This summer I had a 19-year-old intern. (Hi, Madison!) One of the first days she was with us she told me I was around the same age as her parents. A street vendor thought I was her mom. She is brilliant and talented and so very strong.
One of the girls I work closely with is 24. She doesn’t know music or cultural experiences that were formative to me. I keep telling her I know more about the 90’s than she does but I’m not sure she’s convinced. She has wisdom beyond her years and so much maturity and will surely go further in ministry than I.
One of the worship leaders at our church is also in her early 20’s. She is studying hip hop dance in Paris and is phenomenally talented at both dance and leading worship. I knew it the first time she sang – she had “it”, that thing you can’t teach. She is further along than I was at her age and carries a presence that commands a room.
I am one of those people that has wanted to be in ministry since I was a teenager. I jumped full-force into any opportunity that came my way. You need a worship leader? I’ll do it! You need a keyboard player? Me! Can I preach? Can I teach? Can I build something? I begged for opportunities, not stopping to consider whether I was the most qualified. I was hungry to grow, to lead, to innovate. I was young but somehow I got a lot of incredible opportunities to learn and grow and lead.
Those cool opportunities happened because there were people older than me who were willing to give away what they held. I had leaders who were confident enough in their identity that they weren’t threatened by me. They didn’t hold on to their ministry opportunities with closed fists. They gave it away.
I am passionate about developing leaders. My little Portuguese worship leader? I want to see her grow. I want to see her grow more than I want to hold on to my position as worship leader. There are days when a thought sneaks into my head about how she’s younger and cooler than me. How she’s better at this than I am. How I am obsolete or too old or too uncool. How she will go further than I have.
But the joy in seeing her grow squashes those thoughts as quickly as they rise up. Watching her step back from the mic as she says, “Sing, church,” in the microphone brings me to tears. Because she is called to this. Because I have had my time. And because God is calling me to new things.
So I’m giving it away. Don’t get me wrong, leading worship has been one of my great joys in life. And I’m sure I’m not totally done with it. But I want to give it away. Anything God puts in my hands – I want to grow in it, I want to cultivate it, and then I want to give it away. As Paul says to the Thessalonians, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thess 2:19-20) There is something about coaching someone, watching them grow, and watching them run with what you built that is holy. It is sacred. It is something that, if we have the courage to release it, will bring us ten times the joy it was to do it ourselves.
I have found that when you give away what God has entrusted you with at the right time, He gives you something else. For me, it has been songwriting in the past. Now it’s writing and preaching. Every time I have given something away, every time I have championed someone else doing what I loved doing, something new has come. Something that I am passionate about. Usually something that surprises me.
I want to have open hands to step into the new things God has for me as I journey through my life. I want to find my identity in Christ and not in Kelly as teacher or Kelly as worship leader or Kelly as preacher. When you find your identity in a ministry or a position, you can’t give it away. You might be filled with fear that someone will take it from you. You might battle constant feelings of inadequacy and competition.
If you find yourself filled with fear in ministry, if you find yourself feeling threatened by those younger than you, I challenge you to give it away. Open up your hands, let those eager kids take what’s there, and help them build what’s next. Let them make mistakes and help them take the blow. Let them succeed and give them all the credit. Give them a foundation, hold their hands while they learn to walk, and then when they run with it, cheer for them and start building something else. Affirm them. Encourage them. Tell them how great they’re doing and what great things are in store for them. And in doing so, don’t be surprised if something new and unexpected comes along for you and you get to keep right on building.