Can We Start Again?

Rev Dr Garrick Wilson shares why the Christian community should do more to prepare Millennials and Gen Z for leadership roles within the Church

During my first month leading NTCG Covenant Church, I was introduced to another pastor. He said “Oh”, looked me up and down — seemingly trying to reconcile my age with my pastoral role — and then said to the person who introduced us: “Does he know what he’s doing?”

The enquiry was one of competency, and although it was made in my direct sight, it was not addressed to me. Accordingly, I did not feel duty-bound to respond. It was a member of my church who had facilitated the introduction, and I recall the wit and wisdom in their response as they smiled and asked, “Can we start again?”

Millennials were the hot topic of leadership conversations at the turn of the decade. I have sat in numerous forums and listened as established church leaders grappled and reflected on reconciling the generations. The phrase ‘next-generation leaders’ became popular; it gave flexibility and scope for established leaders to build models that promote Millennials with the added benefit of learning from our demographic in terms of how to reach other Millennials, digitise ministry and disrupt conventional approaches.

I observed instances of significant humility and trust on the part of established leaders, as they moderate their leading role to give their millennial cohort practical experience in church leadership. Alas, this model was not prevalent enough to have widespread impact in the promotion of millennial leaders.

I am also cognisant that the frequency of Millennials showing an interest in church leadership is limited, showcasing the need to build models of renumeration; remove language barriers between the generations; and implement improved strategies to identify and develop leaders at an earlier age. Millennials were raised in a period of technological advancement, globalisation and economic disruptions. We are enthusiastic about reformation and activism; our approach helps to shape the economy by forcing businesses to consider how they buy and sell. Similarly, we are keen to steer reforms in the Church. Where the doors are closed to these views, many in my generation have left and are considering leaving the Church. Notably, leaving the Church is not always synonymous with leaving the faith.

I wholeheartedly advocate for the extinction of the term ‘next-generation leaders’ in the Church as it relates to Millennials. It does not recognise the plain truth: Millennials are the now generation; the maturing of Generation Z as next-generation leaders should have been in full effect already.

Millennials are enjoying leadership roles in their secular work, managing multimillion-pound budgets, leading large teams, and making decisions that could impact the lives of millions. The Church openly applauds these achievements; however, some thought is required on the amalgamation of these leadership skills and competencies within ministerial formation and practice.

I am frequently asked if I have quit my role in medical sciences and academia yet. Interestingly, a Millennial has never approached me with this question; it is very much fact finding associated with established leaders. I see the complementarity and convergence in all my pursuits; there is no chasm. I am confident there is room for a ministry paradigm that develops leaders to be prophetic in their secular professions. For example, in my secular role I embrace the conviction to disrupt a workplace culture that restricts the representation of Black people in medical and scientific careers. In doing so, I advocate for funding streams, mentoring initiatives, and fairer recruitment policies to be implemented to bridge the gap. This is in line with the Gospel that I preach from the pulpit weekly and my practice of Pentecostalism.

Millennial leaders are reimagining church and require the covering and the confidence of their seniors to make great strides. “Does he know what he’s doing?” also comes in different forms. I have been on the receiving end of “Did you take any qualifications to be a Pastor?” and “How old are you? I am sure I must be three times your age.” These opening lines revealed an initial suspicion underscored by a lack of confidence. They also showed a disparity between the language of senior leaders who promote the need for more millennial leaders on one hand and question their legitimacy as leaders on the other.

Following the wisdom of my church member, I say to leaders of all generations: “Can we start again?”  


Rev Dr Garrick Wilson is senior pastor of NTCG Covenant Church; the lead for the NTCG’s Emerging Ministers Forum; and director of BUILD, a mentoring initiative for young leaders. He works as a medical scientist and academic in oncology and convergence science. 

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