Daniel Darling Christian Blog and Commentary

5 Pitfalls for Young Church Leaders

  • Daniel Darling

    Daniel Darlingis the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement. He previously served as the Senior VP for Communications at National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and VP of Communications…

  • Published Feb 28, 2012

I'm a young guy, new at leadership, leading my church as Senior Pastor, leading my family as a husband and father of four, and leading (in some ways) as an author/writer/blogger. The world gets excited about young leadership, but quite often young leaders make mistakes because we lack the wisdom of our elders. Here are five common pitfalls I'm finding my for myself and I suspect other young leaders: 

1) The Pitfall of Pride 

The Scriptures both encourage and warn about young leadership. The encouragement is for the young to not let their youth get in the way of leading (1 Timothy 4:12) and yet it also warns against appointing immature people to weighty positions because they lack experience (1 Timothy 3:6). Perhaps our biggest and most pernicious temptation is pride. We're young, we're full of ideas, we feel we can change the world. That's good, but it can also be bad when it seals us off from needed rebuke, wisdom of mentors, and constructive criticism. Young leaders must be wary, very wary, of the various ways that pride disguises itself as something good.

2) The Pitfall of Wanting Fame

Notice I didn't say the pitfall of fame. I don't think fame is inherently wrong. I don't think all celebrity pastors or Christian leaders are off track, as some seem to. I think God allows some to gain favor and find numerical success. But what we young leaders must die to is our desire to be famous. This can be tricky, a sort of fine line between desiring our churches or organizations or platforms to grow and pursuing popularity with reckless abandon. I'm not always sure where that line is -- it maybe different for every person. I do know that we must guard and check our hearts to see if our motivations for ministry are to glorify God and serve His people or to enrich ourselves. 

3) The Pitfall of Comparison

It takes a while for a leader to gain a godly confidence his life and purpose. In the meantime, there is a dangerous tendency to compare and measure ourselves against our peers. Authors obsess over their Amazon rankings and privately wonder why some others seem to have more success than they do. Pastors compare numbers with other pastors and compare their sermons with the sermons of those they admire. I'm speaking from ministry experience, but I'm sure it affects young leaders in a variety of vocations. 

Comparison is deadly because it blinds us to God's unique purpose for each individual life. So we must kill this daily. 

4) The Pitfall of Anti-Establishment

Our growing-up years shape us in more ways than we now, with experience in church, at home, school, and community that affect us in positive and negative ways. For many of us there is a tendency to base our leadership off of our childhood experiences. We can easily become the "not" version of that negative church/ministry/business experience. I'm seeing a lot of this in the books and blogs and sermons I hear from young leaders such as myself. Uber-contemporary pastors style themselves as different than the stodgy fundamentalists of their youth. Super-serious reformed guys style themselves as different than the substance-less contemporary leaders of their youth. And so it goes. There is nothing wrong with coming to grips with the parts of our upbringing or past that we would like to do differently in our leadership environments, but we hurt our effectiveness by cycling everything we do through the prism of what we considered wrong. We become reactionary and imbalanced. We become a movement defined more by being against we perceive as wrong than being for what God has called us to do. 

5) The Pitfall of Overstatement

There is a tendency among young leaders to think of themselves as "the movement that will finally fix everything wrong with the church." The church is going one way but we know better and we're leading it the other way. When we're young we tend to see ourselves as the hero in our own story, the Gideon/David/Abraham warrior that God has sent to rescue His people. The truth is probably much more humble. Even if your book lands on the NYT bestseller list or your congregation swells in size in a few years, you're likely just one of many God is using in this generation. That's not to tamp down enthusiasm or drive or God-given ambition. But we must remember that our story is not our own. God is the author of our story and it is Him who is after glory. We're really not as influential or great as we think we are. And that's okay, because God loves us when we're a bit broken.