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Discipling Young Leaders

Remember back in the mid 90’s when they told us we need to be training and discipling young leaders? The premise was that there was a crisis of leadership worldwide. There were too few leaders and that it was going to get worse as we moved into the future. It’s happening because the older generation is not training up young people to take their place. Well the future is here and if you don’t have a young disciple at your side, you probably need to keep reading.

What are apprenticeships?

Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a structured competency based set of skills. Apprenticeships ranged from craft occupations or trades to those seeking a professional license to practice in a regulated profession. Apprentices (or in early modern usage “prentices”) or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships. Most of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade or profession, in exchange for their continuing labor for an agreed period after they have achieved measurable competencies. For more advance apprenticeships, theoretical education was also involved, formally via the workplace and also by attending a local technical college vocational schools or university while still being paid by the employer often over a period of 4-6 years.

etnopedia_encourager_001A few months ago, our country wide mobilization organization (not Etnopedia) was assigned someone to analyze us. Recently at our annual meeting they reported the results. We are dying! For years we have known that we should be allowing the younger people to serve in our network. But we just have not listened. Just after the report was given we voted in a new board member making all three members over 50 years old. Next, we moved into voting on various issues and I noticed all the young people were at the back of the room uninterested.

Why do we need new blood?

No matter how we feel about it, young people will be here when we are gone. They do things differently now, and they will do things differently when they are finally in charge. They think differently, talk differently and most of all, they lead differently. So we can ether get used to their style and include them with us in the work of the Lord, or choose not to pass down values we think are important. They will probably not get passed on if we don’t do it. They won’t be leaders like we are but then again they will be leading their generation. The important thing is that they have core values, (for example, the unreached peoples concept). We don’t need to pass down all our old school ways, just the values and a few tips. They will find new ways of doing things and they need to. The world is a different place.

We need new blood, along side us, growing in the vision, learning the core values so that those values get passed down.  Last year I was invited to be a guest speaker at a weeklong youth conference. There were about 700 young people there between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. They packed themselves into a youth camp and slept in tents outside the meeting hall. It rained the entire week and they loved it. I was cold, tired, hungry and felt like everything I said fell to the ground like lead before it got to them. They had compassion on this old man and comforted me in my inability to say anything really relevant to them.

I hope I was able to communicate one core value to them, the rest was probably wasted breath. I realized more than ever before that I need a young apprentice to take with me to preach to these young people. This year I was invited back and took with me an 18 year old that works in our office for three years and a 20 year old who has worked in our office for 7 years. I didn’t ask them to be like me. Just that they preach to the youth about the one core value we all hold, unreached peoples. They both preached about five sessions each and did great!! They also showed passion and seriousness and most of all they communicated to the youth way beyond what I could. The youth camp is coming to our home town this December (2012) and they were invited back!

We can eat, sleep, breath and dream unreached peoples and it will all die with us if we don’t disciple it into the younger generation. We also need to make ways to allow them to disciple their own generation along the way.

So what should we do?

Look for the youngest disciples you can find and allow them to serve at your side. We began to allow young people to serve in the research and technical operations in Etnopedia main office years ago. Our youngest candidate was 13 years old when he first started working with us. He is 19 now and is an expert in the systems that run Etnopedia. He can install and connect a new language portal into the complicated wiki family database. He is studying computer programming in College in order to help Etnopedia when he is done. Another young man started with us when he was 15 and now is 18. He programs algorithms that keep Etnopedia profiles cleaned up. He also is one of our cartographers and is learning ArcGIS, an elaborate mapping software used by governments etc. Our newest member of the team is 15 years old. We have had over 30 young people to working with us over the years. Many are still in ministry, but one thing we feel confident of, they still maintain the core values.

Recruit, recruit, recruit.

We are always recruiting young people. Gathering as many young people as we can gather around us will help to insure that the vision and the work will carry on. Recently I have heard of people passing away leaving large ministries in crisis. What a shame that they were not recruiting and training people to take their place and their vision. We don’t worry about if we have enough space in our office, we just keep recruiting and God works it out.

Almost everyone that comes through our doors is recruited. Everyone is given a good dose of unreached peoples. I also look for very young recruits. I consider young under 25 but I recruit as young as 13 to 15. I propose that you do not recruit anyone over 35 years old. There are some exceptions but remember, we are in crisis and the lack of leadership is out of balance.

You will need to select younger leaders (under 25) if you have not been training those 10 to 15 years younger than yourself.  It takes a 20 year old two years to begin to comprehend a 50 year old, then they finally get it and can understand the core values. It’s not that they don’t understand the words we are saying. What we are saying is simply not relevant to them in their context. The generational gap is so wide that we are not relevant to them. It takes time to bridge the gap between yourself and your young disciple so that you can share passion, vision and values. That does not happen over night. And don’t think that getting up on a stage and screaming and waving your arms is communicating to young people. It’s not. You just look ridiculous and are dubbed, “El Gringo Loco”.

If you are 35 years old, look for disciples that are 15 to 20 years old and figure on a year to be passing vision and values. If you are 45 look for disciples that are 15 to 20 and figure on two years to be passing on vision and values. If you are 55 look for disciples that are 15 to 20 and figure on three years. If you are 65 and have not made younger disciples, you can still try; don’t give up but good luck. Wearing young peoples cloths and learning how to send text messages isn’t going to help you much. Today’s young people developed in a very different world than we did. So it’s probably futile to try to learn their ways. Bridge the generational gap by spending time, and gaining trust. Eventually you will build a bridge of communication. They will still have to learn your language, but atleast then you will be passing down the important things.

Matthew 28:19-22 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  New International Version (NIV)

The words of Jesus apply to more than making disciples unto salvation; they apply making disciples for the work of the Kingdom. If we don’t make Kingdom workers, soon there won’t be anyone to work the Kingdom.
The world is changing at an accelerating rate. Right now, our 18 year old is training our 15 year old on advanced systems for Etnopedia. I won’t meddle much. They will get it.

It is Hard Work

There is no doubt that it’s easier to be the big boss that everyone depends on. If you are the only one who knows how to do what you do, it creates job security. However this is not the way Christ intended it for us to be. Even being God, Jesus  quickly got several young men around him. I would really love to know their ages. The evidence suggests that the disciples were about 20 years old when they began following Jesus.

It’s going to take time to make disciples and it isn’t going to be easy. You give up privacy, space, time and must invest money into their lives. Last night I had to allow one of our young men to stay in our guest room because  we got in late from the field. Our wives also sacrifice time and privacy, and this is not easy.

Discipleship is hard work. Every time we have a new young person begin with us, I think “What if they don’t last? What if we spend 6 months training them in and they leave?” All the thoughts come pouring in. Just do it. You only need a handful disciples that stay to carry on the vision. Jesus changed the world with a handful of men.


  • Set limits and days when the young people can work with you.
  • Occasionally take take them to something non-ministry related, it can be as simple as getting a hamburger and a coke.
  • Include your young people in the decision making process and in important meetings.
  • Let them do the work. If you are at a computer, their hands better be on the keyboards and mice, not yours.
  • Send your young people to conferences to expand their vision of the global Body. I remember once that we invested 1,200 dollars for one of our young people to go to a mission’s conference in Spain. Many other times we have taken them with us to events.
  • Be yourself, you don’t need to be like them to disciple them.
  • Go easy on them BUT watch over them, very few people received a hard-line discipleship like we did.
  • Impart Jesus, you have to get Jesus to give Jesus and this is what matters in the end.