So how relevant are you as a leader?

Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?

You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant leaders eventually make less impact on the team around them, and eventually almost no impact on the next generation, except for perhaps an example of what not to be like.

Why is that?

Relevance matters for one simple reason: relevance gives you permission to speak into the culture around you. Relevance determines whether people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.

Irrelevant people eventually lose the ability to communicate meaningfully with the people they care about and to contribute to the causes they’re passionate about.

Before you push back, just because the Gospel is always relevant doesn’t mean you are.

Just because the Gospel is always relevant doesn't mean you are. Click To Tweet

Even growing organizations can lose relevance. Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.

In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.

When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.

So whether your organization or cause has a bit of momentum left or whether it’s losing steam, here are 6 ways to tell your influence as a leader is waning.

Relevance matters for one simple reason: relevance gives you permission to speak into the culture around you. Relevance determines whether people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you. Click To Tweet

1. You’ve become a critic of anything that’s growing

Irrelevant leaders are always looking for ways to dismiss other peoples’ success.

Maybe there was a day when you were the young startup when your launch was the one everyone was looking at.

Now, everyone’s looking at what’s emerging and saying how awesome it is, but all you can see are the flaws. You convince yourself they’ve sold out, or it won’t last, or that they’re just trend-jacking, or that “of course it’s working because that’s what the next generation wants, but it’s not right.” You’ve invented 1000 justifications about why you’re right and all the things that are more ‘successful’ than you are wrong.

Irrelevance, after all, has it all figured out, and even though it may not be working particularly well, you’ve convinced yourself (and are trying to convince others) that your way is the best way.

Here’s the bottom line: critics rarely contribute, and contributors rarely criticize.

If you’ve landed in the camp of the constant critic, the odds of you actually contributing much to the present or future are very low. As a result, you’ve already become irrelevant.

Critics rarely contribute, and contributors rarely criticize. Click To Tweet

2. You increasingly think most new ideas are bad ideas

Hey, it’s easy to resist new ideas. But if you think back, there was a time when you were likely far more open to new ideas.

Now you’re older and wiser, and you’ve got a way of doing things.

The human mind is great at preserving the status quo. You can think of 10 reasons why a new idea won’t work, and you and your team never hesitate to list them.

The leadership graveyard is filled with the bodies of leaders who say “We haven’t done it that way before,” and while you understand that intellectually, you’ve barely realized you’re becoming one of those people because, well, new ways seem increasingly bad to you.

Sure…not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea.

When was the last time you embraced a radical new idea? If you can’t answer that question, you’re already in trouble.

Not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea. Click To Tweet

3. The copyright dates on your go-to resources are aging

Copyright dates tell you a lot about how you lead. You’ll find them in the books you read, the music you listen to, the movies you watch and if you’re a church leader, the songs your church sings.

Many leaders will embrace change to an extent, and then they stop.

I’m all for reading classics and for sure, my library and resources have copyright dates going back decades and even centuries.

That’s not the problem. The problem is when your resource library consists contains virtually no copyright dates from the last few years.

The major trap most irrelevant leaders fall into is that their go-to resources are all 5-20 years old. They’re still living in the 90s or in 2009. Everyone else has moved on.

The danger here is that they think they’re being relevant, but they really aren’t. To your fifty-year-old friends, you may sound knowledgeable as they nod in agreement. But to an 18-year-old, you appear to be a museum.

And in the meantime, the gap between you and culture is growing wider every day.

The point is not to avoid any older works (a great life is always built on the contributions of previous generations), but to also understand how to translate that into what’s happening today.

4. Your senior team has grown older with you

This isn’t so much a problem if you’re twenty-two and just starting out. To have a young leadership team of idealistic people is an awesome thing.

Sure, some wisdom wouldn’t hurt, but still, the world often gets changed by young leaders on a mission.

But what happens is that twenty-year-olds eventually turn 30. Fast forward a bit, and one day everyone on your senior leadership team is in their mid-fifties.

That’s a big issue.

Left uncorrected, teams tend to age with their leader.

As a leader in my fifties, I’ve had to be incredibly intentional about surrounding myself with leaders in their 20s and 30s, something that really energizes me.

You may not have the chemistry or familiarity with younger leaders that you do with your peers who have been through life with you, but renewing the leadership table with younger leaders is critical.

It’s easy for older leaders to think that younger leaders are too young to lead.

You were too, once. And someone took a chance on you anyway. And you did some of your best work then too, didn’t you?

Left uncorrected, teams tend to age with their leader. Click To Tweet

5. The very thought of change makes you tired

The gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance. The bigger the gap, the more irrelevant you become.

Change is difficult at the best of times, but if even the sound of change makes you tired, it’s a sign that you’re becoming irrelevant.

It’s normal to default to the status quo. We all do.

The gap between how quickly you change and how quickly things change is called irrelevance. The bigger the gap, the more irrelevant you become. Click To Tweet

A few years ago, my dentist told me I needed at least five crowns. The thought of that made me feel tired and broke all at once.

I got a bit of the work done but then took a break.

One afternoon I was eating some cereal and I noticed something that didn’t feel like cereal in my mouth. It was half a molar.

Guess where I went the next day?

Too often, that’s exactly how we approach change in the church. We wait until something breaks, and then we’ll try to fix it.

That may work with a tooth, but it’s a terrible strategy for leadership (okay, and for dentistry).

In our rapidly changing culture, waiting until something breaks to fix is one of the fastest ways to ensure you become irrelevant.

If change makes you tired, I promise you, the slow death of your organization will make you even more tired.

