New leaders are vital to our movement. For the furtherance of our mission, we must continue to invest and develop young, new and emerging leaders at every level of ministry. As I wrote about in two previous articles of Partners with the President, this issue runs close to my heart, and I’m eager to deepen the investments we can make in new leaders.
We recently welcomed Carlton Harris as the EFCA’s new Executive Vice President of National Ministries. Carlton is a new leader to the national office but by no means a new leader in the Church. Carlton started ministry in 1981 as a pastoral intern at First Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, Kansas, and has spent 40 years in church leadership.
I realize many in the Free Church have not had the pleasure of getting to know Carlton, so I spent time talking with him about his personal and ministry background. I invite you to watch our interview together to learn more about him:
Carlton’s heart for ministry and his leadership experience will be a significant blessing as we pursue our mission to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people. Since we are focusing on the theme of developing leaders, I wanted to hear more about Carlton’s heart and experience in this area, so I asked him a few questions.
Q: Tell us about your heart for young leaders in the church.
Carlton: Believe it or not, I was once a young leader in the church. One of my favorite verses during the early seasons of my life was, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). There were some older men and women who saw leadership potential in me during my elementary, middle school, high school, college and seminary years. I felt “seen” and valued by them. They created safe, secure environments for me to live this truth that the Apostle Paul expressed to a young leader named Timothy. Most importantly, they patiently loved me! I want to demonstrate this same patience, love and affirmation I was given. So, it is out of my personal story as a young leader that my heart overflows for young leaders.
Q: You interned at a Free Church. Who mentored you during that time and what lessons did you draw from that experience?
Carlton: As part of my seminary training, I was required to complete several hundred hours of full-time ministry in a local church as a pastoral intern supervised by an experienced church leader. By God’s grace, I interned at First Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, Kansas, during the summer of 1981. My mentor was Pastor Michael Andrus, a couple of his fellow pastors (Skip Lewis and Denny Chadwick) and some of the church’s lay leaders. It was the beginning of a relationship with Mike that has spanned 40 years and continues to this day. I learned many lessons during my experience at First Free Wichita.
First, character is crucial in ministry. Being is more important than doing. Who you are is far more important than what you accomplish. Secondly, relationships are key to developing leaders. Coming out of that internship, I was more intentional about spending time with leaders I wanted to imitate. Of course, relationships require time. When leaders invite others to come alongside them in a mentoring relationship, leaders are developed. You cannot effectively develop people into strong leaders without earning permission to speak into their lives, and this cannot happen without a relationship.
Thirdly, take the risk and entrust emerging leaders with opportunities to lead. Process those leadership moments with the developing leader. First Free opened doors for me to teach, preach and lead, and my gifts were honed by critique and encouragement.
Q: You mentioned that relationships require time. How have you seen that patience lived out?
Carlton: In my mid-20s, I was befriended by an orthodontist in our church. He pursued me. He regularly took me to lunch and shared stories from his life with me. He patiently answered my unending stream of questions about church eldership, best business practices, managing finances, raising kids, marriage, etc.
Four years after I met him, he provided the most impactful example of friendship and loyalty I have witnessed. His best friend, also an orthodontist, was hurt in a private plane crash. Due to injuries, the friend could no longer maintain his practice. My mentor sold his practice in one city and moved over 700 miles to take over his friend’s practice. This was based on a promise that both men made to one another in dental school: that if anything ever happened to one of them, the other would take care of the one in need.
Two years ago, my wife and I were invited to his surprise 80th birthday party. At the party, several younger protégés were invited to share how he impacted us. I spoke as well as a few other dentists and a retired military fighter and commercial airline pilot. Last week, he texted to ask for an update on my recent transition to this new role with the EFCA. Even after almost four decades, whenever I reach out to him for advice, he is ready and willing to share his wisdom.
Q: How have you used what you’ve learned in leadership to mentor other leaders?
Carlton: I look for potential. Over the years, I have kept my eyes, ears and heart open to identify people with untapped leadership for the purpose of investing in them. I’ve made this a normal rhythm in my life.
My mentoring style is relationally driven, not based on a program. The life of the protégé is the curriculum. With the Bible as the foundation, my life serves as the teacher. My relationship with God is the advisor. Through questions, I tune into what someone thinks and feels. It's an organic style of leadership development that is rooted in the teaching of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5-7:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
This describes mentoring as a way of life that is natural and simple. It is an unforced and informal approach to mentoring. The relationship develops at its own unique pace. Over time the relationship naturally taps into the lessons I have learned and am learning in life. As I grow older and gain more experience, the leadership reservoir deepens, and I have seen this holistic or organic style of mentorship be more effective than a more structured style.
Q: What do you think we can learn from young leaders?
Carlton: In spending time with young leaders, I have seen the importance of being slow to make assumptions about others based on appearance because “people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). I appreciate how young leaders use plain language to reach people for the gospel rather than using Christian jargon. Many young leaders value diversity because something of great biblical value is missing when diversity is missing. I have become more aware of our biblical responsibility to take care of God’s creation because our love for others affects the way we treat the earth upon which all life depends.
Q: What do we gain when we intentionally develop new leaders?
Carlton: One of the greatest needs in the church today is well-equipped leaders. There, unfortunately, is a shortage of leaders. Why? Busyness and distracted living. Too few opportunities for emerging leaders to lead. Aging of present church leaders. Lack of intentionality in developing new leaders. An intellectual model of leadership development instead of a more experiential paradigm. Fear of failure, shame and anxiety felt by potential leaders. Churches divided over politics and social challenges, to name a few.
So we need to lean in, and when we intentionally develop new leaders, we provide for the future and fulfill the biblical mandate to develop leaders in 2 Timothy 2:2:
“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”
Q: How do you see the EFCA’s national ministries contributing to the development of the next generation of leaders?
Carlton: National ministries can encourage a culture where potential and emerging leaders thrive by being identified and developed in uniquely personal ways that are not programmed. This would be primarily through experience, not information. My dream is that national ministries can provide intimate, relational, diverse spaces where leadership opportunities are provided in the context of small clusters; relationships are built; relational skill sets are expanded; love is shared; character is developed; gifts are affirmed and sharpened; self-awareness grows; and, good, and curious questions are asked. All of this is based on the foundation of God’s Word, not the wisdom of humans.
Q: What ways can leaders create a culture that values, acknowledges and stewards the gifts of all people—especially young leaders?
Carlton: Leaders can first start by doing the challenging work of feeling what it is like not to be you. Provide trusted companions where you’re seen as you are and feel safe despite the exposure. We can allow space for people to express what is on their hearts by asking curious questions; we can give leaders voice.
Also, allow space for people to fail without fear of being shamed. Success or failure in ministry should not define a young leader. Shame is about identity. Shame says, “You are a bad person.” Shame subjects you to the judgment and exclusion of the crowd, in this case the people of the church. Young leaders need to feel that we are “for” them. So, leaders should redefine success as faithfulness and by delegating and giving responsibility and authority, we can provide opportunities for emerging leaders to lead.
With Thanksgiving Day approaching, I want to express my deepest thanks for Carlton’s leadership, the leadership of pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders throughout the EFCA, and for the prayers and financial generosity of all who support the EFCA. Thank you for serving humbly and faithfully and blessing our movement with your gifts. I pray, as we spend time with friends and family in the days ahead, that our hearts will be full of thanksgiving for His many blessings.
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