Since I am on the planning team for the 2006 Younger Leaders Gathering (YLG-06), my obvious answer to the above question is, “Yes, we do!” However, it isn’t as simple as saying we need this gathering. It isn’t simple for young leaders to realize exactly what it is they need at any given moment. And it isn’t easy for senior leaders to recognize needs that go beyond their fundamental paradigms of what leadership itself is about. These are only two of the things that need to be talked about. Do we need the YLG? If so, why do we need it? Why is it so different, so essential and so anticipated by those already involved? Let us explore this from a young leader’s own perspective.
Today’s Generation and Today’s Challenges
Open up any weekly news magazine. Check the headlines. Even though the world we live in is changing at a rapid pace, some issues endure: globalization, international trade and politics and the reshaping of the world’s religious layout. Frequently, the perspective we get in any given magazine article is one of comparison: “In the 1970s…and today…” or “As opposed to twenty years ago, today’s global market…” As my father constantly reminds me, a point of view is a view from a point. If a writer says, “I remember the late 1960s,” he belongs to a generation older than my own. I was not alive in the 1960s; I don’t remember this time.
I grew up with the concept of a global village, electronic herds and the computer as a home appliance. For me a personal computer looks about as scary as a toaster. It is part of my life, and it finds its way into the conversations I have with fellow young leaders. We have not experienced modernity as the generation before us has. I remember studying modernity in school as a past event, not as a present reality.
Many of the older leaders were at Lausanne ’74. I’ve read about it in books and articles. YLG-06 will gather a different group of people, one that does not look for what they need in books in their seminary libraries or pastoral offices because it is found on an Internet blog. This is my generation! If I want information on anything, I will google it. For my father, the concept of “google” as a verb seems rather creepy.
Challenges for the Younger Generation
During the planning sessions for the YLG-06 we talked about many things and bonded around the common needs and challenges of our generation. And the challenges are many; let me outline just three of them:
1. Hierarchy, to us, seems a bit suffocating. We like horizontal networks, virtual networks, relational networks and ministry networks. The concept of thousands of people on the street protesting is scary to us. Orkut or MySpace is not scary. We do not want to have bosses because we like connecting in our work. A strict, vertical structure wears out our enthusiasm for any given project.
2. We think locally, but our “locally” includes satellite images of anywhere in the world, email, MSN and Skype chats. I have friends in over fifty countries who I consider real friends, not penpals. These are real people in real places. There are many options, contacts and available possibilities. People older than me cannot really advise me on how to deal with so many options because they were not brought up to deal with all this information on such short notice.
3. Reality and truth, for us, are much more fragmented than they were twenty years ago. The concept of a linear thread of thought, time or planning seems thin. We like wireless broadband transmission. And we like it in our brains, not on machine-typed paper. You cannot put paper into a flashdrive.
The above examples reconfigure the way we relate to each other and reshape the pattern of behavior of the people we know and want to reach with the gospel. Our hearts burn for all the lost souls around us just as much as our father’s hearts burned for their friends and contemporaries. But we cannot use methods that were handed down to us to accomplish the same goals. Things are moving and changing too quickly.
A century ago a father could tell his son, “Son, this is what you do if that happens.” This is harder today. The rhythm in which practically everything we consider “normal” changes every day. Our generation must deal with these issues and we must do so because it is our responsibility. We cannot expect our parents to do it for us. It is we who must cope with the new challenges we face. It is we who must find new ways to tell the “old, old story” over and over again until the entire world has met with Jesus through our telling of the gospel.
Challenge to Mature Leaders
So all you older ladies and gentlemen might be thinking, “Okay, so what is left for us to do?” The answer is threefold:
1. Keep doing what you do as well as you do it! You inspire us. We look up to you. Do not think your job is over or your time is past. It is not! Our God reigns over all time and there is a place that for you and the way you do things.
2. Mentor us! Disciple us, talk to us, have time for us. We need you to rub our backs every once in a while and tell us that “this isn’t the first time this has happened.” We need someone who has been there, done that and come out alive. We need examples of patience, kind and attentive listening and firm, Christian character. Why? Because all these things are in short supply in our own generation.
3. Support us! We need you to say “Okay, this Younger Leaders Gathering thing is good. We are with you on this. We are praying and giving and pushing you forward.” Often when we look brave, we are really scared. If we are the ones to tackle the challenges of the Church for the next generation, we need you to support the ideas and concepts that we are inventing as the challenges present themselves.
This is why we need the YLG-06 this fall. It will be a starting point for us to get together, talk, be comforted and be challenged. We need to feel part of a history that is bigger than ourselves and our own generation. We need to feel part of the body of Christ in history. Being there in September will mean being part of something bigger than my own selfish plans. It will mean being where God wants me to be at the right time. And that is reason alone to do anything in life.