4 Things to Remember When Investing in Young Leaders

Ray Chang
Ray Chang (Facebook)

Growing up as a Korean immigrant in the Korean church, I always struggled with my sense of identity. I came to the United States when I was 6. Back in the ’70s, the Asian-American community was relatively small.

One of the challenges of growing up in an ethnic environment was understanding and seeing the ways Christ transcends culture. Often my culture was what defined me: I was a Korean or an Asian.

One of my biggest challenges was that I wanted to learn. I wanted to become a better pastor, a better leader. But because of my cultural context, there were a number of limitations, including a lack of mentoring or discipling. So I left the Korean church and joined an evangelical church, where I served as an intern.

There my eyes were opened. I saw ministry of the same gospel being applied in different ways, and it extended my opportunity to live out my faith.

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A few years and church positions later, I knew I wanted to help young men like myself. I realized there are many potential leaders who are not being ministered to or developed for leadership because they have no point of relationship or connection.

It’s difficult for a young, second-generation Korean-American or Hispanic to go into some of the mainstream ministries. So we started a training ground for five seminary students at the church where I served as outreach pastor. Now I work with young leaders all the time, coaching and investing in them.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about leadership development:

1. Leadership development starts with a person, not a program. The No. 1 principle of any leadership development is assessment. You have to understand a person’s calling, his background, who he is. And that’s the uniqueness of the person.

It’s like evaluating a football player.You can draft him as a quarterback and make him fit the system, or you can look at him and ask, “OK, how can we help this player succeed?”

2. Nobody is where he should be or where he will be. We are all in development. And part of our job as leaders is to help younger leaders get moving toward where God wants to take them. So one of the things I say to young leaders is, “Look, my job as a pastor is to help you get where God wants you to be. I am the transitional person. I want to lead you and encourage you along that path.” In one sense, that’s what discipleship is.

3. A support system is non-negotiable. One of the things I’ve found with young leaders is that more than finance tools or a monetary investment in their church, they need and want people investment, or life investment. Young leaders have told me they would rather have somebody invest in their lives for the long haul than receive a paycheck or donation.

4. It’s about life investment. My relationship with the leaders we train is an ongoing, coaching, lifelong relationship. It’s about the person, the individual. It’s about the disciple. We need the models and the learning—that’s all good—but the information is not what’s going to make leaders succeed. It comes down to how we invest in them. Leadership development is about life. It’s a long-term commitment, a marathon instead of a sprint.

What I never had as a young leader in the Korean church was a life coach who would stick with me all the way through. So I live life with the philosophy that I want to do for someone else what was never done for me. If we’re going to impact the nation, we have to impact young leaders.

Ray Chang is the founding president of the Orange County, Calif.-based Ambassador Network, an organization that is working to launch a movement of multiplying multiethnic and missional churches, both locally and globally. Chang also planted and leads Ambassador Church in Brea, Calif. 

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