At theGKexperience, our young leaders’ programme gives voice and power to young people within priority area parishes in Glasgow who face barriers and obstacles because of the multiple disadvantages they experience. These disadvantages do not make them lesser people or mean they do not aspire in life, but the stigma from society often means that they are looked down upon, not trusted, and labelled as no-hopers. I’ve unfortunately seen this happen within the Church too. Barriers for these young people to thrive and succeed are everywhere, and their aspirations become compromised or forgotten.

We believe all young people are brilliant, but not all get the same opportunities to succeed. As part of their leadership journey, young people are trusted, handed power, space, and opportunity to develop programmes, voice their ambitions, build confidence, and see their potential. They become part of a diverse group where we encourage personalities to shine, recognising the uniqueness each one has. We listen and are led by them, and they shape the direction theGKexperience takes. They want to give back and be part of a cycle that encourages people younger than them to see their aspirations made real.

Do they always get it right? No, of course not, but that’s ok. Mistakes happen, and disagreements occur. Failing is normal. We have all failed at some point and been glad for someone to pick us up and help us go again. The first disciples were not a polished outfit and they made mistakes. They relied on each other, they had to, but expectations and personalities clashed at times. Barnabas and Paul disputed whether Mark should go with them as they travelled back across the previously visited cities (Acts 15:36-41). The ‘sharp disagreement’ centred around Mark having abandoned them on a previous mission trip, which did not go down well with Paul.  Barnabas, however, wanted to give him a second chance.  They could not agree, so Paul went with Silas and Barnabas took Mark. Barnabas mentors and leads Mark, who shows great development and ends up writing a Gospel! Having once neglected to serve, Mark writes about Jesus as the Great Servant. Paul also wrote favourably about Mark later, towards the end of his life (2 Timothy 4:6-13).

Challenging behaviour is often a by-product of challenging circumstances. In difficult situations, understanding the emotions that sit behind words said or actions taken really helps to understand how to lead and support a person. Leadership is knowing when it is time to step up and when is time to let other people take control. Paul and Barnabas disagreed, but they found a mutual outcome that suited them and, ultimately, the mission.

The main takeaway from my varied leadership journey is that you should listen more and speak less to navigate various personalities and expectations! We should utilise our differences and recognise the enormous benefit of perspectives from diverse identities and personalities. Encouraging dialogue, embracing healthy discussion and ensuring people feel valued is the best way to keep a team motivated and pulling in the same direction. It is essential to earn respect rather than demand it.  Jesus did not walk about telling everyone how great he was and how things must be done. He did not lead through power, dominance and control. He asked many questions and created an environment of trust and a model of living that drew people to him.  It was a model that showed compassion and grace, especially to those marginalised who needed their voices to hear the most.

John Kewley