important? Why develop young leaders?
Because we believe in them.
Hopefully, we recall how empowering it was when we first realized that God believed in us and saw potential in us. Hopefully we remember people believing in us. My youth pastor asked me to lead a home group for teenagers while I was still a youth myself. These opportunities were wonderful, but the underlying feeling that people believed in me made a profound impact on my heart. We have those same opportunities around us.
Because we believe in their purpose.
Every generation has a perspective and voice that is unique to them. We need their voice, those ideas, that strength. In 1 John 2, John addresses little children and young men. He acknowledges they are forgiven, they overcome, they know the Father, and they are strong, with God’s Word abiding in them. He did not instruct them to wait until they were older.
Because we believe in our own purpose.
Leaders are equippers. We are in the people building business. Ministry leaders described in Ephesians 4:12 this charge, “their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” (New Living Translation)
Because we are followers of Jesus.
Jesus and His disciples provide a clear and challenging model for developing young leaders. These twelve men were very likely quite young. While we do not know specific ages, we have some telling clues.
- In Matthew 17, Peter was instructed by Jesus to take the coin from the fish’s mouth and pay the temple tax for them both. This tax only applied to men over twenty (Exodus 30). The other eleven disciples were with them but it seems possible that they were exempt by reason of their age, under 20!
- Young men began following rabbis while in their teens. It’s likely they had completed their formal education by 12-15 and began working in family business (like James and John with Zebedee) unless an opportunity to continue their education became available through a rabbi.
- It would be customary for men to receive a wife by age 18. We only see evidence of marriage with Peter (Jesus healed his mother-in-law in Matthew 8).
- Jesus referred to His group as “little ones” in Matthew 11, Luke 10, and John 13.
Were they all teenagers? Maybe. But whatever the exact ages, the youthfulness of Jesus’s disciples is unmistakable. Jesus surrounded Himself with young leaders to develop!