Ken Russell
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“The best leaders are the best listeners.” – John Maxwell (Some Communicate, Few Connect)

It is no secret that we are facing challenging days in leading the Body of Christ in Canada. Recent ecclesiastical surveys would reveal that Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are struggling to accomplish the Great Commission with a measure of success, and this has sounded an alarm for some leaders.

There are so many layers in the conversation of church health and multiplication, and for that reason alone, I am grateful for the numerous opportunities to discuss our network’s focus on Church Revitalization and Multiplication. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and believe that naïve optimism for an end-time revival will simply turn things around.

The church in Canada (which includes all tribes and denominations) is multi-generational and mutli-cultural. Each demographic sub-group within our congregations worships Jesus in a unique way. Each group has its own expectations, preferences and style.

Statistically, we know that approximately 65% of our lead pastors are over the age of 50, and the vast majority are approaching retirement within the next few years. I find myself in this category of leaders, who are approaching retirement. That said, I am thoroughly convinced that my pastoral call to the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission does not end at age 65.

Frankly, I find the state of the church today very sobering. I cannot escape the fact that is my generation bears a great responsibility for why this is the case. Of course, we could simply blame the ills of our society on predecessors, and claim that we inherited what we did, but in truth, my generation has been at the helm of leadership for the last 30 years. And for that reason, I believe we need to share the responsibility for what we are facing today in many of our churches.

When I started in ministry 33 years ago, the concept of mentorship was not frequently spoken about, much less practiced. My early experience in pastoring taught me the value of good mentorship. I was responsible for anything and everything that the Senior Pastor either didn’t have time to accomplish or what he didn’t want to do. The deficiency of mentorship in my earlier years of ministry has never been a cause for grumbling. A lack of good mentorship simply unearths one of the sources for poor health in our local churches, and our inability to fulfil the great commission (which is all about making disciple-making disciples).

So where do we go from here? What might be a solution to reverse this shortfall? Perhaps a renewed focus on ‘reverse mentoring’ will connect the generations and cultures within our churches to those who have no religious or Christian experience.

“Reverse Mentorship” is not my term. I believe we first heard it from GE CEO Jack Welsh about ten years ago when he recognized that GE was very quickly going the way of the dinosaur and was losing its grasp how to meets the needs of their customers. In short, it involves listening to younger leaders... and younger leaders listening to seasoned leaders. Effective mentorship is dialogical, not monological.

Mentors cannot lecture their protégés, both parties must learn from each other, so that their shared resources, core values, vision and mission can be accomplished collaboratively.

Wisdom would affirm traditional mentoring styles where young leaders sit at the feet of us older leaders, gleaning from their experiences, stories and insights in pastoring. I would strongly affirm that there is still great value in this while encouraging some of the older pastoral leaders to seek out some millennial leaders and receive mentorship in areas of social media, technology, pop -culture and image-driven preaching.

So how are we going to lead God’s church of five generations and remain effective? By listening to our young leaders and by receiving their fresh (often wild) ideas from unfettered imaginations. Then we must create a leadership dialogue (instead of a leadership lecture) that effectively develops new ways to accomplish the great commission of Jesus Christ on earth.

To our younger leaders who are holding out your hands to receive the baton from us, here is a posture that I would ask of you: continue to show respect for your elders. Senior leaders may not be perfect, but we have paid a price with our lives and families in serving the Church for many years. Continue to extend us grace. Many have struggled in how to adjust to the shifting sands of our culture, which is happening more rapidly in every generation. It has been hard, and many senior leaders are still staggered by the impact of it all.

Raise your voices and speak up. Speak the truth in love, but step up to the microphone and inspire us, inform us, educate us, correct us, encourage us, nudge us, provoke us, and ultimately, help us so that we might finish our years of leadership bearing spiritual fruit that pleases our Lord.

Hebrew 10:24 says this: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

I believe that if we continue to submit one to another, demonstrate teachable hearts of humility, and are committed to engaging the work of the Great Commission in a way that effectively reaches this generation in today’s culture, then our greatest days might yet be ahead of us, by the grace of God.