Show young leaders the way of discernment

What would you say are 5 important traits for leading today in the Southern African context? Discernment has to be there.

I’m sure you’ve listened to enough leadership talks and read or watched enough leadership gurus to offer a few thoughts about some key aspects of leadership. Come on, give it a go. Imagine sitting across from a young person with the raw gift of leadership. What would you say to them are 5 important traits for leading today in the Southern African context? Hmm, that sentence sounds heavy but as Uncle Ben says to a young Peter Parker (that’s Spiderman for all you DC fans), “With great power comes great responsibility.” And leadership, certainly has the caveat of power.

4 traits of leadership

Which is probably why you and every Christian leader worth his salt would begin with…serving. Remember leading is serving (like Jesus) is what you’d say to the young leader across from you. By the way did you imagine a young girl or guy leader? Interesting hey. Anyway, the list. Would some of the following find their way into you remaining four?

Integrity. Especially in our Southern African context, this leadership quality is non-negotiable. Although if you read the news (which you should) it appears it is. Leaders must walk the talk (said in my best Benoni accent). Lead by example. Simple but hard. That's the truth.

Vision. Leaders must ask the question “Where are we going?” Notice, that I didn’t say answer the question. That’s what prayer and team and Holy Spirit are for.

Speaking of team. Time for a leadership adage: If no one is following you’re not leading. Put that on your car bumper and you’ll bring a smile to all those driving behind you. Young leader, look for your team and train them. Sure. Guide them. Yes. Pray for them. Of course, but above all…love them. In other words, the greatest if these is love (1 Corinthians 13). Not easy for a young leader considering the teen season is all about eros and not agape love.

And the last place goes to? Well, according to Google (for real) any of the following: Emotional intelligence. A deep listening. Conflict management etc. How do you think our young leader is doing with all this?

The way of discernment

I’m going to give the last place to discernment. And because the last will be first, here’s why. Oh wait, if you had discernment on your list you can (in monopoly language) skip the following paragraphs and go straight to the summary near the end and collect your time saving leadership badge.

Discernment in the bible

For the rest of us, let’s get on the same page about discernment beginning with a fun fact. Did you know that depending on which bible translation you use, “the Hebrew or Greek words translated, ‘discern’, ‘discerning’ or ‘discernment’ appear about thirty times.” I stumble across its use most often at the beginning of King Solomon’s reign. Remember the story?

“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5). And Solomon replied.

“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9 emphasis added).

Practicing discernment

In Contemplative Youth Ministry, (which should sit right next to your Bible) Mark Yaconelli offers these insights on discernment. I’m quoting verbatim (pp. 161-162) because it’s that good.

  • Discernment is the process of listening for the voice of God. For Christians, discernment refers to “testing the spirits”—the process of seeking and discovering what is of God and what is not (1 John 4:1ff).
  • Discernment is an art, a skill, and a gift. It requires a desire not only to know God’s call, but to follow God’s leading.
  • Discernment requires humility, a willingness to set aside our own plans, agendas, and aspirations (this is often referred to in the tradition as “holy indifference”) so we might be free to respond to God’s bidding. We need humility in discernment, not only in relation to God, but also so we might be open to the input of others. As Christians we trust that God is most clearly heard through and in the midst of other followers of Jesus.
  • Discernment is also mindful of Jesus. We discern in relationship to Scripture, watching how our sense of God’s calling resonates with the life of Jesus.
  • Discernment is not a one-time event, but an ongoing practice. We return again and again, constantly seeking to deepen our awareness of God’s presence and calling. The hope of discernment is that over time our lives and ministries will become more transparent to God’s life and more faithful to Jesus’ way of love.
  • No matter how sincere we are in our discernment, the truth is we can never be certain we’re encountering God’s presence or following God’s call. We’ll never, in this life, definitively know God’s call; that’s why we call it Christian “faith.” Yet often when we look back, we notice signs of God’s presence and our own faithfulness.

Powerful stuff. You could spend a few months reflecting with our young leader on each of these insights about discernment (there’s an idea). Or you could gather a whole lot of young leaders together as Scripture Union South does for its Schools United initiative.

Schools United

Schools United is an SU initiative that aims to bring together high school learners involved in Christian Union clubs from the broader southern suburbs, Cape Town. It's an amazing opportunity for leaders and learners from different spaces to connect, support, and build a strong community.

At a recent Schools United gathering Qhamani Magugu, the South African National Director of the Pais Movement, taught from Matthew 5:14-16 with a focus on what it means for these young leaders to be the light in their school environment. Qhamani told me,

“Because of their varying contexts, I was hesitant to give examples and so encouraged the young people to discern for themselves. Read the bible. Pray. And find for themselves what Holy Spirit is saying it means for them to live out their Christian faith in the school and in an environment which is given to popular culture and hostile to Christianity.”

Listening leaders

I like that. Admonishing young leaders to listen which is for me, the essence of discernment. Listening to, no wait for (an important theological distinction) God’s presence and activity (after all we are joining not initiating) in their lives. Listening to others who are on the journey with them. Listening to signs/trends/needs in their community. Really just listening. Less speaking. Don’t you think our days are cluttered with enough speaking noise? Perhaps one of the missed postures of Jesus is listening because we focus only on his recorded words? Can you imagine how long the Gospels would have been if Jesus majored in speaking?

Show the way of discernment

And now to land the plane, to use a well-worn speaker/preacher phrase as the talk comes to an end. Although most seem to circle the plane quite a few times. "Here is my last point…which has 5 sub points."

So, if you passed begin and collected (I didn’t forget about you, you leadership guru), then here it is, the summary.

Teach (but first show) young leaders the way of discernment. Which you already knew. So do then. Or if you didn’t. Now do. Hear me? Remember it’s show, then tell.

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Author: Xavier Moran
Xavier is the managing editor of SU Mag. He has a love for story, whether it comes in the form of a book, a movie, a series, a poem, or a play. He lives in the small sea side town of Fish Hoek with his wife and two teenage children.
Published: 1 August 2023
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