In last week’s edition, Dr. Bauder wrote to older men reminding them that it’s important to listen to what the younger guys have to say rather than simply dismissing them.
In this week’s edition, Dr. Bauder writes to younger men to encourage them to speak, but to speak in a manner that will gain a hearing. Much of what he writes I have learned, but I had to learn the hard way. There is much to be gained by heeding Dr. Bauder’s advice.
There are several ways a younger man can speak without being dismissed.
(1) Finish school.
Nearly everybody has an opinion about nearly everything. Most expressions of opinion are ill-informed, and quite often they turn out to be nothing more than emotional burps. So people filter out most of the noise or static and focus on the opinions that are likely to mean something. One of the filters is education.
Most Christian leaders have to earn a Master of Divinity degree before many people are interested in what they have to say. The reason is simple: in order to express opinions about Christianity, you ought to have a mastery of the Christian faith. That mastery is rarely gained at the baccalaureate level, or even at the level of the M.A. To get the necessary command of languages, exegesis, and theology, you need the tools that come with the M.Div. or its equivalent. Frankly, the more education you get, the more that people are likely to listen to you.
(2) Learn to write good English.
“No one will listen to you if you can’t write good English,” writes Dr. Bauder. Your ideas will be dismissed no matter how good they are.
I might also add, write so people can understand you. What you write may be grammatically correct, but you don’t gain points by writing in a way that you think sounds smart, you get heard by writing things of substance and writing them in a way that the average person can understand.
(3) Do something.
Build something. Get your nose bloody in the real work of ministry and leadership. Show that your ideas can actually make a difference in the world.
It’s easy to carp about how somebody else is doing something. When you actually try to do it yourself, however, you find out how difficult it really is. You discover what the challenges are. You learn what works and what doesn’t.
Real leaders are people who have failed. They have tried things that have not worked, they have made mistakes (sometimes big ones), and they have been beat up. They have had to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back into the game.
Before I became pastor, I was the best pastor in the world. Now that I am a pastor, I realize exactly why my pastors did some of the things they did. That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree now with everything they did, but I’m not as hard on them for what they did and I can say I understand why they did them.
Dr. Bauder also points out that it is hard to gain a hearing when you aren’t in a position of final responsibility. When you’re assistant pastor or youth pastor, the buck doesn’t stop with you. You’re still a pastor, true, but you don’t usually have to make the hard decisions. We can talk all day about how wrong that is, but it won’t change the fact. Dr. Bauder writes, “You will generally earn far more right to be heard if you are the pastor of a little flock of fifty than if you are an assistant pastor in a church of fifteen hundred.“
(4) Show strength of character.
How you respond to failure and defeat is a tremendous revelation of your character. It shows what you’re made of. A right response lends moral weight to your words. You don’t have to be a roaring success in order to gain the right to a hearing, but you do have to show that you possess discipline, perseverance, and humility. You have to show that you know how to apologize, how to recover from humiliation, and how to mend broken fences.
I’ve learned that the humility of a right response can sometimes even rescue a bad decision. And don’t nurse a grudge. Leave the past in the past or you will never be able to minister effectively to the people God has given to your care.
(5) Show some respect to get some respect.
One more thing. If you want to be heard, then show a little respect. This will be challenging sometimes because you will be keenly aware of the failings of your older peers. You will find it especially challenging when your elders do not show you the respect that you really deserve (and that will happen, I promise). If you want the older guys to listen to you, however, you’re going to have to get over it (yes, I actually said that) and speak to them respectfully.
There is no way to guarantee that your elders won’t disrespect you. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed. Remember that you can’t control how others will act, but you are responsible for how you react. When they are on their worst behavior, it is that much more important for you to be on your best behavior.
One good rule I learned in the business world is “Attack ideas, not people.” That’s a very good rule to remember.
Stick to the facts, avoid personal attacks (even when they are attacking you) and always, always, always be gracious. When you do this, people might not always agree with you, but they won’t be able to dismiss you because you’re a know-it-all or a smart-alec.
Some of these find application in the context of the church or in other situations, not just for Christian leaders among other Christian leaders.