The following paragraph from the 23 February 2022 issue of the Singapore Straits Times caught my eye:
Companies with a high proportion of board directors and senior executives aged over 60 delivered lower returns on assets compared with others, an inaugural study on diversity in leadership in all 577 listed campaniles shows. (Krist Boo, "Performance better with diversity," Business, The Straits Times, February 23, 2022.)
This struck a chord because in our study on the different generations, there is emerging evidence that, other things being equal, Gen Xs (Born 1965–1980) would make the most effective leaders in churches and church organisations today. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked as many still in power are Boomers (Born 1946–64), and the Millennials (Born 1981–1996) form the largest generation around. The cultural differences between Boomers and Millennials are quite stark and often lead to conflict. Gen X leaders are able to understand, reach out to, and help Boomers, Millennials and other generations work together. They are better able to provide inclusive leadership.
Indeed, our aim is inclusive leadership. That too was the focus of the Straits Times article. The point is not that those above 60 are no longer needed. The point is that leadership today needs to be inclusive, involving men and women, and people from different generations. The emergence and dominance of the internet has led to a point in history where the young know more than the old. To be more accurate, the young will have more learned expertise especially in areas that are tech driven. They will know better how the present world functions and adapt much more quickly to a world driven by change. But those older will have more lived experience. They would have gone through more cycles of success and failure, joy and loss. They would have had more experience in dealing with disappointment and in persevering in the face of discouragement. It seems a no-brainer that young and old need each other.
Paul’s use of the body metaphor clearly teaches that the church is meant to be an inclusive community made up of diverse members who need each other. I believe we can apply this principle to leadership as well. Of course there are specific criteria for those who hold formal leadership (1 Timothy 3:1–13). But if Jesus is the ultimate leader of the church, we can and should have leadership teams of various types of people seeking His mind together.
Sometimes older leaders are reluctant to involve younger leaders because they fear it means that they are no longer needed. That is not the case. I have always been against the “passing of the baton” metaphor for the old handing over leadership to the young. This metaphor from the world of relay races implies that once you have passed on your baton you no longer need to run. Anyone would be afraid of a time when we are no longer needed. But that will never happen in God’s community. God’s work needs all hands on deck. It is true that the roles of older leaders may have to change. (I am a day away from my 67th birthday.) Some may have to give up operational leadership and become mentors and coaches who are desperately needed. I guess if we are serious about leadership evolution, we need to have clear thought-out ministry paths for those of us journeying in the third-third of life.
But what we must be clear about is that functioning in the world today needs an inclusive leadership of people from diverse backgrounds. We note that in 1 Timothy, Paul reminds us “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor . . .” (1 Timothy 5:17a NIV). But he also tells Timothy, a younger leader probably in his 30s, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers . . .” (1 Timothy 4:12a NIV). Here then is Paul reminding us of the need for both younger and older leaders. Elders are worthy of double honour. Don’t look down on younger leaders. Those who have ears let them hear what the Lord is telling the church about leadership today.