My mentor, William H. Stewart, was ushered into the Kingdom of God this week. Bill selflessly invested his heart and time and passion into helping young people, future pastors and missionaries to become fully devoted followers of Christ and God used him to change the world.
Bill Stewart understood what it meant to “pay it forward.” He sacrificially and generously invested in the next generation and the impact of that investment over time is staggering, yet no one can completely know the impact that has rippled out around the world this side of heaven.
Some of the best memories of being trained in ministry was sitting in a room with Bill as he shared his wisdom of disciplines to develop and dangers to avoid in ministry. He taught us how to dream, then prayerfully consider what it would take to see that dream become a reality. There was certainly the part that God had to do, but there was also the part that I had to do… planting, plowing, watering… Planning, organizing, recruiting leaders.
Bill was determined to reach the next generation and it changed our church and it changed our community as the youth ministry led the charge in reaching students and ultimately families for Christ.
When I hear churches lament, “Our hearts are broken because our children have left the church!” I’m reminded of Bill Stewart’s prodding and inspiration to be servant leaders, with one hand up to those leading us, and one hand down to pay it forward to the next generation. Without that focus the church simply gets older and eventually dies a slow death because there was not the investment in the next generation. When it becomes apparent that the next generation is not engaged in the church, it usually is too late to turn things around. Without a genuine love for the next generation, a slow decline is inevitable.
So what happens when a church follows Bill Stewart’s lead and becomes more concerned with setting up the next generation for success, than gaining fame and notoriety in the now? What happens when leaders of the ministry genuinely care most about equipping the next generation to reach the next generation? What if they care more about developing character and capacity in young men and women than they cared about their own comfort and worship style and potlucks?
I believe that is the kind of ministry that has the potential to change the world! Even crazy Adolf Hitler saw the power of influencing the next generation by developing his Youth Core.
What does the church look like when the older generation is energized with the belief that investing in younger leaders, loving them and assisting them and coaching them to develop lives of character and Godliness? I believe that produces the most exciting ministry on the planet. It’s the type of ministry I want to be involved in til my last breath.
This kind of ministry is possible, but it is not intuitive and it doesn’t happen by accident. Developing an effective ministry is complicated, and often it is easier to do ministry alone than to do it through others. Doing ministry through the next generation is messy and expensive and often heartbreaking. The payoff on the investment of time and energy and emotion is often years down the road, so it requires great patience and tenacity.
This kind of ministry is certainly not for narcissists. This kind of ministry must face down the following arguments that stubbornly resist this a kingdom building, multiplying ministry:
◆ “I’m the professional and nobody does it as well as me.”
◆ “People expect me to be the one doing all the preaching, teaching, hospital calls, funerals, weddings, communion and baptisms.”
◆ “It’s too expensive to invest in people who will one day leave to minister elsewhere.”
◆ “We need to take care of this ministry first, once it is big, then we can think about training the next generation of leaders.”
◆ “Every time a young leader leaves, our ministry suffers a vacuum of leadership, so let’s invest in people who are going to stay.”
We have to push past the short term costs of investing in the young and inexperienced and see the future multiplication of impact through others that far surpasses what any one of us can contribute.
The goal is for more people to know God, not that more people know us (personal fame). Creating a healthy spiritual environment that produces multiple strong Christian leaders is a goal worth pursuing because of the far reaching impact it can have long after we are pushing up daisies.
Developing Coaches for the Next Generation
Imagine the adrenaline rush of Michael Jordan’s youth basketball coach, when Michael stops by to say, “‘thanks’ for setting me up to become a Hall-of-Famer! I could never have accomplished it without you!”
Golfers, imagine the honor of being asked to prepare the next Tiger Woods the fundamentals of golf. It would be a sacred trust, a great responsibility to set that young golfer up for success, passing on the essential mechanics and principles of playing championship golf (Earl Woods’ did this for his son Tiger).
If you knew you were coaching the next Tiger Woods, you would make sure that you knew your stuff, you would prepare by devouring every word of Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book and Phil Mickelson’s Secrets to the Short Game, and Bobby Jones’ Classic Instruction, so that your prodigy would have the best opportunity for success. Wouldn’t you?
If you knew you were assigned by God to prepare the next Billy Graham, what books would you be devouring? What kind of spiritual environment would you create so that the next world impacting preacher would develop the kind of character necessary to weather the inevitable storms of ministry? What would be the immediate and long team goals that you would establish to prepare your Billy Jr. for ministry greatness?
Great leaders are more often made than born. They are groomed by selfless mentors who passionately pour time and energy and creativity into the next generation of world changers. Often it is the debt of gratitude that drives mentors to pass on to another what was given to them by their own selfless mentor.
Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love, Forgotten God, Erasing Hell and Multiply, was a student in my youth group who came to faith in Christ as a Sophomore in high school. Recently as I spoke with Francis on the phone he commented, “Stan, I just had a meeting with some of the great disciple making men of our generation and as we spoke, 85% of what I had to say, was what you taught me as a young person in the youth group and as an Intern.”
Not every former intern has achieved this kind of success in ministry and impact, but that is God’s business. My job is simply to pour out into others what God pours into me, planting seeds and trusting God for the harvest. Mostly I’m grateful that my shortcomings as a leader didn’t hobble Francis too severely… 🙂
This style of ministry is not for everyone, but it is a style of ministry that anyone can implement, and it has the potential of changing the world, because at the heart is a willingness to selflessly give the ministry away, passionately investing in others who will invest in others long after I am gone.
I believe this is the heart of what Jesus said,
The greatest among you will be your servant. (Matthew 23:11)
Thank you Bill Stewart, for being a tool that God used to transform the next generation!