Tim Alford

Leadership 101 - Leading for encounter

If we are leaders, then what is the purpose of our leadership?

Consider the children and young people in your sphere of influence. What is it you are primarily leading them towards? We are concerned about their mental well-being, of course, but this is not why we have a youth group.

We want them to navigate their school years successfully, and negotiate the minefield of sex and relationships, but again, neither of these things are the end goal.

Hopefully, attendance is not your primary objective. Being active participants in the wider church community, though good, is not our goal. We are not leading them towards the Bible, or even Christianity, in a religious sense.

So what is it? Where are we leading them? What are we leading our young people towards? (I’ll give you a clue, you learned the answer in Sunday School). 

Yes, you’ve got it. Jesus! Surely our first and primary objective is for our children and young people to develop a deeply personal, life-long relationship with Jesus. Can I get an Amen?

Good. I’m glad we’re on the same page.

Which opens up a big question … how? How do we lead our children and young people to a place where know him personally, to love him completely, and follow him whole-heartedly? Easier said than done, right?

A few years ago I was involved in pioneering a new youth group. Because we were starting from scratch the majority of the young people we were working with were not Christians, nor had they given God any serious thought.

We found that over time it was quite easy to see these young people move from a place where they didn’t believe in God at all, to a place of believing there is something more.

But moving from there to a personal relationship with Jesus seemed like a chasm they could not cross.

As we reflected as a team we realised we were creating a lot of space for young people to hear about God - hearing testimonies, reflecting on Scripture, discussing the nature of God - but very little opportunity for them to actually encounter God.

So we started something we called ‘emoji night’ (long story!), during which we create space for worship, teaching, and, most importantly of all, ministry.

Since that time we have rejoiced as many young people have responded to the gospel and begun a journey into a personal relationship with Jesus for themselves.

The apostle Paul describes what we were beginning to learn: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

I always find this interesting, because if anyone had wise and persuasive words, it was surely the apostle Paul. And yet he knew that talking about God is no foundation for a relationship with God.

A personal relationship with God can only be born out of an encounter with God. And this is why summer camps are so formative in the lives of our young people, because often, for the first time, their faith moves from information to revelation.

It’s the encounter with the Holy Spirit that changes everything.

And yet, if we want to see our children develop a deeply personal, life-long relationship with Jesus, we cannot wait for a personal encounter to happen once a year at a summer camp. The promise of God is that when we draw near to him he draws near to us (James 4:8).

These transformative moments of personal encounter can and should happen in our own groups, no matter how big or small. This is absolutely paramount for lasting faith.

How then do we facilitate the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our local groups? I want to suggest we do so according to these three simple principles: we wait on God, we listen to him, we do what he says …

Wait on God: God moves in stillness (1 Kings 19:11-13, Psalm 27:14, Psalm 46:10, Isaiah 40:31), and thus we don’t need to stir people up into a frenzy in order to meet with Jesus. Instead, lead your young people through a process of stillness and waiting, to allow the Holy Spirit to move as he intends.

Be careful to avoid hype and auto-suggestion, but don’t be afraid of the role of anointed musicians assisting in ministry (2 Kings 3:14-16, 1 Samuel 16:23). God doesn’t need music to move, but sometimes it helps us to be ready to receive.

Listen to Him: As we wait we are listening to cues from the Holy Spirit. Is he asking us to wait longer? Is he asking us to lead a specific response to something? Does he want to give us a word of knowledge or reading from Scripture? What is God seeking to do at this moment?

Do what he says: Whatever the Holy Spirit asks of you, do it. The idea is to let the Spirit lead you as you lead the young people. As you do so …

Acknowledge the odd - God can do weird things if He wants to, but you don’t need to be weird. Acknowledge unusual things in the usual way.

Explain what is going on and reassure people as you go - Don’t assume that everyone is familiar with what the Spirit is doing. If people do start to cry, laugh, fall over, or experience God in a physical way, take a moment to explain what is happening and reassure people that it’s safe and good.

Explain that it’s OK if you’re not feeling or experiencing anything - People can sometimes feel that there is something wrong with them if they are not “feeling” anything when people around them seem to be encountering God. Remind people that feeling and encountering are not the same things and that God still loves them and notices them even if they are not feeling anything. 

Ultimately, facilitating moments of encounter is poetry, not maths. It’s scary because we relinquish control and hand it over to God ... the good news is that God is a more trustworthy leader than any of us.

And if it all goes wrong the first time you give it a go, that’s OK. We won’t always get it right, but what we do know for certain is this: lasting faith is not built on human wisdom but on a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.

Our programs, courses, teaching, and small groups are all important, but if that is all we have then we will have young people whose faith is built on human wisdom, and that foundation will crumble.

So let’s take a step of faith and create space for young people to personally encounter God in the context of our groups. Let’s move from talking about God to meeting with God. Let’s give God control as we wait on Him, listen to Him, and do what he says.

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Director of LIMITLESS

Tim Alford lives in Malvern with is wife Jen, son Tobijah and daughter Aria.

He is the National Director of LIMITLESS, the youth movement of Elim Pentecostal Churches in the UK and Ireland. He is a passionate communicator of the gospel, having spoken at churches, conferences, schools and events all over the world. Tim is the former frontman of [dweeb], a frustrated supporter of Arsenal, and has on more than one occasion been to the cinema in Star Wars fancy dress.


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