Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders

bottleneckWhat we need in order to reach an entire campus with the gospel is exactly what Millennials crave – empowered leadership.

The Millennial Generation (born from 1980-2000) is the largest generation in American history. It’s a generation leery of corporate America, who do not respond to command and control management. They want choices, experiences, autonomy and opportunities to lead.

“Millennials won’t tolerate being controlled. They want to be led. Big difference.”- Travis Robertson

So what is the bottleneck holding back this tide of Millennial Leaders? [This post just so happens to dovetail nicely with Ken Cochrum’s post yesterday about Jethro and Moses. Ken dealt with the qualities of those who can be entrusted with leadership. I want to focus on the bottleneck of leadership and the desires of the Millennial Generation.]

Wikipedia describes a bottleneck as “a phenomenon where the performance or capacity of an entire system is limited by a single or limited number of components or resources.” What would you say is the bottleneck in campus ministry?

I’d say Staff.

More specifically: staff spending their time doing ministry instead of empowering student-leaders to do ministry.
When we came on staff, I think most of us had a picture in our heads of what college ministry would look like.

Here was mine:

Cruising down the highway on an epic road trip with 4 guys I’m discipling, windows down, good music blasting (in that day – Stone Temple Pilots!). Ministry! That’s seriously what I envisioned. Seriously.

I think most staff come on campus to do ministry, not to empower others to do ministry.
The Apostle Paul wrote that the role of a Christian leader is to:

“equip people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” – Ephesians 4:12

So staff’s job is not to do ministry. But to equip others to do ministry.

Our job as staff is to cultivate an environment that encourages the people of God to be stewards of the gifts God has given them and help them use those gifts to minister to others.

To create an environment where ministry bubbles up (instead of being carried out by, or commanded down from staff). A decentralized, permission-giving ministry. In the phenomenal book Unfinished Business (highly recommended to further explore the Biblical mandate of empowering/equipping), Greg Ogden writes:

Ministries can only extend as wide as there are self-initiating, Christ-honoring leaders. It’s the pastors job to hustle and keep up with and encourage the ministry that is bubbling up everywhere

We tell students: “If you have something you are passionate about, get a team together and come tell the staff what you are doing so we can platform you and help you get others involved and resource you to get there (as long as it fits into Win/Build/Send).”

Back in 2007, NASA foresaw a need to change how they worked with the incoming Millennial employees and asked a consultant (from Microsoft) to recommend changes. The full article is worth the read, but here’s an interesting insight:

Top-down or command-and-control methods will prove less effective for the next generation, but millennials can be brought together for a mission they consider meaningful. Defining the mission, and remaining flexible enough to refine and redefine it, will create an environment in which leaders will emerge.

That means organizations will need to rethink leadership and management and make them more distributed.

A distributed, empowered movement of leaders. Sounds exciting. And messy.

A pastor friend once told me:

You can either have a ministry that is empowering or controlling.

You can’t empower and control at the same time.

The moment you are controlling, you are no longer empowering.

Which of these two has the most potential for explosive growth? Which is more predictable?

If we’re serious about reaching every student on our campus AND engaging this massive generation of leaders staff have to do less, control less, and empower more.

How have you empowered students to lead?

What changes do you need to make in how your staff team operates?

Do you agree that staff are THE Bottleneck?

Photo courtesy of coelacanths

  • http://www.destinoyearbook.com de


    Great post. You sound like a little Steve Douglass. I feel like he is pushing us in this direction all the time.

    How does your team function in a highly empowering but highly messy environment? For example, with our movement we’ve tried to do what you’ve said, empower the students to lead. Three years ago we had 6 bible study leaders in our movement. The next year it was 24. This year it was 55. But we began to notice that some of our leaders weren’t aligned in all areas (we had to ask a few to step down based on their beliefs, not practice, on homosexuality). We had such young believers wanting to lead but that lead to messiness.

    How do you live in the tension? At some point you do have to control things. How do y’all balance that out?

    • http://www.infinitequeso.com/ Stephanie N.

