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FIRST-PERSON: Young leaders: Back to the future

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the first in a series of four columns about emerging young leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention by Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, and Ed Stetzer, NAMB’s director of research.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Two men –- one late in his career, the other at the front end of his career -– had a meeting one day that would change both men’s lives.

It began innocuously enough as the older man –- a retired military officer -– eased himself into the younger man’s office. He shut the door so quietly the younger one didn’t even notice his presence for several long minutes, much to the retired officer’s amusement. He sat still, observing the frenetic pace of the hard-charging young leader with the Type A personality.

Finally some slight movement caught the younger man’s attention. He glanced up and stopped multi-tasking long enough to blurt out: “Do you need something from me?”

“Thought you’d benefit from knowing a comment your boss just made about you,” the sage replied. He saw promise in the young man and knew he could give him some career help, teach him some finesse before the 20-something unintentionally sent out more interpersonal “shrapnel” (due more to rough edges and impatience than to wrong motives).

The air left the room as the younger man seemed to sense the gravity of the situation from the expression on the sage’s face. Was he in trouble? Had he “stepped in it” and didn’t even know it?

He swallowed hard and said, “OK, let’s hear it.”

The mentor locked eyes with him, related a story and ended it with: “Then your boss said to me, ‘Who does this young turk think he is? Doesn’t he know we don’t do things that way around here? Sometimes I wonder why I risk so much for these young guys!’”

That conversation took place 26 years ago. The boss: Dr. Bill Hogue, who was serving as vice president of evangelism at SBC’s Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). And the 27-year-old “young turk”? That was me, heading up personal evangelism equipping for the board. I was out to change the world for Christ but was always in a hurry. And the sage who helped me that day to learn the importance of smoothing off some rough edges? I’ll keep his identity to myself. But I’m certain the conversation changed both of us, because -– now that I’m in my 50s –- I know what a positive impact mentoring makes on both parties.

And why did Bill “risk so much for these young guys”? It was his commitment to those who would follow him — and I would be one of many. Bill and I have laughed together since then about how I (and the other young turks) had to knock off some pretty rough edges to become effective.

The bottom line is that older people poured into me what they had learned on their journey with Christ. And the older I get, the more I realize the benefit. Now it’s my turn.

Last year at the Southern Baptist Convention my friend and colleague Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, brought to the forefront this issue of developing young leaders; it was a topic people had been talking about in hallway conversations. His subsequent “Frog” columns got a stir out of many at all levels of our convention. And thank goodness. I tip my hat in thanks to Jimmy, who has long been the “pastor’s pastor” and roving statesman among Southern Baptists.

I, too, have given this issue a lot of thought and prayer, and here are a few of my conclusions.

Listening sessions brought out five major areas that young leaders are concerned about: missions and evangelism, creative and innovative approaches, convention renewal, diversity and inclusiveness, and healthy relationships. It’s interesting how many of these are “missional” in nature and, therefore, of interest to us at the North American Mission Board. In whatever ways NAMB’s assignments and influence touch these, we aim to do everything we can to help those coming behind us to be well-prepared to improve what we will hand them.

We’ll work harder to make sure young leaders are represented in our leadership and given responsibilities that reflect their call from God. At NAMB we’ve made a good start, and I’ll list some examples of our young leaders I hope you have a chance to work with: Ed Stetzer, research (you’ll hear from Ed as part of this series of articles); Mitch Crowe, controller; Mike Cogland, marketing; Susan McDaniel, editorial; Doug Keesey, electronic media; Chad Childress, student evangelism; Carol Pipes, On Mission magazine; Tom Wigginton, technology services; and John Shepherd, cooperative strategies.

Many of us have heard loud and clear from young leaders of all backgrounds and races. They are not saying they want to control the table, but they want to be part of the team. They want the SBC to be more missional in its ministries. We at NAMB agree, and in Nashville at the SBC’s June 21-22 annual meeting we’ll announce some additional steps we’ll be taking.

I believe the future is as bright as the promises of God — and the giftedness and commitment today of the rising leaders of tomorrow. Thank you, Jimmy, for getting it on the table. Thank you, Bill, for taking a risk with me.

More at the SBC….

    About the Author

  • Robert E. (Bob) Reccord