Leadership anywhere is tough, but leading a ministry or a church is daunting at times. The demands are typically high, and the expectations are often extreme. Nowadays, it seems as if a leader is required to be strong yet sensitive, vulnerable yet invincible, and flexible yet resilient.
The boomers we lead want a powerful point person who is willing to make the tough calls without being controlling or condescending. Gen-Xers expect more of a big brother or sister who will support them but stay out of their way and give them room to grow. And millennials want collaboration and a seat at the table, but it sometimes feels more combative than collaborative.
I know I’ve made some huge generalizations here. I also understand that my situation and experience may not be your experience. My point, however, is this: If you’re a leader, you face an enormous amount of pressure as you attempt to be a servant leader within a rapidly changing world and leadership culture. And that stress, at times, can lead to discouragement and depression.
Things are different than they were when I first stepped into a leadership role over forty years ago. Very different, and that’s okay.
My generation, the boomers, are living longer, so there are a lot of us still around. However, our day is quickly coming to an end, and that too is okay.
I believe we are at the brink of a healthy and needed leadership revolution that will profoundly affect the next thirty to forty years.
That being said, and at the risk of sounding defensive, let me be vulnerable and share with those younger than I am some things that might be good for you to understand as you grow in your leadership roles.
1. Older leaders, like me, know that our days are numbered, but we ain’t dead yet.
Frankly, it’s a bit depressing when we hear younger leaders say, “Things are different, and you don’t understand our generation.” Yes, things are different, and there are a lot of things we probably don’t understand. But human beings in every generation are the same at their core, and we’ve learned quite a bit about leading humans.
I just read this great quote by Phil Cooke: “The baby-boom generation actually knows more about changing the world than anyone on the planet. Remember that the world has bent to their will since they were born. Because of their size, they shifted the thinking on everything from lifestyles to entertainment, politics, religion and more. And don’t forget that older people today aren’t really old. Even people in their 70s today were part of the rock and roll generation, which means they’re not as stuffy and closed-minded as you may think.”
You may not accept or believe this now, but wisdom is generally gained through experience. And most of the grayheads around you have earned every white hair they have through some tough experiences.
For the record, we boomers felt the same way you do about the generation before us, but we were wrong. We had much to learn from those who blazed the trail before us.
2. Any boomer worth his weight in toothpicks has learned by now that collaboration in leadership matters, but collaboration involves compromise by everyone.
Try not to react when I point out that when an older leader hears “collaboration” it sometimes feels one-sided and more like you want things your way rather than a seat at the round table.
Here’s the thing; as a boomer, I need and want your insights, energy, passion, and fresh eyes. I truly do, but sometimes you need my experience and wisdom. Sometimes you are right, and I am wrong. Yup.
But perhaps—just maybe—we boomers have learned some things by being wrong a few hundred times over the past few decades. And perhaps—just maybe—once in a while we’re right.
Collaboration means a cooperative partnership wherein there is give and take, compromise, and teamwork and all parties work hard to listen to one another.
You might get mad or frustrated when you don’t feel heard, but boomers get depressed. Why? Because no one has to learn the hard way, and it’s discouraging to see you decline our advice and make the same mistakes we did. And as I said, we made plenty.
3. When the days before you are far fewer than the days behind you, it doesn’t make you less passionate and effective, but more so, because you want to leave a legacy.
I’m pretty good at math. I’m 62 now, and even if I make it to 92, about two-thirds of my life has passed. I suppose that could be depressing, but I choose to be decisive.
Whatever days I have left will matter to me, and I want them to matter to those in my sphere of influence. I’ve resolved to press on and to finish strong. I’ll never be the guy who retires and ends up wasting the precious gift of time by bingeing on Netflix.
As long as I can think and talk, I will teach the Word and preach the gospel. As long as I can reason and write, I will keep blogging and publishing books.
Depression is a serious issue in our culture. The rate of suicide among both the old and the young is unacceptable. When someone loses their sense of purpose, they lose their hope.
But those who know that God is not finished with them yet, no matter how young or old they are, live with a sense of destiny.
So, if you’re old and depressed, get off the couch and back into the game! It’s never too late to make a difference or to leave a legacy. Go and intentionally invest in the life of those in your wake.
And if you’re young, go tell an old guy or gal in your life, “I need you. I value you. You matter to me and to many. God’s not finished with you yet!”
You might make them cry, or you might make them smile, but I promise you will make their day.
I love the story of Elijah found in 1 Kings. God did some incredible things through that old guy. Elijah had experienced the miraculous provision and power of God many times. But after his greatest victory, ‘Lijah ends up afraid, depressed, and pretty much suicidal. He complains to God, “I have had enough! Take my life; I’m no better than my ancestors!” (The generations before him.)
What did God do to get him back on track?
The Lord revealed His presence through a “gentle whisper” and then redirected Elijah back to his purpose by showing him that He wasn’t finished with him yet.
I find immense comfort in the story of a great man who had experienced the provision, power, and presence of God so many times but who, ultimately, found hope again in his God-given purpose.
Young or old, you have a God-given purpose too.
God’s not finished with you (or me).
God, even when I’m old and a grayhead among the young,
don’t ever give up on me or let me give up on You.
Keep me focused and active
as I tell those in my wake
about You and your incredible power.
Psalm 71:18 (Bubna Paraphrase)
 1 Kings 19:4
 1 Kings 19:11-18