      Great question, de! This is the rub, isn’t it? I’d love to hear answers…

    • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

      hey eric i had some similar challenges launching destino at ucla.

      i noticed a residual value in over-stretching and empowering people who aren’t quite there so to speak–it forces the staff to really own the mission, vision, and values, and take stands on issues–this leads to setting a strong culture and over time attracting people that BELIEVE and want to lead alongside you, rather than just BELONG and follow along.

      it also provides redemptive opportunities for those students that are asked to step down/take a break/etc. rarely these days are students actually given critical feedback out of love and related to something bigger than themselves. if they and the holy spirit can work in such a way to lead them repent and buy in this produces a fantastic leader–i like to think about how Peter must have led AFTER denying Jesus, yet still being allowed to lead the church–what humility and sympathy must have flowed out of him as a result of that experience.

      • http://www.infinitequeso.com/ Stephanie N.

        Brian, I really like your distinction between attracting students who BELIEVE vs BELONG. Those words help define the difference between a ministry and a movement.

    • http://twitter.com/timcasteel Tim Casteel

      That’s incredible growth DE- 6 to 55 in three years. I’m SURE there’s a lot of messiness there! But messiness is a sign that God is at work and of a thriving, living movement!
      The same pastor that I quoted above in the post, once told me:
      “Birth is messy. Death is organized. Many churches that are super organized in committees and such are really just dead.”

      As far as how to deal with it . . .
      That’s what we are trying to figure out on our campus!
      I agree Brian – I think it comes back to staff setting a strong culture. And like you said, Stephanie, staff need to function primarily as vision casters and direction setters (and equippers).

      A good quote on this topic (the link is good for further reading) that I’ve come across recently:
      “To lead a team of people requires a common goal, a core message, and a set of principles that the group choose to live by and believe in. There must be a core message and a culture that is created around that. But it’s more than that…
      Then you must get out of the way and let people figure out how to carry that message and pursue that goal within the guidelines you’ve created. You must push them toward excellence by encouraging them and showing them that they are a part of something greater than themselves.”

      So from that:
      We need to repeatedly emphasize our core message and figure out what our core principles are. Students don’t determine our message (could mean – we determine content for Bible studies) or our principles. But they figure out how to carry that message as we get out of the way.

      Another great thought from St. Louis Director – Dan Allan:
      “We’re Constantly raising the bar of what it takes to be a leader, and lowering the bar on what it takes to get involved”

      Dan said, “when you’re starting a ministry, any guy that will return your call and meet for an appointment is a leader. But as you have more leaders on board, you have to be more selective”
      He would say that a staff’s number one job (and especially MTL’s) is to monitor your leaders.

      That’s the route that we’ve taken – this year we’ve really upped our expectations of what kind of Community Group leaders we want (on the front end – students have to apply and meet 1 on 1 with a staff where we go over a page of expectations).

      • http://www.infinitequeso.com/ Stephanie N.

        I love it: “Birth is messy. Death is organized.” That’s a gem!

    • Tom Virtue

      Great discussion here. Really appreciate the thoughts.
      I don’t have answer on this Eric, but observation. Seems like dealing with unaligned leader with control thinking you create several policies and standards. With a more empowering approach you have conversations with people and talk about some of the misses or why something hinders the mission & agree to part ways if you can’t talk it through.
      I think the 1st approach is more common because it requires less courage to create a standard or policy than to have a face to face interaction with people to communicate value to the person while not wavering on what the issues that might be involved.
      I’m not advocating having no standards, but I would advocate not leading with them. It seems once you’re leading with standards you make a shift out of empowering people.

      • http://twitter.com/timcasteel Tim Casteel

        I like that Tom – “once you’re leading with standards you make a shift out of empowering people.”

        We made that mistake this spring. We are raising the bar on who can lead Bible studies but we announced it at a meeting rather than communicating it 1 on 1. Big mistake. We got a lot of push back from students – balking at the corporate feel. Suddenly it wasn’t us empowering but us controlling.

  • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

    YES. but i think we need more staff.

    but staff that function as a platform for others to live out the great commission. not staff that see themselves as the end of whatever ministry in which they are involved.

    i’d love for us to get away from “reaching the campus” to “reaching the world” –i suspect from many conversations that i’ve had that lots of resources are being poured inward to increase incremental, linear fruit instead of outward towards exponential, non-linear fruit.

    • http://twitter.com/timcasteel Tim Casteel

      Ah – but that’s the payoff of empowering more students – they get a better taste of real ministry and will (hopefully) want to join with us full time!

