“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)