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Keychain Leadership

Posted by Lisa Hanle on with 4 Comments

Some of you may remember in November of 2016 we launched a church wide culture survey. This was an assessment from Fuller Youth Institute that helped us see how we were doing in the 6 core commitments of Growing Young. 171 of you across all ages and campuses participated in this survey!

One of the findings that really struck our staff was around the commitment to keychain leadership. Upon first glance, we seemed to score middle of the road, but when looking at the scores of specific statements, an important distinction was revealed: we are open to shared leadership and initiatives started by young people or others, but we don’t proactively ask, equip, or train people. That’s a problem!

Since then, we as a staff have been exploring the question of how to better engage “keychain leadership.” In the last year, we developed and began meeting more intentionally with lay leadership teams around areas like families, post college, and connections and hospitality.

With the recent restructures of our campuses and staff teams, this is more important than ever for Highway’s path forward. Not because we’re short staffed and need lay leaders to pick up the slack, but because if we are The Highway Community we need the voices, gifts, and full participation of the community! “Highway” is not the staff, “Highway” is the community, it’s all of us. We long for people’s voices to be heard, their gifts to be valued and utilized, and to be a place where we come alongside one another to grow and flourish. That’s why keychain leadership matters – so we can be the church body with all its diverse, needed, and beautiful parts participating.

This means that those of us on staff or in significant leadership positions need to make sure we are sharing our keys and passing them on to others. Keys can be any resources, opportunities, responsibilities, or influence we have. Just about all of us have keys in some area of our lives, whether that’s in our families, our workplace, on a team, or in a community. Growing Young breaks down different ways we might handle these keys: 

  • Keyless leaders are often young and/or inexperienced and trying to prove they are worthy of keys.
  • Key hoarders want to run the show and not give anything away.
  • Key loaners may give someone keys, but then take them back (particularly if things start to go differently than they want).
  • Keychain leaders are aware of the keys they have and use them to open the doors for others, and/or entrust their keys to others to lead. 1

Confession time: when we discussed this as a staff, we realized that all too often we are key hoarders or key loaners. That was a convicting moment.

We long instead to be keychain leaders and are humbly trying to do better. We want to empower and build up leaders who can in turn nurture and empower others in a beautiful chain of mentoring, developing, and equipping. This is about all parts being entrusted, valued, seen, and contributing to the body of Christ.

But this doesn’t mean we start chucking keys at people and say, ok go! Lead! If we take this key metaphor to driving, we don’t hand 16-year-olds keys for the first time and say, alright you’ve never been behind the wheel but you’re ready to drive Highway 17 with a van full of your friends! No. They start with learning information before they ever get behind the wheel. Then they drive with a certified instructor. Then they drive with an experienced adult driver, likely in a big empty parking lot. Then a quiet neighborhood. They work up to busier streets and the freeway, eventually learning parallel parking or to navigate rush hour. Then after a year of practice and 50+ hours of supervised driving there’s a test and even then, they can’t drive other people or after 11pm for a year!

While not every “key” in the church requires the same level of build-up and training as learning to drive, the metaphor is helpful. Some people have already been driving and are ready, they just need to adjust to a different car. Some people have never driven before and need a lot more nurturing and equipping. If we are the one giving away keys, we need to recognize where the receiver is on the journey so that we don’t either overwhelm them with more than they’re ready for, or stifle and discourage them by underestimating their readiness. If we are the receiver, perhaps we need to voice that and say hey, I’m ready to start learning how to drive. All of us need to engage in the process. And just about every teen and parent who has done this will tell you, it is not without stress, misunderstandings, or mistakes on both sides of the process!

Yet on that journey we grow. Whether we are giving away keys or taking them on, this is a significant aspect of what it means to participate in the Church, to walk alongside one another, and value the unique contributions that each of us have to offer. All of us have something to offer, which means all of us have keys to give away, keys to take on, or probably a few of both!

So, whether it’s at Highway or somewhere else in your life, what keys do you have? Who can you begin to hand them to, and what might that look like? And/or, what are keys you are ready to take on? How might you seek those out and proactively ask someone to share them with you?

As we lean more fully into these questions and that journey, we will live more and more into who God has made us to be - both as individuals, and as The Highway Community.

1 Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Jake Mulder. Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. Baker Books, 2016. 57


kp August 31, 2018 4:59pm

just seeing if this works

Damian August 31, 2018 5:02pm

Great stuff

Chris Tucker September 1, 2018 11:41am

But we are short staffed and in need need of lay leaders right now. How do we balance this real time need with the concept of keychain leadership which needs individual to hold the keys to begin will.

Lisa Hanle September 1, 2018 7:34pm

Chris I agree that's definitely a challenge and tension. Mentoring and equipping takes time but we also have significant needs and holes now! My sense is that there are both people who already have more keys in our community than they realize and folks ready for keys who need little more than to be released or invited to step into their gifts and passions (and this blog is one of those invitations!). My hope is that as we voice the need and invitation for broader communal leadership, it will jump start the keychain effect beyond staff. I think the leadership teams that have formed over the last year have been a huge step forward in that!

Would love to hear if you have thoughts on other ways to empower and bring people in as we're in this season!