Let’s consider some helpful strategies in working with young leaders. (This is not an exhaustive list but hopefully, one that will spark more ideas for you and your team.)
1. Create a culture of development.
For FC Barcelona to find Messi was no accident. They have created a culture and implemented systems in their organization that locate and develop young talent. It’s not luck or coincidence. It is intentional and deliberate. We can and should do the same. Start where you are and grow it.
2. Resource them.
This addresses the question, what do they need to succeed? This doesn’t mean hand over the check book. But it’s an excellent discussion to stir creativity and problem solving. How far can you go with what we have available? How do we increase the resources needed?
And just like King Solomon, the greatest resource issue is not money, materials, or manpower. It is wisdom and understanding. Provide those resources through your time as well as books, conferences, seminars, interviews, etc.
3. Provide opportunity.
Jesus did this masterfully with His team. After selecting His young disciples, He put them into training. They heard His teachings. They watched His healings and miracles. They witnessed His compassion in forgiving the sinner and delivering the bound. But then He made a huge transition! He sent them out to do it themselves. He gave them clear direction and then let them go! Like a mother bird giving her chicks “flying lessons”, He nudged them out of the nest. Observation alone limits personal development. It blossoms when combined with active participation.
4. Evaluate and Coach.
No matter how great the preparation and execution, adjustments are inevitable. Ask questions. Listen and coach. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”
It is equally important to field questions. Create a safe environment for others to ask real questions of you. I love when the disciples would do this with Jesus. “Wow, that was a great parable again Jesus! By the way, what did that mean? I don’t understand.”
Like a coach, celebrate victory and teach in failure. Jesus rejoiced with them when they returned from ministry. But He also adjusted their focus from authority of demons to relationship with the Father.
5. Utilize Mentors.
Often in church and business settings, we have seasoned or retired workers with a wealth of experience and wisdom who could empower young leaders. A missionary friend of mine identified one of these men and made spending time with him a top priority. The counsel he received in their series of meetings helped hold him steady through many challenges. Identify those around you who could serve as mentors and pair them with those who need what they have. It’s powerful for both participants!
What can we expect in developing young leaders?
It is both reasonable and probable to expect the same results that Jesus experienced from His young leaders.
Proud: The disciples pushed away the children who wanted to come to Jesus. They had to overlook their own youthfulness to not see Jesus would welcome kids. Even Paul warned Timothy that a novice with responsibility may tend to prideful attitudes.
Impulsive: See Simon Peter. While his commentary was both right and wrong, you could count on Peter being first. James and John were just as impulsive as they offered to destroy two whole cities for not receiving the ministry properly.
Competitive: When James and John couldn’t get Jesus to give them seniority over the other disciples, they politely stepped aside and let their charming mom do their competitive dirty work. Another time, John offered this gem:
John said to Jesus, "Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn't in our group." Luke 9:49 NLT
Covetous: While we are quick to point out Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, it is interesting to note that Judas began with smaller problems, stealing from the ministry account, misdirecting funds, and lying to Jesus and the other disciples. This culminated with not just betraying Jesus, but to sell Him for thirty pieces of silver. Truly the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
Discouraged and fearful: When faced with daunting circumstances, these young disciples quickly dismissed what little resources they did have: their financial resources, a boy’s lunch, and Jesus Himself. Later, as they were scribbling their wills during a violent storm, they awoke Jesus just to accuse Him of not caring about their impending deaths.
However, before you burn the plans for developing young leaders, there’s more.
Good help: These young men handled the seating, food distribution, and clean-up of multitudes of 5000 and 4000 (only counting the men). They assisted Jesus with transportation, meals, lodging, taxes, crowd management, public relations, and possibly a little roof repair. This allowed Him to focus more on prayer and ministry.
Fresh revelation, insights, and ideas: It’s refreshing to hear Jesus put responsibility on these young men. “You give them something to eat.” “Who do you say I am?” “Why did you fear?” And then to see God working in and through them. “You are the Christ.” “Even the demons were subject to us in your name.”
Comfort and strength: Especially with the inner circle of Peter, James, and John, Jesus frequently found His young leaders-in-training as a source of comfort. We see this in His times of prayer and waiting on God (Luke 9), prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26), mourning over the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6).
More of the same and even greater results: It is more than inspirational to hear Jesus tell these young men, “…the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do…” (John 14) The thrill of the mighty works in the four Gospels continues seamlessly into the Book of Acts. The profound teachings of the Gospels flows smoothly with the revelations in the Epistles. And the footprints of Jesus in Jerusalem and Galilee raced out to Lystra and Derbe, Corinth and Ephesus, and eventually you and I!
The results we see from young leaders are not exclusively Side A or B but an ongoing mix of the two. If the perfect leadership of Jesus faced challenges like Side A, we should not be surprised or discouraged when we do too.
A final thought:
Carles Rexach, the talent scout and sporting director for FC Barcelona, is credited with locating and securing Lionel Messi in 1998. Some may wonder how could he see beyond an undersized eleven year old boy and envision the trophy collector he could possibly become. I don’t know the whole answer but I wonder if it may trace back to 1959 when FC Barcelona offered a contract to Rexach himself to play. He was twelve.