Leading People Older than You – 5 Things to Make it Easier


One of the most challenging parts of my role in church leadership has been leading people older than me. I’ve been pretty bossy since I was a kid, but I’ve been in leadership officially since my early 20s. In almost every position, I had a great deal of authority, and was the youngest of the group. Here are 5 things I’ve learned about leading people older than you.

1. Build the relationships FIRST. It’s not usually a good idea to try to move people faster than they’re ready to go. When you take leadership over an existing group, often times, your enthusiasm and zeal can have you changing, rearranging and undoing everything you don’t like within the first few weeks. When you’re leading people older than you, that can be disastrous. You’re likely to be met with resistance, rebellion, and outright refusal, all resulting in quite a bit of resentment, as they will probably view you as “some know-it-all kid” who is arrogant and condescending. Take the time to build a relationship first.  Maintain the status quo until you get to know them and let them get to know you. Show true concern about the things that matter to them. Find out how they feel about the ministry area, what keeps them there, what they value, what they feel attached to, and what they wish would change. Assess the changes you’d like to make, and develop a strategic plan and timeline to implement them. Make sure your plan includes clear and frequent communication with your team, so that there are no surprises and no hard feelings.

2. Give respect and command respect. That’s a pretty simple, though oft-overlooked, principle. Some call it the golden rule. Matthew 7:12 says that we should do unto others as we would want them to do unto us, for this is the essence of all that is taught in the law and by the prophets. Show them respect – including respect for their age and experience – and be sure you don’t handle them as your peers, especially if the age gap is significant. Show yourself respectable, and command their mutual respect for you. Do not ever allow your team to disregard your authority because of your age, especially not in front of others, as this will make it easier for others to disrespect you.

3. Be confident and firm, but don’t be inflexible or afraid to admit when you’re wrong (that might take practice). When you make a sound decision, stick to it and carry it out with confidence. Nobody respects a wishy washy leader who isn’t confident in what he’s doing, and jellyback leaders are easy to walk over. If you walk as though you’re unsure of where you’re going, no one will follow. When you make a wrong turn, acknowledge it and correct it. If you act like a silly, immature, indecisive kid who can’t admit it when he’s wrong, no one will take you seriously when you try to lead.

4. Respect their wisdom and seek their input and help; look for opportunities to learn from the older people on your team. As often as possible, ask them for their input and advice – even if it’s unrelated to ministry. Perhaps you have a personal issue they can help with. Everyone wants to feel needed and valued. A good way to build camaraderie is to let your older subordinate know you don’t have all the answers and could use her help.

5. Be patient and accommodating. Acknowledge the age difference and everything that it means: they have more life experience, see things differently, have different fears, expectations, perspective, ideas. Respect those differences and honor your older team members for their perspective, not in spite of it. Keep in mind that the landscape of their lives might be different – family obligations, work commitments, hobbies, children, etc. Keep in mind that some older people are not as technologically or culturally savvy as you may be; they may not keep up with the latest lingo or trends. Some of them might get a kick out of learning the newest lingo, text shorthand or dance moves – if so, teach them! But if corresponding by e-mail doesn’t work for them, or if they give you blank stares when you refer to a line from the latest R&B song, try to meet them where they are.

Bonus: Don’t avoid dealing with an issue because you’re intimidated by their age. Don’t get into a power struggle either. Maintain control of the work setting, and handle personal problems one-on-one apart from the team setting.

Hopefully, that helped you out a little. If you’re in a situation where you’re leading people much older than you, and having a hard time, I can assure you, it won’t get better over night. But if you stay prayerful and humble, and use those five suggestions, I can pretty much guarantee you things will get better. If you need advice for a specific situation, be sure to leave a comment, or you can e-mail me, FB me, Tweet me, or send an anonymous message via Formspring. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me.


