By Kari Lutes, Contributing Writer
They barely surpass five feet each, but 20-year-old twins Kayla and Payton Sheeran are preparing to take on a task many far taller—and older—leaders would be deterred by.
On June 27, 2015, Kayla and Payton will board a plane to head for Jamaica, where they will lead a Southeast Christian Church mission team of up to 30 members for one week. The sisters, who have been to Jamaica four times, are excited to get back to the people at Life in Abundance (LIA), the organization they will work alongside, whom they think of as family.
Payton’s eyes brighten, her voice peaking higher as she tells me how excited she is to see her “brother” David Foster, five months from now.
Even in the excitement, Kayla and Payton share some doubts about taking the position of leadership, but instead of focusing on fear, they choose to look to the leaders who have gone before them and to the Holy Spirit to be their guide.
While returning to the familiar, this trip will hold some uncharted waters for the sisters. “I don’t feel qualified at all,” said Payton, when asked about the role she’ll have in leading the trip. Kayla added that the feeling of being inadequate for the job will prove to be one of the biggest challenges. However, when the fear strikes she reminds herself that God is her strength. “God called me to this,” she said.
The Apostle Paul tells us that there is strength in our weakness, and the Sheeran sisters are very aware of that. Payton said that feeling like she lacks qualification to lead will help her be vulnerable as a leader. Kayla also points out that while she may see where she lacks experience, she will be able to look for the strengths in other members of the team, allowing them to grow in their gifts as well.
In the last two years, Kayla and Payton have prepared for when they would be leaders of a trip to Jamaica by co-leading with their dad, Paul Sheeran, in alternating years—they just didn’t think their day would come so soon. “If you told me I was going to lead a trip even a year ago, I would have been like, um, no,” Kayla said of the possibility.
However, the opportunity came when their dad decided he wouldn’t be able to lead the Jamaican mission trip for a fifth time this summer. His daughters were asked to be leaders in his place, and after lots of prayer, they readily answered God’s call for a week of their summer.
Both sisters will look to the example their dad has given them as they set out to follow in his footsteps. They know they are not alone, and will partner in leadership with the people at LIA in Jamaica. Having strong leaders to look to is an arsenal both sisters are thankful to have in their belt.
Co-leading with her dad last year, Payton ran into a snag when the team was returning from Jamaica and their flight from Philadelphia to Louisville was cancelled. Payton used the opportunity to watch her dad lead. “I took extensive notes…about what my dad did, saying if this happened while I was a leader what would I do, how would I handle it,” she said.
The sisters also cite David Foster, the short term missions coordinator for LIA in Jamaica, as another example of a great leader. The biggest thing David has taught them is that it’s the Holy Spirit who leads, not the individual. “Letting the Holy Spirit lead you, letting him be what is leading and not you…you step aside, just be the vessel…I really see that in David,” Payton said of their Jamaican brother.
“He’s always like, no that’s the Lord, it’s not me,” Kayla added. “So, he’s very humble, and that’s a good example of a leader, someone who’s humble.”
As I packed up to go, I asked the sisters for advice for other young leaders who may feel as unqualified for a role of leadership. Again, both sisters reiterated their belief that it’s not you who has to lead. Both sisters advised to take the focus off your inadequacies and put it on God. “Don’t put God in a box and think He can’t use you,” Kayla said of taking on a looming task.
Payton agreed. “Don’t let fear lead you,” she said.
In the sisters’ minds leading is about getting out of the way. “You’re the best leader you can be when you put yourself aside,” Payton advised, her words taking some of the burden off young people who feel they may not have what it takes to lead.
“Anyone can be a leader,” Kayla stressed, a reflection of the sisters’ mindset that the Holy Spirit can use anyone, so long as he or she is willing to follow.