An open letter to older leaders

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I’m a young leader.  I’ve not been at this game very long.

I’m still trying to figure out the ropes.  Understand how my giftings fit on a team.  Making mistakes.  Growing.  Changing.  Stumbling.  And figuring out how to do it all better the next time around.

Working with leaders who are older, more established, and wiser can be incredibly difficult.  Thankfully, the leaders who are older than me on staff at Grace Community Church make things incredibly easy.* And it’s from their leadership of me that I’ve seen some principles emerge that could be helpful to other older leaders who have young folks on their staff.

Older leaders,

Thanks for paving the way for us.  You’ve worked incredibly hard.  You’ve poured your heart into this organization, and you’ve helped to establish a healthy, vibrant, growing system.  And thanks for hiring us, the younger leaders!  But if you want to lead us well, you’ve got to work on a few things:

  1. Believe in us. You did hire us, right?  Then continue to believe that we can do our job well!  Believe that God is going to continue to mold us and grow us and, some day, make us into better leaders.  Believe that we have something valuable to contribute.  Believe that we really are a vital part of the organization…and not just a hired, expendable hand.
  2. Encourage us. We may seem completely self-confident…but we need encouragement from someone like you.  We don’t just need you to blow smoke at us.  If we do a poor job, tell us!  But when we do something right, when our gut-decision is the right one, when our project takes off, when we speak up in staff meeting with a new idea and it’s right on point, when you feel like we’re moving in the right direction…encourage us!  We trust you, because you’ve been doing for many, many years (or even decades) what we’ve been doing for much less time.  And if you tell us that we’re pointing in the right direction, it carries a lot of weight.
  3. Give us ample freedom within your structure. We understand that we can’t just come in and wreck everything.  But if you want us to grow and develop, you’ve got to give us freedom to experiment, dream, do things differently, and be discontent with the status quo.  We’re more than willing to do exceptional work…but we’ve got to have the freedom to think outside of your box.  And giving us freedom may mean you’ve got to release some of your control on the system.  If that scares you, then maybe you have too tight a grip.

With much respect,

Younger leaders

Younger leaders, did I leave anything out that I should’ve included?

Older leaders, how does this sit with you?

* These principles are not a reaction to poor leadership at Grace Community Church, but are drawn from the amazing ways that Ron, Chad, and the rest of the team have shepherded me and the other younger leaders.


Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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  • Jason Vana

    I particularly like number 3. I’ve seen too many times that older leaders hold on to the way things have been done, and don’t give new leaders the opportunity to try new things. I’ve even been challenged as an “older” leader in my campus ministry by some of the new leadership we brought on. They have new ways of doing things and, at first, I was a little challenged by it. Now, I’m very willing to throw everything “on the table” so to speak and see how we can do things differently…and hopefully better.
    Thanks for your thoughts, Ben. This is definitely something many of us need to hear!

    • Ben Reed

      I know the day’s coming when I’ll be that older leader. I’ll have to come back and read this post to myself.

  • Larry Hehn

    Right on, Ben. Not sure if I’m old enough to count as an older leader yet, but I feel like I can relate to this post from both perspectives. A lot of wisdom here. Cheers!