Monday Morning Manna: Maximum Potency Part II: The Gideon Model

Leave a comment

Visit Inspirational Contemplation to read Maximum Potency Part I

Guest Columnist: Vanessa L. Miller


And the Lord said unto Gideon, by the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand… Judges 7:7

We all know the familiar scripture that says God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, but still it is difficult at times to see how God is able to do more with less, when our inclination is that we need more than what we have to do anything great.

Growing up in a very small church, I’ve heard all of the clichés about not counting numbers, but making numbers count, and brightening the corner where you are, etc.  I honestly really never bought any of that, because it usually came from the mouths of people who had more to work with, and were striving to get still more.  What I seldom witnessed, however, was any of these churches, small or large, efficiently using the resources they had available to them.  It’s sad, but most times still, when I observe a congregation I see more potential in packages (wrapped up sitting on the shelf) than potential in progress (moving toward something).

But the story of Gideon says something about potential and potency.  All of those thousands of men he had at the outset were only strong in numbers, but not in unity and in heart.  The lesson I took away from this is that even if you have large numbers of people with you, it can be deceitful.  If their hearts are not with you, it is a false sense of security that can fail you at your most vulnerable time.  Instead of rallying to your side, they may forsake and flee.   What people say, and what’s in their hearts can be two very different things.

For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.  Proverbs 23:7

Which brings us to the idea of maximum potency.  As I stated in Part I, it has to do with the removing of all fillers and unnecessary ingredients in order to obtain greater concentration and focus.  This principle applies to individual lives, but as the story of Gideon so vividly illustrates, it also applies to group efforts.

The first thing that stands out, is that God called Gideon and gave him the mission.  We must be sure that our endeavors originate not with man, but with God.  That way, we are building on a rock and not the shifting sand of fallible people.  Whether numbers increase or decrease, whether your most trusted associates forsake you; you will still have as insurance, that Blessed Assurance that God is faithful.  What he has said, he will do.

Next, we must realize that if we are doing something great and effective, especially for the Kingdom of God, we may not only attract those that are like-minded, but people with various other motives and agendas.  Just because they are there, doesn’t mean they are there for you or your vision.  I’m reminded of the Israelites in Ezra 4:1-4.  As they built the temple, others came and said, “Let us build with you.”  It was not long before it was discovered that their true motives were actually to weaken the hands of the Israelites and to take away their focus.

I believe our efforts are diluted because, especially in the church, we welcome any help offered and never take a moment to see whether it fits God’s instructions.  What started as a pure endeavor to please God can be sabotaged by those who’ve gained leverage and began pulling in the direction of their agenda.   Before you know it, politics have entered the camp and you and God are being threatened with an overthrow.   I know a lot of churches find themselves hurting for resources at times, but we should never compromise our vision in the name of achieving our vision.

This is a difficult subject, because by no means am I saying that we should sit up and fret about who is for us and against us or be paranoid about someone taking what is ours.  What I am saying is that we should vigilantly guard the work that God has assigned to each of our hands.   We should not allow a hireling to come and damage or derail our focus, making us less effective in the very thing we have been called to do.  In Gideon’s case, it wasn’t a personal thing.  In fact, it was mostly a matter of dismissing those who didn’t want to be there anyway.  Hmmm…  twenty-two thousand men showed up for battle and in their heart of hearts, that is not where they wanted to be.   Gideon ultimately found out that both he and they were better off if they went their way.  The other ninety seven hundred were not so easy to dismiss, but they simply did not have the innate skill to do the job at hand.  They weren’t bad people, this task just wasn’t for them at this time, but the victory when it was won, was for all of them, even the ones that went home.   Similarly, the endeavors that benefit your church or group are for the benefit of the whole, not just those that are selected to work in that particular area.  Any hard feelings can be quickly assuaged with the knowledge that though this may not be my calling and it might not be for me to work with this particular area right now, but there is a calling and a purpose specifically for me.  If I involve myself with finding, and then working that purpose, I have no time to spend worrying about things I wasn’t called to do.

