Over the last two years, an awareness that I am no longer the young kid has found me. I began full-time vocational ministry twenty years ago at age twenty-seven. Our church was an older group of people back then, and I regularly found myself as the youngest person in leadership meetings, conferences and fellowships. I actually enjoyed the privilege of learning from those in their fifties, sixties and seventies, and I am so glad I stayed where I was planted. Remaining in one place has the benefit of experiencing personal growth alongside of ministry growth. Five years after I was hired full-time, I became the senior pastor of that same church at the ripe old age of thirty-two. As I grew older year after year, we began seeing more younger families join. I was growing in years while the median age of the church family was getting lower. Eventually, just a few years ago, I looked over the flock and concluded that the shift was official. I was no longer the young guy. So, spending time these days with people, primarily men, twenty or more years younger than me, I can see two things that grab my attention. Firstly, I can see some good things that I have lost as I have grown older; younger people make me aware that there are some things I should seek to recapture. Secondly, I can see some pitfalls in these young men that are attached to their youth that I am now old enough to help them with. I want to spend some time going over a famous passage of Scripture that came through an older man unto a younger man. Please, if you are a woman, do not tune out. These upcoming posts will be more about our maturity level than our gender. So, let’s ease into some initial observations today from 1st Timothy 4:12-16.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
The aged Apostle Paul wanted to help his young protégé, Timothy, in the ministry God had entrusted to Timothy. Paul knew the good, the bad and the ugly about Timothy, so he wrote him two letters to help Timothy to “stay in the zone” as a believer and as a leader. Timothy was given a mandate from Paul above which opened with the call to never become a victim of his age. This is a good word to all of us, whether we are older or younger. Our age has inherent weaknesses attached, and we must be aware of those. Timothy was a younger minister, serving in a flock that had older men and women. It was important that Timothy recognized his need to live out an impeccable testimony so that his Kingdom influence was not undermined by the proven pitfalls which come with being younger, less experienced and not as wise as some he was called to influence. Paul told Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth.” What potential might Paul have been warning Timothy about?
Younger people almost always have twice the amount of knowledge than they do wisdom. The have obtained the facts but not the skills. If they are zealous Christians, they have a huge gas pedal, a full tank, a big engine…but no on-board GPS to direct them. These observations, of course, are generalizations. Not all young people live out these weaknesses, but most do. I sure did. Young people are impulsive and dreamy. Young people do not always go to the back end of a commitment to see what is required before they impetuously say yes at the front end of that commitment. This hurts to hear, but young people often feel entitled. They can be susceptible to expecting the reward without putting in the work. They frequently rely on their gifting without developing the discipline. Ultimately, young people, because of vision and zeal (good things!), set things in motion without much thought about what happens with that moving thing as it goes. They often steamroll over people in order to accomplish their plans. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some young people can be easily intimdated, reluctant and procastinating because of a lack of godly confidence. Timothy may have been susceptible to all of these things and more. Paul knew that if Timothy did not remain aware of the stereotypical downfalls of a young person, he would become part of the conglomerate of people who were dismissed because of youthful impetuousness, pride, unteachability and presumption. Neither did Paul want the young pastor to be intimidated into inactivity by those older than him. Paul cared far too much for his young friend to allow that to happen.
So, he placed the responsibility to pursue maturity squarely on Timothy’s own shoulders when he told him, “Timothy, whatever it takes, do not allow for the possibility of someone dismissing you because you are acting your age. Timothy, you will need to up your game.”
If I had time and space, I would seek to go to bat for the younger generation today by also writing about what it might mean for those who are older to live in such a way that nobody dismissed them for their advanced accumulation of years. The bottom line is that both the young and the old must work hard at not becoming a victim of the weaknesses of each generation. We do not belong to ourselves. The Kingdom does not belong to us alone. We received influence from the previous generation in the Kingdom, and we are exerting influence on the next generation. We must remain aware of this. We must keep our generational & cultural fingerprints from smudging the visible manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom. We must steward our influence well. There can be no generational hostage-taking, whereby we make the Kingdom look like what we are comfortable with.
For the younger in the Kingdom, this means slowing down, embracing discipline, listening to those with more years than you and humbling yourself to prepare for the long haul rather than the instant rush of getting something done the way you like it done. For the middle-aged and older Christians, we must recognize that our peak has crested and that intentional efforts must be placed on investing in a generation very different from our own. They need some of what we have. We may need to recapture some of what they have. In the end, it can never be a contest between generations because we are a team. We are a body.
We are a forever-family.