Some of the greatest lessons I learned on Christian leadership happened during my time at Best Buy. For those who are reading this blog and don’t already know this about me, I spent six years of my life in retail management at various Best Buy locations around the Atlanta area. Before pastoring was ever on my radar, I was cutting my leadership teeth and learning how to develop a team through the service departments of an electronics retailer.
Before I ever knew I would preach, I was setting schedules and balancing labor demands.
Before I ever planned outreaches and community events, I was developing business plans and following up on actionable items to ensure a 4% ratio in storewide services to ensure profitability.
Before I ever looked at the critical church numbers of salvations, baptisms, and small group attendance I was looking at the critical numbers of NOP, Turnover, and Close Rate.
While I didn’t understand it at the time, Best Buy was a training ground for me as I learned lessons of organization, people development, and action planning. For every success I seemed to have while there, behind it was a lesson that had to be learned. Some lessons I learned the easy way. Most of them I learned through a great amount of trial and error.
Probably the most frustrating lesson I had to learn dealt with getting a promotion. Within my first couple of months with the company, I had my eyes set on getting a promotion. I wanted a promotion from supervisor to manager so bad I could taste it!
I wanted a promotion to validate my hard work.
I wanted a promotion to raise my status with my peers.
I wanted a promotion to get paid.
I wanted a promotion so I could use it as a stepping-stone to another promotion. Which would again validate my hard work. Which would in turn raise my status with peers. And which would again, you guessed it, allow me to get paid.
So naturally, when I noticed that a job opening came up which would allow me to accomplish those goals I turned in my application immediately! Even before the interview, I honestly thought I had the job in the bag. I had produced really good numbers in my current position. I had a decently sharp business acumen that I was sure would shine through in front of my future employers. I could speak to the services culture that Best Buy valued. And I felt I had the connections with people higher up needed to take the next step.
So I walked into my interview sure that I would be able to showcase my abilities and that I would be easily hired for the promotion. From the start of the interview, I was confident and answered any and all questions they threw my way without any trouble at all.
But then, toward the end of the interview, they asked a question that threw me off.
They asked, “If we hire you for this promotion, who would be your replacement for the position you are at?”
That question threw me off. I didn’t understand why it mattered to them who would take my place at my current position. I thought all that mattered was the abilities that I would be taking with me into my new position.
So I answered, rather nervously, “That would have to be a question for the General Manager of the store. I wouldn’t want to comment on who she would want for the role.”
The interview ended soon after that and even though I felt thrown off by the one question I still felt confident that I had done an outstanding job with all the other ones. Surely I would be promoted!
I didn’t get the promotion.
Frustrated and confused after receiving the news, I went to a trusted mentor inside of the company who had insight into the interview. I talked to him about my frustrations and how surely I was denied my promotion due to some internal politics within the interviewing committee that I was not aware of.
To my surprise, my mentor was able to tell me exactly what question in the interview caused me not to get the job.
Any guess as to which one?
Yep, I didn’t get the job because I was not able to name who would be the replacement in my current job if were to get the promotion.
Confused, and a little hurt, I began to ask my mentor why it mattered that I wasn’t able to provide a replacement name in my interview. I told him that I thought providing a name wasn’t a decision that I was able to make. That it was the job of the store’s General Manager and I didn’t want to overstep. I truly did not understand why and how who the next person for my current position dictated my ability to perform in the next.
His answer to my complaints floored me.
He began to explain to me that Best Buy valued a system of people development. That the company believed that the best leaders weren’t necessarily the ones with the biggest personalities, or highest business acumen, or even the best numbers but were actually the ones who could develop other leaders under them to grow and flourish. The company believed that leaders who did not reproduce themselves were actually not leaders at all…they were merely managers. And yes, there was a BIG difference between a leader and a manager.
The people in my interview, he explained, asked me the question about who my replacement would be to see if I had a development system in place.
They asked me the question to see if I valued people.
They asked me the question to see if I believed in pouring into the next generation.
They asked me the question to see if I could see the potential in someone and then be able to turn that potential into production.
Obviously, the answer to all of those questions at the time was “no”. So their answer to me receiving a promotion was “no.”
After that talk with my mentor, I realized at that moment that I had been focusing my career on all the wrong areas. While yes, it was important for me to drive numbers and ensure profitability it was even more important to value and develop others around me who could drive numbers and ensure profitability.
In short, if I were to ever be a success, I had to take it upon myself to constantly pour into and develop the next generation of leaders under me.
Once I got that lesson, my career at Best Buy took off and I never again had a problem getting promoted.
