Imagine a church where kindergarteners, 5th graders, and high school seniors lead alongside staff members, a church where the ages of those who lead on a Sunday morning are as diverse as the roles in which they serve. This is the case at Grace Covenant (Cornelius Foursquare Church) in Cornelius, N.C.
In 2016, Senior Pastor Farrell Lemings began an intentional effort to raise up children’s pastors, youth pastors and community leaders from within. This effort began as Farrell contemplated the age of our Foursquare ministerium, the number of pastoral vacancies around him and the leadership crisis that he foresaw.
While he immediately thought he should turn to colleges to answer his questions, this seasoned leader made a much simpler move. Led by the Holy Spirit, Farrell walked down to his children’s ministry on a Sunday morning. And there, he found a treasure chest full of leaders. He saw 7-year-olds telling their peers what activity station to play at next. He noticed 14-year-olds who volunteered to pray in front of the group. He observed a 17-year-old student helping to quiet the crowd as the youth pastor spoke. As he watched young people function in these ways, Farrell understood that his own church could grow the leaders he sought.
After that initial observation, he simply started sending emails to his kids and youth leaders, asking which young people were already leading in some way. Once they were identified, the staff began to “nurture, applaud and give opportunity” to those students. What they found is that the ones who they identified began to grow and flourish at an incredible rate.
For example, they recalled a 6th grader who voluntarily woke up at 6 a.m. during a camp to do devotionals. He then convinced 20 other students to join him the next day, leading them in Scripture reading. So, the staff recognized his God-given leadership ability, nurtured and applauded him, and gave him opportunities to lead. He is now an 8th grader who plays six different instruments, rotating on the worship team for Sunday morning service in the sanctuary.
Led by the Holy Spirit, Farrell Lemings walked down to his children’s ministry on a Sunday morning. And there, he found a treasure chest full of leaders.
Farrell encourages churches to start in a very organic way by asking a kindergartner to be in charge of turning the lights off and on. That kindergartner, through progressive development in different serving roles, could become the next prayer team leader.
Church leaders should take time for observation to find the leaders among kids and youth, suggests Farrell, and then raise them up. His opinion is that too much structure “complicates the development.” So, he keeps it simple by observing and identifying, then coaching and giving opportunity, and always applauding along the way. It seems at Grace Covenant, that more is caught that taught, with some students graduating high school with 10 years of ministry experience.
Farrell applies the well-known principle of “the more times you swing a bat, the more proficient you become.” The question is: Are we giving children a swing?