Just two months after our youngest son began secondary school, we attended a parents night and were struck that two teachers, independently of one another, both said, ‘He’ll go on to be the School Captain.’

And he did!

What had they seen in him, in such a short period of time?

Within congregations, leaders need to be in the business of identifying and raising up new leaders – of seeing potential and investing in it. Leadership guru, John Maxwell, writes that ‘there’s no success without succession’ and any congregation that isn’t thinking about leadership succession is stoking up future problems for itself – in much the same way as a successful sports team is when, even though doing well now, isn’t investing in the stars of the future.

And it’s never too early to start.

Some of those who will go on to be key leaders stand out a mile, others less so (though the slow starters are often in the end the genuine article.) Only by creating space and giving opportunity – only by running something of a testing ground – will leadership emerge.

I’ve got a photograph of a group of mid-teenagers from within our congregation. It was taken in about 2008. And most of them hung around. In 2014 we got serious about it, having recognised real potential in them. We brought them together and formed a group that we named 20/20. The idea was that by the year 2020, we would see all or most of them in positions of leadership within the congregation.

The group, about ten strong, met with me, as minister, every month. Basically, we hung out together – always beginning with food which we cooked together then going on to talk and discuss and to read scripture and to pray for one another.

A year ahead of schedule, in 2019, four of them were ordained as elders within the congregation, the youngest aged 23 – not just as token young people but because 1) it was recognised that they were suitably gifted, 2) because they were, and are, wholly committed to the Church and 3) not least because they were, and are, alive in their faith! Others of the original group no longer live locally, having left to go to further education, but all are active within congregations where they now live and some are in leadership positions. 

In terms of our Kirk Session, we’re already seeing the difference – like a breath of fresh air. These new elders are heading up our Growing Young programme. Two are representing our Kirk Session at meetings associated with the Presbytery Mission Planning process. But most of all, they simply bring a different perspective to debates and discussions and, in so doing, help the Session to see issues in a different light.

It’s worth saying that investing in new leaders need not be restricted to young people. If there are no young people around, the investment needs to be in those who are present! But either way, there should be intention – a deliberate process.

When not long in ministry, our Kirk Session decided that it was time to ordain new elders. Names were mentioned as possible candidates but what I still remember is a particular name being mentioned, with the supporting evidence being, ‘he’s quite regular in church…’

Quite regular? In terms of low bars, does it get any lower?

Leaders can’t be randomly plucked from a list. They need to be identified and invested in. But it’s worth every moment of time taken to see them becoming, growing, arriving.

It took Jesus three years. Maybe we need to start now

Martin Fair