Young Leaders: Who Will Replace Eugene Peterson and Other Giants We’ve Lost?

by Carey Nieuwhof

Just a few days ago, Eugene Peterson died. Like you and so many others, I felt the loss quite deeply.

In the last few years, not only have we lost Eugene Peterson, but also Billy Graham and Dallas Willard among others.

When a giant voice in ministry disappears from us, the question that’s really on my mind these days is who will replace them? Do we have a younger generation of voices being forged who are able to offer the depth of wisdom, insight, grace and perspective that we’re losing when we lose a giant?

To be sure, age and wisdom are frequent companions. To expect a 30-year-old to say what 65-year-old Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson would say is unfair.

Fast forward a few decades and imagine a world in which perhaps thinkers like Ravi ZachariasTim Keller, Barbara Brown Taylor, N.T. Wright and others are no longer with us…and then what?

Of course, no one can truly replace the unique voices lost. But isn’t it our hope that every generation will have its voices?

Deeper, though, is this question: Are the conditions even favorable today for producing men and women who can step into the void?

I fear the answer is no, or at least I’m not really sure.

Why? Well, for a voice to endure—to have real significance—it needs depth, not just breadth.

We live in mostly in the age of breadth. And that makes me worry just a little bit for our collective future.

If you want to get a sample of what living a life in the unforced rhythms of grace is like, listen in on the interview I was privileged to have with Eugene Peterson in the summer of 2017. He was 84 years old at the time, speaking from his home in Montana. I was in my home north of Toronto.

I was in awe of how he said what he said as much as I was what he said. There’s no question he had spent a lifetime drinking from a deep well. His answers were unhurried, honest, unscripted and real.

My interview with him was also one of the last he ever gave. The week after we recorded, he announced his retirement from public life and interviews. A few months later, I received a handwritten letter from Eugene and his wife, Jan, thanking me for the way I did the interview. I will hang onto that letter forever.

You can listen to it below, or for free on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

So what does it take to cultivate a voice that has depth? What would it take for you to nurture a voice that speaks meaning into the lives of others during your lifetime, and perhaps beyond?

There are at least seven things I’ve noticed that the voices I admire have in common. I am not claiming to have done any well; these challenge me as much as they may challenge you.

But they’re real nonetheless.


Any of the great voices you admire, not only in theology and ministry but in any discipline or field, have spent their days reading, reflecting, listening, learning, processing, wrestling and in the case of Christians, praying, far more than they have speaking, writing, broadcasting or sharing.

In other words, their input exceeds their output. And that’s where the riches lie.

We live in an age where, I fear, in many cases, the output of many leaders exceeds their input. That’s dangerous.

In the financial realm, when your output exceeds your input, you go bankrupt. Your intellectual, emotional and spiritual life is exactly the same.

Because we now have media and an audience at our fingertips and in our pockets, and we can all be celebrities in our tiny universes, the temptation to speak out, broadcast and opine (see below) is constant.

If you want to live a life worth living and have a ministry worth following, your input should always exceed your output.


In a similar vein, the private walk of almost every significant voice is far greater than their public talk.

As you watch the tragic and almost constant implosion of pastors, politicians, athletes and business leaders today, you have to wonder if at the root of it all is a private walk that couldn’t sustain the public talk.

Jesus had no public life for 30 years. He simply prepared for three decades, building a solid foundation that not even betrayal and death could shatter. (He was, remember, fully human as well as fully divine, so this wasn’t just for show.) Then he taught, fulfilling his ultimate mission in three years.

That’s a 10:1 ratio of preparation over accomplishment.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone today who spends 10 hours preparing for every hour leading or speaking. Honestly, most of us barely spend an hour preparing for every 10 hours of leading. Hence, the shallowness of soul we suffer from these days.

If you want to your public talk to truly resonate, deepen your private talk.


We live in a culture that’s hopelessly motivated by reward. From the number of followers you have, to how much money you make, to the fame and notoriety more and more people seek, our culture is fascinated with fame and reward.

Most thought leaders never set out to be famous. In fact, they usually find the notion foreign.

Too many leaders today see the reward as the reward—the fame, the sale of a start-up to a VC firm, 70 bajillion downloads of your podcast.

If you’re seeking to be famous, you may find your few minutes here or there.

But for any legacy that lasts, just know this, the work is the reward.

So make the work your reward. Do the deep work whether anyone is listening, reading, watching. One day, you may look up and discover other people are listening.

And if not, no worries. You already got your reward.

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Source: Church Leaders