“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Yesterday, my wife and daughter, along with other youth and adult volunteers from our church, returned from Orlando, Florida from a youth leadership conference named Lads to Leaders. It was an uplifting time to grow in Christ and receive training in leadership skills that will help the church grow into the future. Lads to Leaders had its humble beginnings in a small congregation of Christians in Montgomery, Alabama when a man by the name of Jack Zorn set out to train the young men in his congregation to be Christlike leaders. That original vision has since grown to over 20,000 participants all across the southeastern United States and even as far away as the Philippines. As with any endeavor of this magnitude in the church, it has been met with much success but also its share of obstacles.
Lads to Leaders was not a program I grew up with personally. The church I attended as a young man had its own leadership training called “More Than Conquerors” and as the name implies, it was a great program designed to teach me how to serve God and model Christlike behavior. Unlike the Lads to Leaders program, there was no yearly convention to attend or competitions to enter but just a honest desire to honor and glorify God with our lives. I imagine that is the original intent of all leadership programs such as these, but in our overcompetitive society, we sometimes run the risk of straying away from bringing glory to God and instead focus more of our attention on our works.
I’ve been blessed to watch my daughter grow in her knowledge of Jesus by participating in scripture reading, song leading and even a Bible-based puppet presentation in the Lads to Leaders program. In fact, the youth from our churches who attend these events come back spiritually uplifted and more prepared to be leaders in the church and lights to the world. On the negative side, I’ve occasionally seen the idea of competition become mean-spirited and “me” focused. I’ve heard of families and their children at other churches who chose not to participate and were chided for their lack of involvement. I’ve heard about how parent volunteers nitpick and argue with one another over convention performances and how things should be done their way. Far too many times, the children participating not only learn leadership skills but also learn about disunity when they see parents and volunteers lose focus about why they are there in the first place. This a great reminder that the encouragement of people and the praise of God are the most important aspects of any program in the church and even though there are pitfalls at times, the work of the Lord is active and powerful at these events.
Our worship of God never has and never will be a competition. We don’t receive rewards from God for being a better song leader than someone else or being on the winning Bible bowl team. As a parent, I took the time to remind my daughter that her heartfelt and truthful worship of God will always be well-received whether she placed at the Lads to Leaders convention or not. I will always encourage her to participate in these kinds of things not only to grow herself but to also be a good example to other kids around her. I’m so proud of the kids from our church who participated in this year’s Lads to Leaders program. I would wish to tell all those participants, parents and children alike, that learning about God and serving him is a lifetime process. Worship him in pride and with a competitive heart and He is sure to be disappointed. Do it with all your heart and with truth and humility and God has promised us that our worship will be appreciated.
(A special thanks to all those young and old who have helped my wife and I in the godly training of our daughter. God created the church for exactly times like these. Without your love and example, being a godly parent would be so much more difficult.)