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How to Lose the Next Generation of Church Leaders

I resigned from a church committee on which I was serving as the chair a few years ago.

My resignation was prompted by my lack of passion for the committee’s assigned work and a feeling that it had outlived its usefulness.

I was both surprised and appreciative when a member of the committee on committees called and asked me the reason for my resignation and any comments she might share with her committee.

I explained my reasons and she expressed her thanks for my candor. Of course, the committee still exists and I was simply replaced.

The point of my sharing this incident is that it illustrates how difficult it is to kill a committee even when it has outlived its usefulness.

In an effort to share leadership, Baptist churches in the 20th century learned how to do committees well.

Most committees had specific responsibilities and helped to involve larger numbers of church members in the functions of the church.

The question we must face today is, “Will the committee structure survive in the 21st century?” My opinion is that it will not.

One reason for this is the difficulty in finding young or median adults who are willing to make a three-year commitment to serve.

Most congregations will not enlist and nurture a new generation of church leaders by putting them on committees, especially if most of those assignments do not provide any sense of fulfillment.

There is certainly a place for specific leadership groups that serve for an extended period of time to further the work of the church.

For example, some churches have adopted three standing committees that deal with the major functions of church life in the 21st century: personnel, property and finances.

The personnel committee is involved in the hiring, support and evaluation of paid staff. In the event of staff dysfunction or failure, they address the issue on behalf of the congregation.

The finances committee makes sure that a budget is developed, financial gifts are handled appropriately, and the bills are paid.

The property committee cares for the daily operations and maintenance of church facilities.

All of these are usually policy-making groups with some hands-on activity.

In many churches, teams have taken the place of committees. Teams are responsible for planning worship, designing and leading Christian formation processes, and guiding mission and ministry activities.

Teams have fluid membership and assignments so that they can move quickly to meet changing needs and opportunities. Team members may serve for either short or extended periods of time.

A team structure is a great way to engage younger adults in the work of the church.

In addition to providing flexibility in the time commitment, it also makes it possible for new people to join the team without having to go through the process of being selected by a nominating committee and elected by the church.

Additional people can be added to teams when specific gifts or skills are needed.

Young adults especially like to work together in teams to accomplish tasks. In this way, they develop new relationships, making new friends while doing something worthwhile.

The team structure also recognizes a sense of voluntary association, which builds community.

Members are part of the team because they have been invited to join, have made the decision to come on board and continue to participate because they are making a contribution.

If we want young and median adults to become part of the operational committees or leadership teams of the church, we must be willing to answer several questions for them.

First, how does this further our mission? Does the work of the group help the church to accomplish what it understands that God has called it to do?

Second, how does this help others? Does this activity nurture those within our fellowship in a meaningful way? Does this extend our outreach into the community or world?

Third, will the time people spend on the team or committee produce measurable results? Does this really make any difference or are people just wasting their time?

We can no longer expect people just to “fill the slots” so that our church’s organizational chart will be complete.

We must enlist them in meaningful work that will give them the opportunities to use their gifts, skills and passions while making a difference in the world.

Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at Barnabas File, where a version of this article first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.