Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The 10 Best Ways to Lead People Who Are Older & More Experienced Than You

Young church leaders don't have it easy. Aside from facing the same wide array of problems and pitfalls as more seasoned leaders, young leaders face one challenge that's unique to them.

Photo courtesy of Famian at flickr.com
Unlike pastors and worship leaders of any other generation, young church leaders are regularly faced with the challenge of leading people who are older and more experienced than them. And it begs the question - How do you lead people who's shoes you couldn't fill?

One from the trenches
I started leading worship when I was nineteen. From then on, every worship team I led had one thing in common - my team members were older and more experienced than I was. At one point, while I was in college, I led a women's vocal ensemble. There were four women in the group. One in her forties, another in her fifties, another in her sixties, and another in her seventies. The last lady had literally been doing church music three times as long as I had been alive.

Feeling a little desperate, I met with a mentor. I asked him what to do, and I'll never forget what he told me. He said, "Tim, they won't respect you for your musical knowledge. You don't hold a candle to them. But they will respect you for your heart. Where you lack experience, make up for it with loving guidance. That's what being a pastor is all about." After that, I approached leading that group of ladies completely new level of confidence.

Today I still have people on my team whom I don't hold a candle to. Frankly, I've come to like it that way. I've learned that being a good leader doesn't mean you have to be the most seasoned person in the room. In fact, I've learned to love having people more seasoned than myself on my team. I've also learned a few really important strategies for leading these people. Here are just ten of them.

Apply R.E.S.P.E.C.T liberally. You know how older people are always talking about how kids used to be respectful. They'd say things like, "Yes sir! Right away sir." Well, if you want to earn the respect of someone who's older than you, then be that kid. There are very few people out there who can resist reciprocating that kind of selfless humility.

Nurture like a mother. I don't claim to know anything about being a good mother. But I am married to one. And she rocks at loving our kids. So I take a page out of her book, and in order to better nurture the people on my team I ask them how I can pray for them. Then, I follow that up by actually praying for them. That's one way that even a pig headed brute like myself can be nurturing to other people.

Stand your ground. People who are older than you will occasionally think they know better than you. And that's okay, because they usually do. But that doesn't mean that you have to do whatever they say. If your church or company has installed you as the leader, and you're facing opposition, all you have to do is hold your head up high, smile, and confidently say something like this, I understand what you're saying, and why you're saying it. But we're going to do it differently this time. 
And if you're up for the challenge, you can add something like I really appreciate your input. Keep it coming. 

Let them challenge you. One of my favorite people on my team is a woman who's been leading worship longer than I've been alive. I know this about her because she's told me. And no one challenges me as much as she does. I know that if I make a mistake on a lead sheet, or mispronounce a word in a song, she is on it. The thing I love about her is that she won't let me be anything less than my very best. If you've got someone like that on your team, thank your lucky stars.

Acknowledge the awkwardness. When I was leading the women's vocal team I mentioned earlier, it was awkward. I was almost 20 years younger than anyone else at our rehearsals. And the best thing to do in that instance was just acknowledge it and move on. I said, "I realize I'm young enough to be your son, or grandson... or great grandson. And I appreciate you giving me the privilege of leading this team." Sometimes all you have to do to kill awkwardness is acknowledge it.

Keep everyone looking through the telescope. People from different generations will have lots to disagree about. So do your best to keep everyone on your team focused on the things they can agree on. If you're a worship leader, then talk more about how great it is to connect with God than you do about song choice or style.

Give seasoned people their due credit. Eventually, you're going to do something wrong, and someone who's older than you is going to call you on it. Don't worry. Take a deep breath, remember that you're just human. And acknowledge your seasoned member in front of the group. You might even thank him or her for catching the mistake.  

Don't take it personally. The fact that someone older and more experienced than you doesn't respect or want to follow you isn't a problem. It's nature. My mentor, Bradley, calls it the 5 up - 10 down rule. It means that you'll typically influence people who are up to five years older or ten years younger than you. If someone who's more than five years older than you doesn't want anything to do with you, it doesn't make you a bad leader, it just means everything is going exactly how it's supposed to go.

Invest your focus in what God says about you. God mapped your life out before He did anything else (Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:29). And He put you in your current leadership position, with the people on your team for a reason. He has something for you to learn. And if you're willing let go of the idea of being the alpha dog on your team, and just simply focus your energy on loving God, He'll work everything to the benefit of you and your team members (Romans 8:28)

But what about you? What's been your experience working with older, or even younger people in ministry? Please leave a comment in the space below. 


  1. Being called 'sir' by someone in the younger generation has a positive effect that is difficult to describe. Every time that happens to me, my opinion of the younger person goes up about five notches and my respect for their opinion with it.

    1. Yeah, and the word sir is becoming more and more rare. But that males it more impact full when lids say it.