A Pathway to the Next Generation of Missional Leadership

If the Anglican Church cultivated the leadership capacity of the Next Generation, it could further the gospel in ways we can only dream of. But how do we raise up young missional leaders? The Rev. Aaron Buttery shares his time-tested pathway. 

By Aaron Buttery

Over the last decade or two, we have witnessed the rise of young leaders across issues, ventures and organizations. Young adults and youth have shown a dramatic increase in advocacy issues, politics and business. We’ve seen young people leading demonstrations and movements related to gun violence, climate and immigration.

In addition, leaders under 30 are fueling significant cultural shifts, such as the ever-growing influence of social media. Marketing dollars are overwhelmingly focused on young people. Perhaps the cultural prophet Kanye, who seems to know something about cultural leadership and marketing, says it best on the track “Selah” on his new album:

We got the product, we got the tools
We got the minds, we got the youth
We goin’ wild, we on the loose
People is lying, we are the truth
Everything old shall now become new
The leaves’ll be green, bearing the fruit
Love God and our neighbor, as written in Luke

Kanye understands and acts on the ability of young people to initiate and sustain leadership in politics, the marketplace and, more broadly, culture.

Unfortunately, the Church—and perhaps particularly the Anglican Church—is one of the only entities where young people are not seen, equipped or called into significant leadership. As the Anglican Church rightly and powerfully steps into new communities through church planting, mission and sacramental living, I believe we would be strengthened and informed by cultivating the leadership capacity of “the youth” and other young leaders. We do, in fact, have the product, the tools and the minds to see the gospel run wild and loose! How do we bring young people, who have been demonstrating the most effective and impactful leadership on our culture, into our mission as leaders?

The Church is one of the only entities where young people are not seen, equipped or called into significant leadership.

I would like to suggest a few ways we can raise up these young leaders.


Young people need current leaders and older generations to recognize them as potential and emerging leaders.

1) Recognize young people as capable of fully receiving the Holy Spirit. If we are going to invite any person into missional leadership, it is key to believe they are fully able to receive the Holy Spirit. (I like to tell my high school students there is no “junior varsity” Holy Spirit.) We must pay attention to students who are bearing the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Who do you know under 30 that seems to smell like or exude the Holy Spirit?

2) Recognize young people are the most adept guides currently available to us. If we hope to engage those outside the kingdom and Church, who can help us navigate that world better than young people?

If we hope to engage those outside the kingdom and Church, who can help us navigate that world better than young people?

3) Recognize young people who have “early onset leadership.” I have watched 7th grade young ladies, 9th grade gentlemen and numerous college students display powerfully mature influence and decision making, while also acting exactly like their age. We must recognize, name and develop these early onset leadership moments.


When we begin recognizing emerging leaders, there will be a clear need to develop their early skills, leadership capacities and spiritual formation.

1) Establish and continue a relationship that conveys both spiritual formation and leadership training. Trying to develop a young person without this framework sets up a “teacher-to-student” scenario rather than the hoped-for “leader-to-leader” relationship.

2) Invite students into appropriate leadership spaces and teams. This is not to limit them to youth group, VBS or other demographically defined places. “Appropriate” means those spaces where you and a young person can be stretched and learn together. Students will not become leaders without meaningful leadership opportunities that serve as laboratory learning with a team.

Students will not become leaders without meaningful leadership opportunities that serve as laboratory learning with a team.

3) Provide for concrete training.This can include local classes but often means joining with other like-minded organizations such as Youth Becoming Leaders that provide hands-on ministry training. Remember, development is iterative and experiential for most—and does not have an ending before there is a sending.


I often hear stories of the emerging leader who is never released—this is specifically true of young leaders in the Church. Either because of their own insecurities or the insecurity of their leader, these young leaders stay in the development phase until they look for other venues where they can exercise their gifts.

1)Send young people before they are ready. I am not advocating for haste or trial-by-fire learning, but I am saying that often “ready” is undefined or completely subjective. Missional leadership navigates new environments and the unknown to see the Kingdom expanding. Missional leadership is innately a learning field.

Missional leadership is innately a learning field.

2) Send young people into meaningful leadership roles. While serving in the altar party may be formative for a young person’s faith, they may not experience it as being sent as a leader into the world. Consider including young people on the church communication team, commission them to lead portions of the Stations of the Cross, or send them to create new partnerships in your community to address a felt need or injustice.

3) Send young people with a team that can support them while experiencing their leadership. Young people are naturally inclined to work as a team, but too often they only see leadership exemplified as a solo enterprise.

4) Bring young people home to celebrate and continue being developed before sending them out again.

Recognize. Develop. Send. In my experience, this is the pathway to raising the Next Generation of missional leaders. It is a cycle rather than a finish line, meant to continue in an iterative manner alongside and enmeshed in the catechesis and spiritual formation of the Church.

As Kanye would say—in chorus with Eli, Joel, Peter and Paul—we have the product, the tools, and the minds. We need the youth.

Join Aaron at our Intersection Conference 2020 on Missional Leadership to continue the conversation about raising up young leaders. We also encourage you to bring young leaders from your church or community. 

The Rev. Aaron Buttery leads and facilitates the NextGen Leadership team from Christ Church Plano. As a 20+ year NextGen ministry leader, a two-time church planter, and leadership coach with Spiritual Leadership, Inc., he cultivates questions, ideas, and excitement about young people and growing young leaders. Contact him at aaron@c4so.org.