Identifying Young Influencers

I’m convinced that the most overlooked single resource in the church today is our children leaders. Those hardwired, God blessed individuals who possess social skills that, good or bad, cause their peers to follow them, must be tapped if we are to see the church flourish in the future. I believe this so much that after 20 plus years of pastoral work, I left a salary and benefits with a major Christian publisher, to pursue the call to identify and develop these future leaders on a national level through a nonprofit we created called KidLead ( 

Before we learn to identify young leaders, we need to understand why it’s important to do this. First, they are the hope for the church. Unlike adults, they’re still pliable and can learn leadership skills combined with character qualities. In our culture, most leadership training does not begin until the ages of 25-35, when companies send promising leader types to conferences and through mentoring programs. That’s too late for maximum impact. 

Secondly, we need to understand the unique role God has endowed in this thing we call leadership. Leadership is about coordinating the many parts of his body, so they function together. Leadership is about helping all of us use our gifts toward a common goal and purpose. When leadership fails, we all fail, because we don’t get to use our gifts synergistically. Leadership allows us to accomplish together what we cannot as individuals. 

In order to identify those with leadership aptitude, we also need to define leadership. Because of the term’s current popularity, leadership has become a “many splendored thing.” We tack it on to seminars, books, workshops, and whatever else as a marketing ploy. In my book, KidLead: Growing Great Leaders, I define leadership and leaders this way:

  • Leadership is the process of helping people accomplish together, what they could not as individuals.
  • Leaders are those who get leadership going.

That’s simple, but by defining it this way, we’re not talking about character, self-esteem, discipleship, service, or any number of similar qualities. These are valuable and important but different from leading. 

Based on this definition, only about 10% of people have innate talent toward leading on a consistent basis. We might refer to this type as organizational leading. This transcends leading a friend, family, or other form of influence. About 10-20% possess a good amount of aptitude for learning how to lead. Another 60% can learn various leadership skills, so that if called to lead, they can do so temporarily. The remaining 20-30% has no desire to lead and will just as likely run from a situation where it is required. That means there are basically three categories: “L,” “l” and “F.” 

An “L” is a natural, gifted, talented leader who has the aptitude to learn how to lead well, and will intuitively gravitate to situations where leadership is needed, and may even try to lead when she/he shouldn’t. This is comparable to other talents such as a specific sport, music, art, or school subject. It’s much the same as spiritual gifts like prayer, administration, teaching, or evangelism. All of us only do 2-3 things really well. This is how God has wired us and how he designed us all to work together. 

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Alan Nelson is a leadership development specialist, who was a leader in the social sector for more than twenty years, until taking a midlife course change to pursue his 2nd half passion, leadership development. Alan is the author of 15 books, half of which deal with leadership topics, as well as hundreds of small and feature length articles. His book, "KidLead: Growing Great Leaders," will be released this summer ('09). Alan has a masters degree in psychology-communication and doctorate (EdD) in leadership from the University of San Diego.