Pastor Willy: Churches need to give 20-somethings the chance to lead

Willy Rice, left, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, talks with FBW Executive Editor Kevin Bumgarner.The millennial generation presents unique challenges for a lot of churches. So, when I met recently with Willy Rice, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, I wanted to make sure I asked what they were doing to minister in this critical area.

As during other parts of our interview, Pastor Willy was candid in his responses.

“A church like ours, which is a multigenerational church that has been there for 150 years last year, we’re asking: How do we keep, how do we disciple millennials? I don’t know the secret sauce. If I did I’d write a book and everybody would read it.

“I don’t feel like millennials are like: Hey, we want our own church. They just want to know they’ve got a place—that there’s a place for them. And one of the challenges of multigenerational churches is getting millennials to know they have a place, that they’re valued.”

And to do that, Pastor Willy knows churches have a lot of catching up to do.

“In our world today, we’ve got people in their 20s who are the faces of multimillion-dollar enterprises, particularly athletes and entertainers. They’re 21, making hundreds of millions of dollars and they’re expected to act like the face of a football franchise. But in church, if you’re 23 you can’t even get a seat on a committee. You don’t even get to lead in silent prayer. It’s like, ‘Wait, we’ll get back with you in 25 years.’

“We’ve got to figure out how to fast-track our best leaders,” Pastor Willy says.

“I preached through I Samuel a while back, and one of the things that scared me when I looked back—it’s a book on transitions, from Samuel to Saul to David—and one of the things that jumped out at me and scared me was: David was like a millennial in the sense of his age. He was a late teen-ager, perhaps. He was in Saul’s kingdom at the very moment Saul’s army was stymied—another word for that would be plateaued, by the way.

They couldn’t advance, they couldn’t figure out how to move forward. He had all these resources, but nobody could beat the giant.

“But he had the resource. He just didn’t know it. It was a young kid back there watching sheep. He had it. It was there at his disposal.”

And then Pastor Willy said one of the most astonishing statements of our entire interview: “And that scares me as a leader.”

He went on: “The thing that could turn the tide of your battle could be sitting in your college department, it could be sitting in your student ministry. It could be an intern out making coffee. And he’s the guy with the idea that could turn the tide. And by the way [David was] completely loyal to Saul. Saul had nothing to fear from David. So you don’t have to fear turning a millennial into a hero. But we’ve got to figure out a way to let them live out what God’s put in them.”

This is the fourth-and-final blog from my interview with Pastor Willy. I posted a blog about how he is leading Calvary through what he calls the “multiplication” method of church expansion on Feb. 2nd. The link is here: On Feb. 9th, I posted a blog headlined: “Pastor Rice: Everyone can play a role when it comes to church planting.” That link is And, on Feb. 6th, I posted the blog “Pastor Willy: It’s arrogance that divides us as Southern Baptists.” That link is

A video of our conversation will appear on later this month, and an edited version of our conversation will appear as the “Behind the Pulpit” feature in the March print edition of the Florida Baptist Witness, which will be mailed on Feb. 23th.

Kevin Bumgarner is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. He can be reached via email at, and followed on Twitter @FBW_editor

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