I think that one of the biggest problems in church today is not lack of numbers or failure to be relevant.  I think that at the very root is an identity crisis.  People that don’t know who they are and their own God-given purpose tend to run to where they feel God is doing something great and try to jump in there (I know because I used to be one of these people).  But because that is not their call or assigned work, they are like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, ministering havoc and hindrance to those who are trying to work and grown in what God has called them to do.  When even one person fails to stay in their lane, the result can be a terrible accident that may cause someone to get hurt or killed, and will certainly delay us all from getting to our destination.

While the problem may never be completely eliminated, it can be greatly reduced by focusing on one’s goal and destination, and being prayerful as to who you select or permit to be on the frontline of moving the vision forward.  Everyone will help or benefit in some capacity, but everyone wasn’t called to be by your side, in your ear, or even on your team.  You may look at what’s left and think it’s not enough to get the job done, but just remember that tiny cup of “concentrated” laundry detergent, or Gideon and his modest three hundred men, and know that your main active ingredient is really all you ever need.  “If God be for you…”

Vanessa L. Miller is a multi-talented writer, musician, graphic artist, and a diligent intercessor and student of the Word. A native of Utah, Vanessa currently resides in Reno, Nevada where she serves faithfully at Rehoboth Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. Follow Vanessa’s blog, Inspirational Contemplation, at http://nessalynn77.wordpress.com.

Okay, Pastor’s gone. Now, who’s in charge? (Part II: Succession Planning)

1 Comment

~Part II~

In yesterday’s OIC, we began the discussion on succession planning in the church. As I said yesterday, a sudden, unexpected change in leadership is guaranteed to bring about a decline in membership, compromised morale, decreased funding, and lots of conflict, often times including a church split. This is why pastors – and all leaders – need a succession plan.

Click here to read part one, where we discussed what succession planning is, who needs it, and why it’s an important part of effective leadership. Today, we’ll pick up where we left off yesterday.

Where do I start?

1. Prayerfully determine how your successor will be selected. Perhaps in your church, this will involve a vote, a discussion, an election process, or some sort of formal approval. Perhaps you’ll go on a consecration. However you do it, be sure to include prayer to ensure you are directed by God. Don’t be afraid to seek wise counsel. Use a pen and paper to write down what qualities your successor should have, and refer back to it when you’re considering different candidates.

2. Put it in writing! My former supervisor would always tell me “if it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist!!” (Thanks, Assane). I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how many churches have split because the pastor left instructions to be followed after his death, but never put it in writing. It’s hard to question whether the pastor really wanted Elder Johnny to be the new pastor when you have his written instructions in front of you. You can tell your wife you want Elder Johnny to take over, but if your wife can’t prove that to the people, there’s no guarantee they’ll take her word for it.

3. Spend quality time developing, training, and coaching your successor. This can take years, which is why it’s important to start your succession planning NOW. When Dr. MaLinda Sapp, wife of recording artist and pastor Marvin Sapp, fell ill, she gathered those who worked with her and began giving them all the tools they would need to carry on in her absence. For years prior to her illness, she had poured into them, trained them, developed them, coached them and prepared them to carry the mantle. When cancer revisited her, she began to give specific instructions putting everything in order to make the transition of leadership as easy on the people as it could be in the circumstances. Many of them testified after her passing that they were ready to carry on because she had prepared them.

4. Validate him or her publicly. No matter how much your members love you, once you’re gone, they will not stay if they don’t “buy” the person you put in charge. If you don’t believe me, ask them. You must get the people’s buy-in, and that starts with validating your successor. Find ways to get the people familiar with your successor by making sure he is active in ministry, has good relationships with the members, and mic time. Most importantly – whether directly or indirectly – be sure the people know that you’ve given him authority to lead.