If change makes you tired, the slow death of your organization will make you even more tired. Click To Tweet

6. You like the world less every year

If social media is any gauge of how many Christian leaders feel about our culture, the church is in trouble.

And even if you’re not posting on your social media is ALL CAPS, telling the world how bad it is, your attitude still matters.

Negativity leaks.

Constantly criticizing a culture is no way to reach it.

I am constantly reminded that Jesus loved the world. He saw the mess, the brokenness, the godlessness and embraced us anyway.

Jesus loved the world enough to die for it.

You should care enough about the world to do the same.

Negativity leaks. Constantly criticizing a culture is no way to reach it. Click To Tweet

Don’t Let Unimplemented Change Become Regret


So how do you battle irrelevance?

If you’re looking for practical help, my best-selling book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges No One Expects and Everyone Experiences has helped thousands of leaders fight irrelevance (among other issues).  The good news is, there’s help and there’s hope.

Order your copy today here and battle back against irrelevance, cynicism, compromise and so many of the other issues everyone faces but few of us anticipate.

What Do You Think?

What do you see as signs of relevance or irrelevance?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

6 Characteristics of An Irrelevant Leader


  1. Rhonda Ihrig on January 16, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    I’m not sure that our success is based on “Relevance,” the success of the church is the job of the Holy Spirit, and relevance should never supersede that. Your article implies that if we are still in the ’90’s then we are not “relevant.” I know of churches that are thriving and growing who still use some of the same methods, and sing some of the older songs. I believe that too many get sucked into being relevant and forget that it is really about bringing the lost into the Kingdom. Prayerfully none of us lose sight of that.


  2. David Rowser on December 13, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Like your information. I am the older guy now and have to admit that I am probably not relevant in the ways you describe in at least two areas and probably three. Out of curiosity what metrics are these points you shared with us based on. Are there some recent publications that I can reference? Appreciate your insights.

  3. Billy on December 13, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Hi Carey,

    Thank you so much for your continual provocative writing (in a good way). I wanted to push back a little of the copyright of your go to resource.

    I’m 55 so I guess I need to be very careful that I’m not closed to ideas! But I’d suggest that what could be missing from most reading plans is not so much newer titles but much much older even ancient books.

    This last year I have purposely read much more from very early church history even following through to discover more about the Orthodox Church. It is astounding that at grass roots so many of the issues we confront today is part of our history and we find great wisdom.

    Of course I’m not suggesting that we all become history buffs but I personally have found it stimulating and it has given me so much to learn from.

    I can’t quote him exactly but Rick Warren suggested at holy Trinity Brompton Leadership Conference that we get a balance in our reading. For every current book we read, read one from the previous century and another from the previous millennium (sure I haven’t got that right but it explains the drift)


  4. Deekay on December 13, 2018 at 10:44 am

    Absolutely phenomenal eye opener..this is the bull’s eye issue..thanks a million.

  5. Chaplain Mike on December 13, 2018 at 10:41 am

    Hi Carey,
    Thanks for the post. We have found an interesting phenomenon in our church in regards to point number two. While we have the old stick in the muds who don’t want to change, we also have a group of millennials that want to try methodologies that have constantly failed in the past. They think that the previous generations were not intelligent enough to figure it out the right way.

    We attempt to tell them that our past failures is not because of a lack of ingenuity or intelligence, but simply a fact of life. We relate to them as future ministry leaders it is like trying to do a roll-over in a passenger jet that was not designed to do so. It constantly crashes no matter how good the pilot is. The fact with ministry is that the jet is full of people who will go down with the plane and is subject to hurting a lot of people in the church. They insist that we MUST let them crash the plane for themselves so they can learn from it for themselves and make their own mistakes. We (the pastors, board, elders) have told them that they will make enough new mistakes to cover a lifetime of learning without reruns.

    How do you convince a group that trying failed past practices is irrelevant? We’re more than willing to move ahead, but totally unwilling to revisit practices that have crashed.


    • Dennis on December 14, 2018 at 8:54 am

      I feel your pain, Chaplain, and I wish I had a magic bullet for this quandary that comes up often and in settings other than church. As for me (I’m 63 and retired) I’ve stepped aside from a leadership role and have picked up the mantle of “cheerleader.” I’ll be happy to leverage my past experience as an “advisor” ONLY when asked, but will encourage and pray for our young leaders often. I also don’t advocate for or defend their initiatives to my contemporaries. That could give the impression of a “double motive” on my part.
      Have they tried to “barrel roll” the plane yet? Yep. Have they crashed it? Not yet. I’m praying for and cheering for the “pilots” that they don’t.

  6. Larry on December 13, 2018 at 10:28 am

    I want to be relevant!

  7. Steven Carruthers on December 13, 2018 at 9:53 am

    Thanks Carey,
    The big thing (in my early 30’s) that I’m trying to learn now is how to re-invent myself because I know i”m not connecting with my students like I used to (i can’t be that stupid/crazy older brother kind of guy.. I’m a dad now and my responsibilities in life have changed – thus my model needs to change and I feel like I’m in limbo).
    This is obviously something I’m going to deal with again probably in 10 years and then every 5 years a couple/few times, and then every 2-3 when I’m in my 60’s+.
    Lean on what works, scrap what doesn’t.

    The advice I was given was, “Think about the kind of leader you want to be. Now become that leader.” It’s hard to process and do, but it’s clearly vital. Any extra thoughts on this?

  8. Steve Clason on December 13, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Being a starter and a church planter, but also being 55… this is in my face. I have to be careful of my”get-off-my-lawn” attitude. God has been gracious in bring the right people around me to help me stay current: staff, my godly kids, leadership team, etc. Thanks for the challenge!

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