Just wait your turn.
You need to pay your dues.
You’re too young to lead.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard these statements (or ones similar) said throughout my twenties. Can you relate? I honestly hope not, but I’m guessing that’s not the case for most of you.
To be honest, I’ve heard these things way more from other women than from men. Why is it that often we, as women, say these things to one another? I feel like most of the men I’ve worked and served with have championed my gifts and have pushed me forward, but a lot of women have cautioned me before moving forward.
There have been a few moments when I’ve caught myself saying something similar to a younger woman, and it caused me to pause. Everyone’s leadership journey looks different. If someone has the right skill and gift set, why wouldn’t we let them lead out?
There’s a mentality in a lot of us who have led for a longer period of time that people have to “earn” their way into leadership, but is that how God looks at leadership? Nope. Jesus found the least likely men and asked them to lead. They were totally unexperienced in what they were about to do, but he used them anyway. We see throughout Scripture how God empowered and used women that no one else would have chosen.
Their dependence on him is the thing that helped them lead well. Did they make mistakes? Sure. That’s how they learned.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, he said,
“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching. Don’t neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all. Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:12-16, CSB).
We often focus on verse 12 that encourages Timothy to stand up for who he is, no matter his age, but we neglect the rest of the charge of this passage where Paul encourages to lead out in his gifting. He wants Timothy to be active in ministry, but also be accountable to the things he knows to be true. Paul fully charged Timothy to walk out his calling, even though he was young. He knew what to do, and Paul sent him out to do it. He wanted others to see that Timothy knew his stuff, and that that he was walking his faith and calling out well.
For younger leaders:
My good friend Selma Wilson (former VP at Lifeway) would always say, “Own your leadership development.” If you don’t own it, no one else is going to own it for you. Don’t hesitate to ask someone further along in ministry or leadership to go to coffee, talk on the phone, or just email them some questions. Do everything you can do to grow, but always be teachable. You have a lot to learn from those who’ve gone before you!
For those of you who have led for awhile:
When you look back on your leadership journey, what would you have done differently? How would you encourage and champion your younger self? What younger woman in your life could use a mentor? Just because she’s young doesn’t mean she’s not capable. Is there a place where you can take a step back to let someone else shine?
We would all be wise to look around and see how we can help others out. It’s easy to become defensive or proud, but those things are not of God. How can we help each other grow not only in leadership but also in Christ? Do your part, whatever that may be.
No one is too young to lead if they’re being led well by someone ahead of them.