5. Make sure your superiors, attorneys, spouse, and front-line leaders know the plan. This is pretty self-explanatory. If you belong to an organization, you’ll probably need to get the approval or at least buy-in from your superiors. You’ll want to check with your attorney to make sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. And how awful would it be for those who walked closest to you over the years to find out about your plan from someone other than you. Plus, it may take time to gain their support. If your support beams aren’t in place, the whole structure will likely collapse.

As always, you’re welcome to call or write me if you have any questions or need more information.

Okay, Pastor’s gone. Now, who’s in charge? (Part I of II: Succession Planning)

Leave a comment

*Note: I would like to solicit the prayers of my readers for my friends Gary and Rosetta who are remembering what would’ve been the 2nd birthday of their daughter. Please keep them in your prayers today. Much love to you both, and to your family.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

~Part I~

An interesting trend I’ve noticed over the past decade or two is that in today’s church, particularly the Black, charismatic church, people don’t join churches, they join pastors. (We can talk about the “why” on another day). That presents a plethora of problems, but one in particular is relevant to today’s article.

What Happens When the Pastor Dies? Or Quits?

I’ve been in church my entire life, so I really don’t think there’s too much I haven’t witnessed or experienced during my tenure with the church. I’ve known pastors to be convicted of felonies and end up serving time in prison. I know of one who decided he had just had enough, so he walked away from his church, returning to his home 2000 miles away. I’ve known a few to be run out of town by scandal, completely abandoning their churches. I’ve known a few to backslide. And of course, I’ve known countless pastors who died – many of them passing long before they even reached retirement age.

Those are some pretty tragic situations; it’s always sad when a beloved pastor is separated from his church, for whatever the reason. But what’s really tragic is when the work of the ministry ceases and the church collapses because the visionary is no longer around to lead. Another trend that we’ve seen in the past three decades or so is that many churches are independent and/or unaffiliated, not belonging to any organization. This, of course, means that there’s no overseeing body to appoint a new pastor or lead the church until a new pastor is identified… and inevitably, that church will collapse.

I won’t pretend I get it. You train 5, 10, 20, 100 leaders. Week after week, you pour into them. You develop them. You instruct them. Over time, or perhaps instantly, they catch on to your vision. You pastor them for years, even decades… and when you go, there’s not one person in place to carry on? I hate to go back to this, but often, this is a result of having members who don’t belong to the church, but to the pastor.  These days, we are so devoted to our pastors, but have absolutely no real loyalty to our churches. I know we think we do, but the real story is told when the pastor is gone and the members feel as though they have no other reason to stay.

Planning For Your Departure

A sudden, unexpected change in leadership always brings about a decline in membership, compromised morale, decreased funding, and lots of conflict. This is why pastors – and all leaders – need a succession plan.

What is succession planning? Succession planning is the process of identifying and developing internal leaders to fill a key leadership role. It’s important to know that this isn’t a one-time plan you sit down and write. It’s an ongoing effort to make sure the work continues, even in the pastor’s or a key leader’s unexpected absence.

Who needs a succession plan? Anyone who serves in a leadership position should actively identify and develop someone to take their place. It is especially critical for pastors to have one.

Why do I need a succession plan? Most people are uncomfortable thinking about their death. Certainly, no pastor wants to imagine his church without him in it. But if you pause for a moment and ask yourself “what will happen to my church when I die? What if I die in the next year?” To drive the point home, you may even need to ask a few core members what they would do if you died in the next year. Change is hard for even the most seasoned, mature church members. Effective succession planning will help ease the transition of an outgoing pastor, preserve the health and stability of the church, and preserve morale after a pastor/leader departs.

When do I need to start succession planning? NOW. One part of effective leadership is planning for the future. There is no way of knowing for sure how your role as pastor will end. But if God gave you a vision for ministry, there’s no reason for the work to cease. One surefire way of making sure your vision dies is to abandon it without appointing someone to carry it on.

If you’re wondering where to start, be sure to read part two: Now, who’s in charge? (Succession Planning, Part II of II). And as always, please feel free to call or write me if you have any questions.

%d bloggers like this: