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Celebrating God’s Call to Lead

By Erik Grayson

“You’re the presiding elder?” and “You’re too young!”  are two examples of phrases I have heard over the last year as I have served as one of the Global Methodist Church of South Carolina’s two presiding elders. While it’s been a great joy to lead the church in its formational period, it’s also been a season where I am often reminded by others that their grandchildren are older than me. Our church has an interesting relationship with age and leadership, but the value of the newer generation is imperative to continuing to grow the mission and vision of our Global Methodist movement.

While I may be 34 years old, I am far from being considered young. Many would classify me as middle aged, but in the pastoral world the ‘mid thirties’ is still deemed young. Churches often seek out young pastors in hopes of attracting families, and denominations look for young seminarians to ensure future leaders. Our church culture values youthfulness for its potential for creativity and innovation in ministry. However, it is important for the church to remember that age does not guarantee effectiveness. Youth is not a virtue, but simply an accident of time. The real challenge is utilizing the age and wisdom we have to serve the cause of Christ.

Throughout my time in ministry, I have actively embraced situations where my age has been brought into question. For a significant period, I dedicated myself to a poverty ministry in the heart of urban North Charleston, South Carolina. To better connect with the local poor, I would dress in a very relaxed manner and engage in conversations with them. Often, they would be unaware that I was a minister. However, upon discovering my role, they would express surprise, exclaiming, “You’re too young!” Instead of being discouraged by this response, I would redirect the conversation by reminding them, “God can use anyone.” My intention was to convey that if God could utilize someone like me, then He could certainly use them as well.

This was a concept that shaped early American Methodism. During the colonial period, Methodism spread Westward across North America with a migrating population. As Methodist lay people expanded into the frontier, they formed Methodist societies in the new communities they were building. Itinerant preachers constantly revised preaching circuits to add new stops to keep up with a spreading movement. This movement was led by a diverse group of individuals, including both men and women, young and old. Many of these leaders lacked formal education, ordination, or qualifications to grow a denomination. However, their passion for Jesus and desire to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land propelled them forward. Despite being unexpected, God used these individuals to build a powerful movement then and continues to do so today.

Across South Carolina I’m encountering people in leadership who don’t fit the standard mold.  From the 80-year-old grandmother bravely leading her congregation through separation, to the young business persons who find time to launch a new church, and the seminary bound college student who eagerly guest preaches wherever needed, we’re seeing a revived sense of calling among our people. And this revival is not limited to the laity – even our clergy are experiencing a transformation. Retired clergy are providing pulpit support for new church starts, formerly licensed local pastors are stepping forward once again, and long-serving pastors are igniting a renewed sense of passion. What I’m seeing is the beginning of a movement. It’s not the institutional grind of a bureaucratic denomination, but the movement of the Holy Spirit calling forth all ages, backgrounds, and levels of education to serve His purpose.

When a movement is ignited by the Holy Spirit, there is little concern for conforming to a specific leadership mold. The Spirit has a way of involving individuals who are not typically seen as suitable leaders. Saul, who became an apostle, was an unexpected choice. Even one of Jesus’ own disciples doubted that the Messiah could come from Nazareth. When the prophet Samuel requested to see Jesse’s sons, David was not initially brought forward because he was the youngest. Our natural tendency is to judge who is worthy and who is not based on superficial qualities, but God frequently challenges our assumptions.

If we’re called to lead, we must also be ready to take on this responsibility, no matter your perceived qualifications. The Lord has deemed you qualified. 

While others might question your qualifications, they will never question your passion that is fueled by a calling. Lead from a place that points not to yourself, but directly shines a light to Jesus.  Everyone is hungry for God’s truth and to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  By leading in a manner that directly reflects the gospel, you are showing others how your life is a testament to its message. 

When I’ve had my leadership questioned because of my age, I’m usually reminded that there are things I don’t know how to do. I acknowledge that I may not have the same level of leadership and life experiences as others, and that is perfectly acceptable. Inexperience should not be a source of shame if we use it wisely. In fact, it can be a blessing in disguise, allowing us to develop a humble reliance on God, who calls the unqualified and whose strength is most evident in our weaknesses.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of conducting charge conferences across upper South Carolina. At one of the charge conferences, the pastor introduced me to the congregation by saying “…even though he looks like a child.” Yes, it was slightly awkward, but it served as a humorous way to break the ice. The beautiful thing about ministry is if we focus on Jesus, then there’s no time to worry about trivial things such as age. Our mission was to hold a unique charge conference focused on the Lord. The conference continued with the praise band leading a beautiful worship experience and me preaching the gospel and anointing pastors with oil. It was evident the Holy Spirit was alive and moving at that conference. Many attendees shared with me that they had never experienced such a powerful movement during a charge conference. I must confess, it was also a new experience for me as well. Allowing the Lord to overshadow the trivial allowed for an experience unlike anything else that changed us all for the good. 

Leadership is never about our age. Age should not be a factor that distracts us from the true leadership we are called to deliver. Leadership is always about Jesus. I’m thrilled that Jesus is calling forth a renewed Methodist movement, and He’s doing so with those answering the call to lead through individuals we may not expect – from wise grandmothers to ambitious college students, from devoted seniors to resilient single moms, from recovering addicts to those on the streets. The possibilities are endless. With God, anyone can be used as a leader. 

I leave you with a question to ponder; how will you allow yourself to be used by God in this new Methodist movement?

Rev. Erik Grayson is the presiding elder of the Upper State District of the Global Methodist Church of South Carolina, and the senior pastor at Lyman Methodist Church in Lyman, South Carolina.

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