By Dwight Sandoz
Our family has acquired a few cows over the years that sometimes prove to be more work than the benefit they produce. They do provide a source of interest for me more than my wife, Nadine, or anyone else in our family. They may fit into the description of an old rancher who said, “The cows didn’t make any money last year, but we had the use of them.” We’ve had the use of the cows with a few small benefits along the way and I enjoy the season of calving and most of the time required to care for them. An added benefit comes from cattle work with my grandkids as I watch them learn and grow in their skills. Our oldest grandson recently decided he wants a particular blue roan calf so we made a deal yesterday so he can work for me to pay for the calf. We set a price on the calf, determined his wages and developed a chart where he can put down the hours he works, allowing him to see his progress. Even at 10 years old, his work makes a real difference and genuine help to me even for an hour or the whole day.
I have observed that many people don’t allow children to work with them because they see the slower pace of a child as a bother rather a blessing. It certainly takes more time to work with a small child and when they attempt to help, they create more work. However, the joy of watching them and having them learn with me outweighs the extra work and responsibility. They really begin to make a significant contribution between six and eight years of age and by the age of ten they often accomplish as much as an adult, especially when handling cattle. If I did not allow them to contribute at the early age when they create extra work, I could not enjoy watching them succeed when they reach the age of 10 or soon 15, or 20.
With our grown children I get to reflect on their years of growing up and becoming hard working and faithful adults. In visiting with a son who will soon turn 30 he observed, “I realize now that you and mom did not just work to raise kids, you were raising adults.” A little girl of three recently watched as I walked and prayed through the pews on Sunday morning before church while her mother prepared for the worship team. She began to walk with me and then reached up and took my hand, so we walked through the pews and prayed together. Small times like this become learning experiences about prayer and spiritual formation even at three years of age.
Small and often overlooked formative times serve to build foundations for further growth and development. We can quickly lose the impulse for the young or those new to the faith who desire to join us in our work. If we miss these moments of connection when they slow us down a bit, we will never enjoy watching their growth and maturation. Often, we unintentionally diminish the impulse in the early stages not realizing we set a pattern that affects the next years of service. I have observed the adults who do not allow a child of three or eight or ten to work with them discover they cannot convince the teen of 15 or 18 to work with them. If we fail to capture the impulse at the early age, we discourage the life of productivity over the years to come. We benefit from remembering that we are developing people who will one day succeed us in our journey.
A key to developing those who would serve with us in the many roles of ministry requires us to give opportunity for others to grow with the first impulse. Many churches struggle to find leaders to fill key roles in the church but may have discouraged the early impulse when God brings those leaders across their path. Leaders don’t look like leaders when we first encounter them. The temptation to see them like the four-year-old who creates more work, causes us to miss the fact that they soon will become the strong person who may someday lead a great program or even succeed us in ministry.
We may describe the process of raising and developing those who will fill the next tier of leadership roles in any organization, as bench strength. Most churches and ministries have not developed bench strength, where the leaders for tomorrow have meaningful roles today, preparing them to serve. This failure comes with a high price when they never engaged or trained to serve those who could fill key roles in the church or other organization. The saying that pastors and churches often make, “We don’t have enough leaders in this church,” may describe lack of engagement and captured energy of those who God has placed in our path.
I have watched this in many professions and especially in churches. We may lose the next generation of leaders in agriculture or the next wave of pastoral leaders for rural ministry if we fail to connect today. We must face the challenging truth, capture the impulse at the early stages today or lose the connection for a lifetime.
I look forward to several dozen hours of partnership with a grandson as he works to pay for a calf. We will mow the yard, haul branches, work cattle, build fence and do some construction. We will have a great time each day, but more importantly he will gain skills to use for the rest of his life and make a valuable contribution to his world. God will bring leaders to your world if you will empower them to accomplish God’s call for their lives. It may require more work today, but they have potential to contribute great things for the kingdom of God. If we engage and mobilize the leaders God brings today and He will bring leaders in the future.