Growing Young – Keychain Leadership

This is post two in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one


When I was 16 I was given my first chance to preach.

When I was 17 I was put in charge of a youth service held each term.

When I was 18 our Youth Pastor left and I was given the opportunity to be the ‘Youth Coordinator’ by the church leadership. I still have the letter of recommendation from the Chairman of the Diaconate at the time.

These three experiences are examples of keychain leadership in action.

lotsofkeys.jpeg

Keychain leadership is the term used in Growing Young to describe the type of leadership framework churches ‘growing young’ operate with. This type of leadership attracts and keeps ‘young people’ by walking alongside them and handing over access, influence, and responsibility in the various ministries of the church.

Growing Young uses the illustration of handing over keys to youth and young adults, which gives them access and influence in certain segments of the church. For example, when growing up in a home there comes a time where you get your own house key. Then once you’ve got your license there is a time when you get your own car key. When you begin to work there may be a time when you get your own office key or swipe card. These are examples of physical keys being handed over but they are also symbolic of access, influence, and responsibility.

In the local church it is similar. There are different people in the church who hold different keys. Some of these keys might be physical. The key to the church building, to the church office, to the children’s ministry cupboard et cetera. At other times the illustration of a key may simply be symbolic and so it becomes the access, influence and responsibility you have to decision-makers, meetings, and committees.

As Growing Young says:

“Keys provide access to physical rooms and spaces as well as strategic meetings, significant decisions and central roles or places of authority. The more power you have the more keys you tend to possess…If you are willing to entrust your keys to young people they will trust you with their hearts, their energy, their creativity and even their friends.”

Generally the more keys you hold the more influence and power you have within the church. Sometimes this influence and power is kept close and can become an idol. You may have seen people in churches, as I have, use this power and influence for their own doing and the position and keys become something of an ego trip. But when used wisely and in a godly manner those who hold these keys can be of great help to the local church and the kingdom of God.

For me, the main encouragement and challenge within this chapter and research was the following comment:

“Keychain leaders model a posture of giving away access and authority. This posture not only empowers others but also meaningfully links them to the life of the congregation…The more transparent the leader is personally and the church is organisationally the better positioned the church seems to be to grow young.”

This simple idea of keychain leadership was something modelled to me so doesn’t take me long to get my head around. Perhaps it was a key factor in me sticking around at church? Yet, it also raises some questions. Here are four particular areas I thought this chapter spoke in to.

1. My Leadership

What of my leadership? How do I seek to include, encourage, and grow others in ministry? Am I able to replicate what I’ve been taught and release control of the the things the control-freak within me wants to keep to myself?

2. Leading Volunteers

Those of us in ministry always seem to be talking about how we don’t have enough people involved and active in the life of our churches. This chapter made me think this ‘issue’ is probably more of a reflection on our own leadership than the congregation we’re involved in.

3. Side-by-Side Leadership

Keychain leadership, as described in Growing Young, is not a give-the-key-and-run type mentality. It is a leadership style that is side-by-side. It requires a mentor-mentee relationship. There is freedom and guidance operating at the same time. There is opportunity for people to grow and lead and have influence while providing a place for feedback and correction. This kind of setup seems to make sense to me and has worked within my life, as I know it has with others. It is certainly a posture I’d like to foster in my own ministry.

4. Intergenerational Leadership

One of the key issues for churches to begin thinking like this, however, is whether those who hold the keys now are willing to pass the baton? Generally, those who have the keys now are older, sometimes a lot older. Are they willing to show leadership and begin giving over authority, influence, and access to ‘young people’ in their church?

Is it time to hand over a certain key to a young person and walk with them as they put their own stamp on the ministry? 


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections
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