      I don’t quite understand your distinction between campus and world. What resources do you mean and where are they being poured? And where do you think exponential, non-linear fruit comes from?

      • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

        i’ve heard staff talk about not wanting to empower/release resources to expand bc the campus is not yet literally reached. they are poured into more bible study leaders and less ministry launchers.

        my experience has been that exponential fruit comes from:

        1-new believers

        2-ministry/movement launchers

        3-emerging leaders (those leading w out a title and typically younger in age relative to the whole).

        it’s difficult to keep a significant portion of our resources focused on these three because they do not produce instant results and the tactics associated with them are often vague and undefined.

        for instance starting a destino movement–what do you do?

        a few examples from launching destino:
        –wonder around the dorms looking for latinos
        –sit in the middle of the student union w chips and guacamole and a sign saying “destino.”
        –invite over 100 people to attend, only to have non of those people show up, but one student ends up knowing hundreds of students and brings 10-20 each week.

        these kinds of activities are extremely difficult to integrate into a schedule as opposed to:
        –showing up to a staff meeting
        –leading a bible study
        –planning an event

  • http://www.infinitequeso.com/ Stephanie N.

    Great post, Tim! I do believe a shift in perspective on this issue could truly transform our ministry. This is so much easier said than done, though! It does call for an emphasis on us as staff leaders to be great vision-casters and direction-setters. But mostly it calls for humility and a lack of feeling in control, as you mentioned. A tall order!
    In our particular organization (uscm), I also see a bottleneck at times at the various levels of staff leadership. When I look back at my time as an MTL, I am saddened at my part in controlling (vs. empowering) the staff on my team, let alone the students. But I particularly see this happening at the regional level. (I say this as someone who served at the regional level for almost a decade.) Have you felt that as a (local) MTL?

    • http://twitter.com/brianbarela Brian Barela

      hey stephanie really agree w your observations. i was an mtl for the last five years in the PSW.

      my general observation is that often staff SEE the potential to empower others, but control/manage out of fear of producing different results than what their leaders expect.

      i think the regional level (not the people, just the role) in general is set up to control and manage–couple that w scarce resources to distribute, and lots of pressure to report and look good in the eyes of other regions and national leaders, and you have quite a bottleneck before any PERSON steps into the role.

      wondering since you functioned in the regional role if you noticed or felt any of that?

      • http://twitter.com/BVirtue Brian Virtue

        that’s what I’ve seen too Brian. I think there’s different levels of bottlenecking going on – some nationally, a lot regionally, and a good amount on the MTL/local level. It’s hard to keep the focus on what is going to free people up and help people do what we’re asking them to do when there still often are attitudes that success looks similar across the board. Empowering people looks WAY different depending on where you are, who your demographic is, and what you are doing. It really takes a commitment to establish measurements of success that are contextually driven and that practically assist the end goal – empowering others to do the ministry in that specific context.

        However, when we want simple and uniform ways of measuring success then things start to be more controlled and we are likely empowering less. We often choose efficiency and streamlining over the complexity that comes with giving people freedom to lead out of who they are and where they are. In other words – assimilation vs. contextualization. We subtly start working to bring people into our world rather than empower folks to lead out in the worlds they are in.

    • http://twitter.com/timcasteel Tim Casteel

      That’s funny Stephanie. I had a paragraph in there about MTL’s complicity in the problem but deleted for brevity’s sake. I totally agree that a lot (most?) of it comes back to the MTL being controlling or not understanding how to train their staff in empowering students.

      If MTL’s could empower staff to operate at a director level, staff would then empower students to operate at a staff level (thinking movement wide, multiplying into others, raising up leaders).

      I’m sure the Regional level is also complicit. But as an MTL I have never really felt pressure/controlled from the region or like I need to produce what regional leaders expect.

      I can see what you are saying Brian – very well stated in contrasting the role vs the person. The regional level has never seemed very appealing (as a job) because from the outside it looks like middle management. I think a lot of MTL’s think – autonomous leadership is at it’s purest form in the MTL role. I think the RD role is headed in the right direction with the glorious abolition of the peer leadership team.

  • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

    Great post, Tim! Thank you so much for the quote and the link!

