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  • Hannah Williamson

Give Young People a Seat at the Table!

As a child, I used to hate it if we went to people’s houses and we had to sit at a separate table to the adults. I don’t know what it was about sitting at the smaller table. As a 9 or 10 year old to be sitting on ‘baby chairs’ with little kids just felt wrong. I wanted to sit at the ‘big table’ with the grown ups! At home, I don’t really ever remember us having a small table for the kids. We always sat up to the big table with mum and dad. The worst of these ‘little table moments’ was when you got into your teen years, went to someones house, but they didn’t have enough space at the ‘grown up table’ so you ended up having to sit with the kids and basically be the babysitter. Never fun.

I am always amazed looking through the gospels at the amount of times, Jesus was sat at the table and there were often those that maybe did not expect to be at a table with Him. Take for example in Mark 2:15-20 when it tells us Jesus sat with the ‘sinners and tax collectors.’ Jesus got a lot of stick for this but it didn’t seem to bother him. Or the time in Mark 14:1-11 when the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume came to the table (she hadn’t been invited to sit at it!) And began to pour out her perfume on Jesus’ feet as a sign of honour for Him. Again, people criticised her for trying to, in many ways, ‘get in on the table time’.

One of my greatest passions is seeing younger leaders developed. I think this is partly due to the fact that as a young person, I was given a seat at the table. This began as a teenager and was more in a subtle and probably unnoticed way. I grew up in a Pastors home and my parents would often have visiting preachers for dinner. I was shy and would barely say a word, but I took in so much of what was spoken about, learning and gleaning from the wealth of experience. I realise not everyone grows up in this environment and so I sought to create environments for young people to experience what I did as a young leader - its not only for pastors kids! The next ‘seat at the table’ I was given was when I became the Youth Pastor in my local church. I was 21 and so relatively young and certainly inexperienced to be given this role but being given it allowed me to grow and learn to rely on Jesus. Another table I found myself on, was as an ‘elder’ in our church. I was keenly aware that I was the first woman and first single person to make it to this position and so again felt the honour of being able to have a voice in an environment where many do not. All these opportunities taught me so much, but I am keenly aware that so many young people never get into these places of influence or even get the opportunity to learn in these environments.

I am passionate about raising and developing the next generation and helping churches find ways to get young people at the table - not just sidelining them to the ‘little table with the kids!’ There are so many reasons why I believe Young people should be given a seat at the table but I will share just a few before giving some ideas of how you can get them there! As a side note, when I say ‘young people’ I am not particularly talking about your 11 year old. They should not be on your leadership team or a trustee….obviously. The reality is however, that from my travels I have realised, most leadership teams, trustee teams or even to some extent staff teams or departments heads in churches don’t have anyone under the age of 30 involved. So, consider your 18 - 30 year olds….how can you give them a seat at the table? Before we get there, here are a few reasons why you need them?


The reality is that leaders who are younger than you have a different outlook on life. They have grown up in a different world. Take just the gap in technology. Someone in their 50’s did not grow up in a world where the mobile phone was like a part of you or where you could pretty much get internet access everywhere, where you could pay using your watch or where social media was ‘a thing’. Younger leaders have grown up with this being a normal part of their world. That alone is a big culture gap. If we want to reach the younger generation we have to listen to the younger generation. We have to understand what makes them tick, what they are passionate about and even what makes them angry and frustrated. Having a younger leader around the table will help you see things differently and could well make you sharper in your ministry.


The 18-30 age group are entering the workplace and have the opportunity to work hard in their chosen fields. I sat with an 19 year old young woman a few weeks ago who is in the process of doing her degree. She managed to get a part time job online which is in marketing. I began to ask her about this and was amazed at the opportunities she was being given to work and lead in a creative online environment which spans the globe. She had a clear pathway for developing and incredible support, training and encouragement from her line manager. If she wanted to, she could easily take on a full time role with this company upon leaving university and probably be making a nice amount of money. Many corporate companies are pretty good at developing their younger staff, giving them opportunities to move forward. Of course, often this can be motivated by money but in my conversation with the young woman I was amazed that the money was not what she talked about - only the way she was being supported and developed. We may well have great younger leaders in our congregations who already have high leadership skills but are not utilising them within the church context - what great influence there could be if they did. If you could encourage that leadership gift, guiding them in the way Jesus led not only will they be a blessing to you but they may well take their learnings into the marketplace and be influential there.


There can be an expectation that you only learn from those older than you but its just not true. There was a young couple in my church who taught me so much. They had both come through my youth group and were now young adults serving on two of the teams I oversaw. One had expertise in the hospitality industry and I had been asked to set up a cafe in our church. I really had no idea but sitting with this young woman hugely helped. I learnt a lot. Her husband was a professional musician and one of the other teams I was working with was our worship team. I was quite clear when I took on the role that my gift set was not necessarily in musical ability but in the development of the team. The reality was I needed this younger leader as he knew far more than me. I sat with a man in his late 60’s a few weeks ago who told me how much he believes in reverse mentoring. I was inspired by his humility to learn form the younger generation. May we all be like that!!!!

So, what are some practical ways you can get young people at the table of leadership?

Meet with a group of 18-30 year olds who have leadership potential or are leading in other areas of life every week for a year - see how much it inspires and influences you.
If you have a younger staff member who is not on your leadership team, let them come and observe for a few sessions - be sure to feedback after about what they observed. Use it as a learning opportunity.
Ask a younger leader to comment on your preaching - if they had to change one thing what would it be?
Take a chance on a young leader, giving them an opportunity to lead something - give them high encouragement and feedback on how to improve along the way.
Give a leadership book to a young leader, ask them to read it and come back to you with 5 things they learnt - use what they say to encourage them to put these things into practice.
Encourage everyone on your leadership team to be mentoring a leader under the age of 30.
Don’t hog the platform - allow younger leaders to preach, lead the service, worship lead etc. Be more intentional about raising others than honing your own ego!
Always take a couple of young leaders to a conference with you (I say a couple so that you are not tempted to just take someone of the same sex….this limits both men and women being developed….take two!!!! This then allows for more to be raised, conversation to be encouraged between the two younger leaders and ensures you are raising both men and women!)
Take time each year to think through your leadership development pathways - how do young leaders grow, learn and develop? Ensure its not ‘by chance’ but has an intentionality about it.
Create a reverse mentoring opportunity - meet a younger leader who is leading in the marketplace - ask them questions and seek to learn from them (it will bless and encourage both you and them!)

Giving young people a seat at the table takes intentionality. It’s much easier to get people around you that are like you and that often means they are of a similar age or maybe a similar stage in life. Getting young leaders around the table means you’ve got to look out for them and actively find ways to input into their lives and allow them into spaces that they wouldn’t otherwise be invited. It takes work. It rarely happens by accident. Jesus is the legend at this. He goes out, chooses 12 young men and tells them to follow him. It feels a bit extreme and in some ways maybe a bit arrogant, but the reality is He was just being intentional about raising the next generation. He realised if he didn’t do this it could limit the growth of the early church and that would be ridiculous. I think we can learn a lot from Jesus’ intentionality in going out and pouring into, developing, growing, giving opportunities to and encouraging the younger generation. They were often found at tables with Jesus.

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This is excellent Hannah. Thank you. I have shared it with my wider leaders team. Lukas

Hannah Williamson
Hannah Williamson

Thanks so much Lucas! That's such a blessing!


Ian Green
Ian Green

Such a great article. Full of wisdom and practical advice. Well done Hannah

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