The Folly of Picking Emerging Young Leaders

They all happened at the same time. Charisma Mag announced their latest lineup of emerging leaders for tomorrow’s church, Lausanne reported on their Young Leaders gathering in USA, and the reading in our chapel service was about the folly of selecting young leaders – it was Samuel sorting through the big manly sons of Jesse to find the emerging leader that God had chosen. NOT AN EASY TASK!

So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” i Sam 16

God’s people do not have a great track record of choosing emerging leaders. This alone should humble us.


 I think Charisma Mag selecting the “21 Emerging Leaders of Tomorrow’s Church” is an idea that has not really been thought out. On what criteria are these people selected? Popularity? Book sales? Twitter count? Are we more perceptive than the prophet Samuel who found it hard to look beyond the bling and the testosterone?

This week I was teaching some missions history which is often skewed towards people who look like us and act like us who make a brave journey to a poor, less civilized, third world country to start an Western style institution that makes news in the homeland. In 1910, the missionaries worthy of inviting to the International Missionary Conference in Edinburgh were pretty much all associated with the big mission organizations. And most of them white and English speaking. A few names like John Mott stay in our memory. Some good people there, for sure . . .

But in 1910 there were other missionaries who were quietly serving God in their little corner of the world, unnoticed, without media fanfare, without invitation to global mission events, and without making anyone’s list of the Young Christian Leaders Most Likely To Succeed. Yesterday I talked about 3 of them. 

Toyohiko kagawa

In 1910, while the mission executives were filling their tea cups in Edinburgh, a 22 year old Toyohikio Kagawa was living in a 6ft x 6ft shanty in one of Japan’s slums. Tuberculosis was a big killer back then and many of the prostitutes who took shelter in Kagawa’s tiny shack were infected. Kagawa vowed to eliminate the slums in Japan, which he eventually did through a strategy of Christian cooperatives and activism. Edinburgh 1910 ignored him but the 1938 International Missionary Council Conference in Madras acknowledged his contribution and actually spotlighted his work as a way forward for sustainable mission strategy.

Charles de Foucault

In 1910 Charles De Foucauld was living in Algeria, on the edge of the Sahara desert. He was all by himself. No one ever came to join him. But his impact is massive today and we might not have today’s new monastic movements without him. See yesterday’s post for more about this guy.

Roland allen

By 1910, Roland Allen had already returned home from China. But he was inspired to write a book on missions, probably in response to the 1910 gathering in Edinburgh. His book, Missionary Methods: St Pauls or Ours, published in 1911, is still a classic today although it floundered around in insignificance for 50 years, just as Allen had predicted it would. I had the privilege of telling the story of the book to a church in Beijing last year. I also once had a cuppa with Roland’s grandson in Oxford and have blogged on what he might say about cyberchurches.

Being curious, I picked up a copy of Zondervans mission biography book  “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” to see if any of these three mission heroes made the book. None of them did. God teach us how to persevere. God teach us how to see. 


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • David says:

    In popular churches, there seems to be a lot of hype about picking young leaders – they usually have charisma, but not necessarily character to last the long haul. I skimmed through the Charisma Mag article – they seem to have a wide range of people, although it is hard to see why these particular ones are chosen. A few were leading large churches having taken over from their father – nespotism is still alive & well

  • Oli Douglas-Pennant says:

    There are some inspiring leaders in the list of 21 but they seem to be mainly North American young men.
    In my context (The Church of England) there is a crisis as around 80% of clergy are set to retire in the next ten years. The key seems to be encourage support train and give space to young leaders but not to put them on a pedestal. Young leaders are great and have a lot to contribute but my hope is that they will have even more to contribute 40 years down the line.
    I tend to appreciate the passion and energy of the young and wisdom and encouragement of the old. I recently heard Father Raniero Cantalamessa speak and at the age of 78 he has got to be one of the holiest, wisest and most passionate Christian I have met. Some characteristics that probably trump anything else in terms of being a leader.

  • Moyo says:

    I find these things to be about personal preference. People can make changes quickly and automatically qualify for whatever metric is used for selecting “emerging” leaders…

  • Kamau says:

    Its the high time young people shpould be encouraged to be leaders

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