They Are Not Ready…

by Chris Lautsbaugh on May 20, 2015

“They are not ready…”

These may be some of the most frequently uttered words when missionaries consider passing the baton of leadership.

They can also be the most painful.


One of the leaders I work with shares the story of being a young, oppressed worker in South Africa during the time of apartheid:

A white Afrikaner man (the people group previously in power) wanted to bring him and a few others hailing from different ethnic backgrounds into a leadership meeting. At the time, this was unheard of; even in a missions organization which championed people from all nations, tribes, and tongues.

When met with resistance from the other meeting participants, the white Afrikaner suggested they at least be able to observe, even if they did not participate.

He wanted to see these young men learn and gain experience so they could step into leadership roles in the future.

In the corporate world this type of a request is common. Interns and associates receive invitations to attend prior to receiving permission to speak. This corporate model does have its shortcomings (assuming a fresh set of eyes is unnecessary), but it gears towards providing needed experience.

But in the days leading up to the fall of apartheid, even this simple request met with a refusal. The other men present were not bad men, but they were raised in a system where this freedom was not present.

The gentlemen of other ethnic backgrounds found themselves waiting in the hallway rather than gaining needed experience, the words of “they are not yet ready,” echoing in their ears.

How often are we guilty of similar tactics?

Do we engage in this subtle form of racism disguised as care and concern?

As we evaluate our leadership, are we giving opportunity to fresh faces and voices?

We must remember our own journey. Many of us were invited to give leadership a try well before we were “ready”.

Training, experience, and internship are all valuable tools.

But we may need to consider if readiness has been redefined as having equal maturity to that of a twenty-year veteran?

Our people are rising, but may not yet be at our skill level.

Most new potential leaders don’t come “pre-cooked.”

Part of our role is to walk along them for a season, allowing mistakes which will promote and stimulate growth.

Seasoning as a leader does not come in a microwave oven, drive-thru approach; but rather through the slow cooker of time and mentorship.

We must be aware of a harsh reality. It is always easier to recognize potential in our own culture and style of doing things than in one which is foreign.

When a younger leader approaches an issue differently, we should be slower to declare them unprepared.

In listening to their idea, we may in fact, hear a better, more culturally appropriate solution.

We are making disciples not clones. We call out potential and uniqueness in those we hope will carry our work into the future.

Or even exceed what we have accomplished…

One of the men who was denied entry in the above story, is currently leading the ministry.

It is one of the largest training and ministry locations Youth With A Mission has in the world.



Photo credit: sa_apartheid_crop via photopin (license)

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • Good word.

  • Great post, Chris! Thanks!

  • Dalaina May

    Two thoughts:
    1) What we also forget is how leadership doesn’t develop outside of leading. You can’t read a how to book or even simply watch a seasoned leader lead and be able to do it well. Leaders are made by leading. Ideally, they can begin leading alongside a more experienced leader who will help develop them, pray for them, and support them as they learn. But leading for someone “until they are ready” is a misnomer.

    2) Honestly, I think all it is when it comes to missionary relationships with local partners, it is usually racism and paternalism thinly masked as concern for the local partner and church/ministry. We don’t actually believe they have the same access to the Holy Spirit or the same capacity for wisdom and effectiveness as we do. My whole life (as a TCK and now living in Asia) I’ve heard the words “local partners,” but I thought as a child and still think by and large it’s a load of BS 90% of the time. True partners can call us out, tell us we need to step aside or step down. They can confront us and rebuke us, encourage us and point us toward truth. True partnerships means that we are equally as willing to be led as to lead. I’ve rarely seen any Western expats willing to place themselves under the authority of their local partners. Usually when a local begins leading, the Westerner leaves for a new area or ministry. I’ve never ever seen a Westerner switch roles with an apprentice when that apprentice is ready for the responsibility of leading. When we can actually enter a place and find a solid local leader to put ourselves underneath to develop US as we do our best to support him/her according to his/her own assessment of need, then I will believe it when we talk about local partners. Until then all we mean by “local partner” is actually “those people who I will lead until I am done and gone and it is their turn.” Those are two very, very different things.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Yes yes yes! Preach. First off – Chris – thank you for this vitally important piece. Second, I have to agree with Dalaina. This is as you say so well “racism and paternalism thinly masked.” I was struck by this in a whole new way a couple of years ago. I could not believe the double standard set for local leaders vs. international. The local leaders were given no grace to make mistakes or fail at any level. It was either adhere to the standards set by Western folks or be dismissed. It was more than troubling. It takes more than a blog post to discuss this but I am so glad you raised the issue.

    • Great thoughts Dalaina. Your experience in this area carries weight!

    • Emily

      This is so true! Where my husband and I are serving we recently left a big organization to work under a local because we see the importance in really supporting them and learning from them. They know the language and have way more experience in this area than anyone in the larger organization and are wanting to do ministry in a new way, since they have witnessed many people doing the first steps of ministry but not going any further. They know that something needs to change and they aren’t afraid to try something new with God’s leading of course. They have never looked down on us because we are still new in ministry or young but have only encouraged and loved us as we work side by side sharing our thoughts and prayers. I wish more organizations could be more of a support to locals and let go of some of their own authority. Many times I think organizations use locals for a short time so that they can get on a good footing in a new place with no real intention of supporting the local ministries and pastors/ministers. It is no surprise then that currently local pastors and evangelists are extremely skeptical of foreign missionaries, especially those from the west. I know this isn’t true everywhere, but it is what I have personally experienced.

  • Chris, thank you. You take on the hard stuff. Never, ever stop.

  • Helen Sworn

    An interesting post, thanks Chris. Five years ago I handed the leadership of my NGO in Cambodia to a national leader and afterwards conducted a research and thesis on the whole issue of expatriate leaders handing over succession to local leaders in the NGO sector. It was a huge learning process, even after I had carried it out myself and opened up many cultural prejudices and insights that had never been considered or discussed before.

    • Really enjoy your insights here Helen. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

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