So what in the world does that story have to do with where I am in life now? How does that lesson tie into my values and vision as a pastor?
Now that I am taking steps to pastor a church, one of the questions I am now getting asked is if I will now be done with youth ministry forever. Ever since I was 18, I have worked with teenagers in some capacity and have loved every minute of it. But for some reason, there can be an assumption that once a youth pastor gets “promoted” to being a senior pastor that the days of working with youth are done. I had someone tell me that a pastor will draw people 10 years older than he is and 10 years younger than he is so I should expect to have that age range in my church.
If that is the case, seeing that I’m currently 35, then my days of working with teens are done.
I will admit that chasing around 13 year olds at an all night lock doesn’t sound as appealing as it did 10 years ago. I will also admit that it doesn’t come as naturally as it once did to keep up with the current trends in the average teenager’s world. I have to work harder and harder to understand the culture that teens live in.
But even as I contemplated my “promotion” to senior pastor, I still found it troubling that I would have to walk completely away from a ministry and age group that I have grown to love so much. Then I came across a bible verse that really brought me some encouragement.
It’s found in Psalms 78:4 – We will tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done.
There was something about that verse, after reading it, that really opened my eyes to my role now as a senior pastor. That even though I was no longer a “youth” pastor, I still had a responsibilities to pour into the next generation and tell them the great things that God has done.
It was Best Buy all over again. My role was to still develop the next generation of leaders that will come up and take my place after I am gone. That despite my new role, God would not be content with me just focusing on my abilities and the immediate needs right in front of me. That despite all the time constraints and challenges, I still had a role to play in telling the generation coming up about the goodness of God.
And truthfully, is there a more worthwhile investment than the next generation? While it may be hard to comprehend, do we realize the current group of teenagers in the church right now will be the young leaders we rely on in 10 years? That the children currently attending our children’s programs will be the ones fulfilling the big God Dreams for their lives in roughly 15-20 years? The responsibility to develop the next generation absolutely humbles me!
But if we believe the truth of Psalms 78:4, that pouring into the next generation is a good and noble thing, then why don’t we see more churches doing it? Why is this truth easier said than done?
It’s because, for the most part, pouring into the next generation doesn’t provide immediate returns for a church and for ministers.
Think about it:
While there are always exceptions, a teenager doesn’t give financially to a church. A child isn’t necessarily capable of showing up for church workdays and helping to build a stage. Most teens, unless they are from Passion City Church, are not overly enthused about helping to greet guests on a Sunday morning. Kids don’t necessarily have the maturity to intercede for hours on end for their community and city.
Again, please hear me. The scenarios listed above are generalities and I have known plenty of exceptions to them! My point is that churches, in the short term, will almost always give more than they get back when they pour into the next generation. Because of this, the temptation for churches and senior pastors is to focus instead on the immediate needs in front of them that can provide them with immediate returns.
But that thinking isn’t necessarily the way God thinks. In fact, I recall a time where Jesus took a ragtag group of young men and spent three years of his life pouring into them with very little immediate results. But the beauty about Jesus is that when it came to pouring into the next generation He was willing to play the long game. Eventually, the disciples “got it” and laid the foundation for the church as we know it today.
Jesus took the long view with his disciples, and He takes the long view with you and I as well.
And we are called to do the same with the next generation coming up behind us.
It is such a challenge for me to know that even though I will be stepping out of a youth pastor role that I still have a major responsibility to teach the next generation about the goodness of God. This responsibility does not lie fully with whomever I choose to be my youth pastor and children’s pastor. While they are important, I am the leader and the tone I set will trickle down to the entire church. Even though my days of all night lock-ins may be coming to an end I don’t have to take the youth out of my heart. No matter where this church, and my role as its senior pastor, ends up I can still play a part in helping to pour into and develop the next generation.
And if you are reading this blog, you have the same responsibility as well. While you may never have the title of “pastor” next to your name, we all share the same responsibility to pour into the next generation. We can still shape the children and teens coming up under us so they will know the goodness of our God.
The stories we tell them now will shape their future.
The stories will tell them now will shape OUR future!
So no matter where you find yourself today, a question to consider is what opportunities are currently in your life to impact the next generation? That does not mean necessarily that you should immediately volunteer to be a youth or children’s leader at your local church. What it does mean is that if we all take advantage of every opportunity presented to us to invest in the next generation that we will be laying the foundation of the church for years to come.
If you do your part, and I do mine, the faith we can inspire for both today and tomorrow will have an eternal impact. There should never be a day that you and I stop having the next generation close to who we are and what we do. God smiles upon those who care about the things He cares about.
Time to develop our replacements,