    I really believe that ministries (and all non-profits) could greatly benefit from empowering others to serve. Resources in ministry are especially limited and finite and we need to make the most out of our volunteers and those within our organizations.

    This can’t happen in a command-and-control type of system. The more organizations try to control the process, the more restricted their growth becomes. Empowerment seems risky, it feels unnatural in this post-industrial era. But it truly is the only way for our ministries, organizations or companies to survive in a highly competitive and rapidly shifting economy.

    Again, great stuff!


    • http://twitter.com/timcasteel Tim Casteel

      Travis – thanks for taking the time to read and comment! Great thoughts.

      I just stumbled onto your site via Googling “command and control Millennials”. You have some great insights into this generation and I’m sure I’ll be quoting you more in the months to come.

      • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

        Thanks! I’m definitely going to be coming back here. I love what you’re doing and what you’re talking about. Great to see ministries looking at how to harness the gifts, strengths, skills and passions of the Millennial generation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500065394 Rich Street

    As someone who looks at the campus ministry from a global perspective, I identify with all that has been discussed here. Staff (and leadership of the staff) do seem to be the bottleneck. It’s all about “my” ministry and I’m not going to anything happen to “my” ministry. Give me a break. Last time I checked our STUDENTS were actually STUDENTS at the campuses we attempt to minister on. Shouldn’t they have a say in how to reach THEIR campus? I love the fact that our new leadership globally is no longer referring to us as “campus” but rather “Student-led”. It’s about time we acted that way! Our movement is in a lot of trouble and I believe that it because we think student ownership is allowing a student to run the sound board at the weekly meeting!

    The solution begins with us as senior staff (Glad you are on board Stephanie, not that I doubted!) in demanding that our younger staff think and act in this new way.

  • Russ Martin

    Agree 100%. Imagine if our metrics also reflected this!

    What if one of the primary thing a staff was evaluated on was the activity of their disciples and not their own ministry activity?

    • http://twitter.com/timcasteel Tim Casteel

      I couldn’t agree more Russ re: metrics. It seems that most of what gets measured/praised does not lead to building a movement (and thus, effectiveness).

      One semester a campus in our region saw 60 students come to Christ from 1 on1 conversations- an unbelievable amount, at least for our region. At our regional conference they were spotlighted and praised.

      Our team came back from the conference and redoubled our efforts for staff to share our faith more. We came up with faith goals (for staff) and spent our best hours on campus doing randoms (by ourselves). In my estimation – it was a wash of a semester. Our movement shrank and we went back to the drawing board.

      That next semester I talked to the director of that superstar campus and found out some details: all 60 had come to Christ through staff (!) and maybe 1 of the students was now involved with their movement. Now, if those conversions were legit, praise God- I don’t want to take away anything from the New Life.

      But it was a glaring example of staff produced fruit at the expense of movement building and raising up student leaders. I would rather my staff share their faith 4 times a week with students they are training in discipleship rather than 40 times by themselves.

      One problem – it’s difficult to gather stats from students.

      • http://twitter.com/BVirtue Brian Virtue

        really love this conversation. I’ve felt for a long time that we sometimes tackle measurements from a spokesperson paradigm as opposed to them being adaptable tools to help us towards our desired objectives – in this case movement launching and building are key. By spokesperson I mean there is a tendency to go with “donor” numbers – those numbers that donors get excited about. It just gets tricky when you’re using the same #’s to measure effectiveness towards your objectives as you are to demonstrate progress to donors. It’s tricky because donors and people on the field often are looking at things from different lenses and it’s a totally different deal.

        Field measurements should serve the stated mission and objectives. I wonder if we should just create two categories – gather relevant info that helps donors feel connected and excited to what God is doing and then the actual measurements that we use to hold people accountable and track contextual effectiveness.

        These are things I’ve felt so I’m not stating them as universal, but I see the above a lot and it’s often felt weird to me that local context is never really factored in as it relates to official measurements. Local teams to their credit have made up their own measurements to help themselves track the progress they really want to see, but they still have to report the official, context-less, stats or measurements.

        We’ve been preparing a session on measurements along these lines for the upcoming Epic/Destino MTL time because the measurement arena is an area in our overall ministry that many don’t seem to have a well developed framework for. We’ll see how it comes out :)

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