As the CBAC, we are committed to joining God in our neighbourhoods.  An important practice in discerning our mission in our neighbourhoods is asking the question, “What can I learn from my neighbourhood?” and not assuming that we have all the answers. Our neighbours are the people with whom we work, play, and study.  I want to introduce you to a significant community that is part of my neighbourhood, and from whom I am regularly learning.

One of the lessons this community has been teaching me is around the principle of “keychain leadership.” In the CBAC Y&F department, we highly recommend the book, Growing Young. With its tagline of “six essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church,” this book is a valuable resource for churches of all sizes.  One of the essential strategies it highlights is to develop keychain leadership, meaning intentionally entrusting all generations with the capabilities, power, and access they need to lead.  In recent experiences, I have seen two different organizations lean into this principle with great success.

The first is our camps.  They do phenomenal work entrusting and empowering others.  While I served as a youth pastor, I always encouraged my students to serve at a camp for the summer.  Camp was an incredible incubator for spiritual growth and leadership development.  

The second may surprise you.  It’s not the Church or another Christian organization, but is actually my Taekwondo gym.  

Three years ago, my wife suggested to me that I sign our oldest son up for Taekwondo. She had seen an ad in a community Facebook page, and we were looking for an activity for him to do. It turned out that parents were welcome to join, so I tagged along with him. Since that time, Taekwondo has become a significant part of our family rhythm, and was one of the greatest losses we experienced during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

With the return to school this fall, there has been a return to somewhat “normal” life in Atlantic Canada, including many extracurricular activities, such as Taekwondo. Although we’ve had to find a new building, it’s been good to put our gi uniforms back on and reconnect with that community. 

My son and I are currently working towards our blue belt promotion, and during our classes, time is given for us to work with a Black Belt so we can practice our form.  Most often as we practice our forms, we are training with a grade 12 student.  As I was reflecting on this experience, and ruminating over “Growing Young,” I recognized this as a great expression of keychain leadership.

Too often our churches create and then rely on “Superpastors.”  We have cultures in our churches that develop “key-hoarding leaders who never share the keys of leadership with others because they believe others are not as capable” (Growing Young, 66). We need more leaders who focus on building a team of other capable leaders who have strengths that they lack.  We need fewer leaders who give in to their insecurities and allow their paranoia and resentment to derail ministry.  

And I see this principle of keychain leadership best practiced  in my Taekwondo gym.  Our instructor trains and develops other participants who then train the rest of us.  He doesn’t have to do all the work.  He doesn’t hoard the keys of leadership, but passes on of the keys of influence to younger leaders.  Experience matters more than age, and this young leader is way more experienced than I am.  So even though he is only half my age, there is so much I can learn from him.  And as an adult, I humbly and respectfully submit to his leadership. 

Churches, we need to do better.  Too often, I’ve sat in meetings and tried to encourage boards or committees to consider giving opportunity to younger leaders.  Too often, I’ve been told that they’re “too young,” or “they need more experience,” or “they’ll have their turn in the future.”  Too often, I’ve seen older leaders hoard the keys of influence and continue controlling their ministries.  

Students are looking to partner with their churches, and have opportunities to lead.  They’re not looking to “take over” but to fully participate in the ministry that God has for all of us, as we join Him in our neighbourhoods.  

Interested in knowing more about Growing Young?  We host workshops with churches and would love to walk through the six strategies with your team.