Creating a culture of keychain leadership in your church

Andy Jung Image Andy Jung | May 18, 2022

Nobody likes to fail.

While I love to play golf, I had to fail (a lot) when I first started. In fact, most of us fail more often than we succeed in golf—it’s just part of the game. Beginners quickly learn that it takes a lot of time and practice to get to the point where golf can be fun. In spring as the weather begins to get warmer, I start feeling the itch to take out my clubs and head to the golf course. I don’t get to play as often as I’d like but when I’m on the golf course, I find sabbath and rest.

Golf isn’t an easy sport to just pick up and play (at least not well). A beginner should take lessons from an experienced golfer to develop the proper fundamentals and learn the rules and etiquettes of the game. It takes time and practice to get to a point where golf can be fun.

There is no perfect round of golf—yet golfers spend countless hours pursuing it. When you hit a poor shot you learn from your mistakes, make a few adjustments, and try to correct those mistakes on your next shot. It’s maddening, but when you hit that ONE great shot in a round, you keep coming back because you want to experience that feeling again and again! Golf is a sport that teaches you the power of failure and grit.

Nobody likes to fail. But for teenagers and young adults, failure can feel like devastation. However, the truth is that failure can offer much greater life lessons than success. The key is how we react to failure. We find success when failure is understood as a learning experience equipping us to move forward with more knowledge and more determination.

In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown writes, “We have to teach people how to land before they jump. When you go skydiving, you spend a lot of upfront time jumping off a ladder and learning how to hit the ground without hurting yourself...the same is true in leadership – we can’t expect people to be brave and risk failure if they’re not prepped for hard landings.”[1] Failure is part of taking risks in leadership, and we should help young people be prepared for failure by giving them a safe place to land.

Researcher Angela Duckworth defines grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”[2] Her work has shown that people who possess grit are more successful over time, and that grit is a better predictor of success than talent.

Many of the ministry leaders I’ve talked to in recent years have observed that today’s young people generally have less resilience and grit. This may be partially true. But consider that today’s young people have been exposed to more systemic violence against marginalized communities, an unrelenting social media environment, and a stream of traumatic events (pandemic-related and otherwise) leading to loss and loneliness. Some young people are overprotected, while others have been grossly under-resourced and under-protected. It isn’t hard to understand why teenagers today struggle with resilience and grit.

In the midst of young people’s need to learn and grow from failure, the church can be an incredible environment for young people to learn and grow in leadership. It should be a safe place for them to experience the joys of success and loving support in failure. Through our Growing Young research, we noticed that churches who were reaching and retaining young people well shared load-bearing leadership with them while providing encouragement and support. When given these opportunities, teenagers and young adults leaned in with their gifts and passion to serve the church and the local community. Keychain leadership happens when church leaders were willing to share their “keys” of power, access, and ability with young people in their congregation.

So how can you create a culture of keychain leadership in your church?

1. Keychain leaders start with relationships.

We all want to be seen and known. Youth and young adults are no different. They want others to know the gifts they possess and the passion they have for issues that are important to them. The only way we can get to know their gifts and passions is to develop an authentic relationship with them.

Trust must be built.

No strings attached. No bait and switch. No agendas.

Just an authentic desire to know them as God’s sons and daughters.

When we get to know young people, we learn about their gifts and passions. Then it’s the role of a keychain leader to open doors so that they can use their gifts and passion for God’s kingdom. We make connections so that caring mentorships are formed. We provide access to on-the-ground experience where they typically don’t have access. We advocate for young people at every opportunity because we know them. We see them as God sees them.

2. Keychain leaders offer load-bearing roles to young people.

Churches often reach out to young people out of desperation, or for jobs adults would rather not do. When they can’t find enough adult volunteers to staff the children’s program, they seek to fill the holes with youth and young adults. When the tables need to be moved in the fellowship hall or the mulch needs to be spread in the church yard, they often task the youth leader to find some students to do the job. Certainly, young people should be involved in all of these areas of church life—but they should do it alongside caring Christian adults.

In addition to the everyday tasks of church, keychain leaders offer load-bearing roles to young people. We ask young people to participate in making key decisions for the church. We invite young people to lead major initiatives because we want their insight, input, and energy. We empower young people to develop new ways to serve the community out of their passion.

3. Keychain leaders consistently provide encouragement and support.

Keychain leaders don’t just throw the keys of leadership to young people and watch them either sink or swim. We come alongside the young people, providing them the encouragement and support they need. Keychain leaders walk the fine line of making sure they have necessary resources, but resist temptation to take over in an attempt to avoid failure.

When young people are given load-bearing roles, they will succeed at times and inevitably fall short at other times. Keychain leaders are there to celebrate the successes with them and, when they fail, to pick them up, dust them off, and place them back in leadership. We can help frame each failure as an opportunity to learn, making time to process with them so they see the learning on the other side of disappointment.

Leadership is hard. Taking risks requires courage. And learning from failure doesn’t come easy. Yet when keychain leaders are intentional about providing safe spaces for young people to lead, everyone wins.

Young people felt seen and known.

We learn from young people’s gifts and passion.

The church gains vitality.

The kingdom of God increases.

Tweet this: When keychain leaders are intentional about providing safe spaces for young people to lead, everyone wins. Try these 3 tips to create a culture of keychain leadership in your church.

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Photo by Erika Giraud

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[1] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (New York, NY: Random House, 2018), 241.

[2] Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York, NY: Scribner, 2016).

Andy Jung Image
Andy Jung

Andy Jung is the Senior Director of Church Engagement and Business Administration at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI). He focuses on developing relationships with church, denominational, and network leaders, finding ways for FYI's research, resources, and training to support their ministry. Andy earned a BS in Math Education from North Carolina State University, an MDiv from Campbell University Divinity School, and a DMin from Fuller Theological Seminary in Youth, Family, and Culture. He has served as a youth minister for 20+ years and a senior pastor for five years. In addition, Andy also served as a state executive leader for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of NC for two years before joining FYI's staff in 2020. In addition to his work at FYI, he is a current ministry practitioner as he serves as the Minister in Residence for Young Adults at Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Andy lives with his wife Amy in Raleigh and is passionate about helping churches better love and care for young people so that teenagers and young adults can thrive in their faith.

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