In preparation for church planting, I’ve stopped being the leader of my youth group at church. I led the youth group from the beginning of 2010 till the end of last term. Technically I’m still in-charge, but my leadership mainly pertains to mentoring Jenny, she has been a leader and my 2IC before I handed the leadership on to her, and being around and ready to step in if anything happens that she can’t handle. Other than that, I’m just like every other leader.
I spent a term in 2009 leading just like any other leader. But I knew I was there because the following year I’d be stepping up to co-lead the youth group. This term is like it’s mirror image, this time I’ve stepped down. Over the last three months, I’ve been meeting with Jenny fortnightly specifically to run through everything I’ve done since we last met. We’d talk through the issues that came up, and why I did what I did. This term, I’ve handed over the reigns to Jenny. I go to youth group, I lead my boys, I do what’s needed, I watch how Jenny leads, and I shut up. Then we meet up later and chat through how Jenny’s doing, and everything she’s done in ministry since we last met. I’ve always wanted to to be able to hand over a ministry well, and this is the first time I’ve been able to do it exactly how I wanted to do it. I think Jenny is going to do (and is doing) great, and I’m really happy I’ve finally able to do a ministry hand-over properly.
They say that good leaders lead themselves out of a job. Good leaders do good succession planning. That might be true, but what I’m discovering now is that succession isn’t that easy and it doesn’t always feel that good. It’s hard in the ways you’d expect, like thinking through how you pass on all your acquired knowledge, how do you prepare a person for taking over a role, and how do you empower a person to step up. But those things aren’t that hard. What I’ve found much harder is how much of a blow handing over the ministry is to my ego.
The first time I noticed it was when we had our term planning meeting. This was the first thing that Jenny was leading all by herself. We’d tag teamed in the past, but in the end decisions always deferred to me, and generally after discussion, whatever I said was going to happen, that was what was going to happen. Now though, that wasn’t my role and it wasn’t my place. Now everyone was deferring to Jenny, and if I was going to assit well, my job was to just support whatever Jenny was doing. I realised as I sat in that meeting that I really wanted everyone to defer to me. Not because I thought Jenny was doing a bad job, she wasn’t she was doing great. But just because it feels good to be the person people look to for direction. And it feels good to know that what you say goes. Being boss, even of a very small domain, still makes you feel important.
Since youth group has started, and I’m there to lead alongside my follow leaders, I feel myself wanting to assert my leadership. I feel myself wanting to remind people “Oh I’m actually still in-charge.” I miss the time at the beginning of youth group when I get everyone’s attention, welcome everyone to youth and then pray for the night. That’s the only public thing the leader does every week. That didn’t happen before I led, but I created it to make it clear who was the leader. Not for any particular sense of show of power, but I think groups function better when there is clear leadership. So every week the leader of the youth group welcomes everyone so that everyone knows who’s in charge. Now that I don’t do it anymore, I find myself wanting to find other ways to let people know I’m still important. I find myself worrying that the kids are going to forget me.
And sometimes it seems silly. I think to myself, “What are you worried about, it’s only a youth group? It’s not like you’re the CEO of some great company.” But I don’t really feel that comfortable with that line of thinking, because it implies that just because we’re small and the participants are young it’s not that important. One of the things that is quite central to what drives me in youth ministry is that teenagers are just as important, valuable, and worth spending time with and investing in as anyone else. I never want to minimise the youth or the leaders. So I can’t belittle the ministry, as if I think it’s beneath me, because it’s not, and that’s the very reason why I care.
And that love of the youth group, leads me to worry that they’ll forget me while I’m there. Like everyone will move on and I’ll be the forgotten old leader in the corner who no one needs anymore. Often seeing someone else fill the role I used to fill, it saddens me because it reminds me I’ll be leaving these people I care about behind. But sometimes it saddens me because I worry I am being left behind.
What it seems to come down to is this. The power, however small in the scheme of things, feeds my ego. Recognition and dependence feeds my pride. And when I lose both, it hurts.
That tells me that, despite what I say, youth ministry is a small god for me. I find meaning, value and identity in my leadership. And as I lose that role, I lose something of who I am. While my meaning, value and identity should be found in Jesus, I place it elsewhere. And so my ministry becomes a god, vying for a place in my heart that belongs to my king. So as it get’s taken away, it hurts.
The truth is, I should be able to be forgotten today, to lose all my influence, to never have anyone depend on me again, and for it not to matter one bit, because it’s Jesus who sustains my sense of worth. He gave his life for me, he’s had me adopted into God’s family, he’s given me a share of his inheritance, he’s built me into the temple of God, he’s seen fit call me his friend and brother. There is nothing greater in the world. He should be enough.
So when I lose my influence, when my pride is threatened, and my power shrinks, it’s good for me. I know handing over leadership is necessary and right for the youth group. And as I go through this process, I know it’s also necessary and right for me.
If there is anything that buoys me in this it is that this path is a good one. Leadership is not wrong. Power is not bad. But greatness in the kingdom of God is achieved through service. You can serve as a leader and you can serve with power. But they cannot be used to serve you, that must used in the service of Christ, his people and the world he loves. As I step away from my leadership that serves me, it is good.
It is a worthy path I am on. Anytime I take a small step downward. Anytime I shun position and prestige in the pursuit of service I am following in the steps of Jesus. Who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Of course giving up leading a youth group, is infinitely less impressive than what Jesus did. But I am blessed that, by his grace, I can pursue him just that little bit better as I take one small step off my self-made throne towards my King and his cross.
Glad that the handover is going well. And you’re being challenged.
When I left the key leader position of my church youth group, I have to be honest, it was a relief – so in some ways it’s hard to relate to your post. I didn’t enjoy being key leader – it’s not a role I like, it wasn’t a role I particularly wanted, because I don’t like being deferred to. I don’t like having that sort of power. I prefer being led. Even as a youth leader.
But regardless, pride and ego feeding is always something to contend with, just in different ways.
I really understand what you mean and how it feels. As you say, power in itself is not bad. But how easy I have found it to enjoy being in a position of power not because it gives the ability to do what is worthwhile more effectually but because it creates an illusion that I am of greater worth. I agree with you…..imagine being Jesus in Heaven, who speaks creation into existence and then deciding to throw it all in for a life (and death) of servitude.
Tom, i feel very positive about whatever you plan to do because of the humility and self-awareness that shines through this post.Godspeed.
I appreciate the honesty of this post, perhaps one could even call it vulnerability. I can also relate to the struggle (obviously different contexts).
This is a beautiful piece of work Tom. Insightful and honest. Jenny’s response is equally useful in understanding handover psychology.
These people are all way too nice. You sound awful, and perhaps a good public flogging would sort you out?
Love and kisses,
Thanks Tom. Having relinquished an upfront leadership role and a certain amount of power after three years in a management position, I can relate to a lot of what you have said here. The adjustment period does feel strange as you and the new leader take on new roles, and work out your new relationship dynamic. What I have discovered though is that I am still leading – it’s just exercised differently now. What was “formal” before because of my job title, is “informal” now because over the past three years I have become a leader, and also because people now see me as a leader, and still expect me to lead. It’s weird, but in some ways I prefer the “informal” style of leadership. Maybe because it’s about being the “invisible influence” and suits my introverted nature! My current thinking is that one of the hallmarks of a great leader is willingly coaching and mentoring others – as you’re doing with Jenny – knowing that they will surpass your achievements and excel without you, and doing it because you want to see them succeed. For me, that lofty ideal is a work in progress … and humility! Thanks again Tom.