Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What A Good Pastor Is To Do, 5

"Let no one despise you for your youth..." (1 Tim. 4:12a).

Now there is a sentence worth repeating: "Let no one despise you for your youth."

Is youth despised in our culture today? I think so. From the demonic assaults aimed at young people to the indifference of elders toward them, I think youth is despised.

Is youth despised in our churches today? I think so. Indifference is shown toward young people in quite a few churches, leaving folks with the impression that "church is for old folks." There's the pastor search committee that won't consider a man younger than 40 years old (which probably would have written off young Timothy, not to mention Jesus). There are the congregants who disregard a pastor's instruction because "he's so young and inexperienced." That used to be said of doctors. But it's also said of pastors.

In a million ways youth can be despised. What young pastor doesn't know the frustration of trying to lead older members who resist his leadership not because they recognize errors or inadequacies in the pastor's understanding of the Scripture, the church or pastoral ministry, but because they very broadly and generally regard themselves as "older and wiser"? Now, Paul doesn't call Timothy to neglect the wisdom that comes from lived experience, from older members and leaders. Timothy would be wise to take full advantage of that. But he does tell Timothy not to capitulate wrongly to such views. Other people's estimation of him because of his youth is not to be a barrier to his leading the church and being a good pastor. Young age is not necessarily an impediment to godliness, maturity, and leadership ability in the pastor.

The sentence is written to Timothy, but it has application to young and old.

1. Older pastors should be willing to give space and take risks when it comes to younger pastors. They should not hold something that can not be changed (age) against their younger peers, especially since God doesn't hold it against them. Rather, they should encourage, instruct, support and train such young men as Paul did with Timothy. And this will inevitably mean giving the young pastor room to act and lead, again, as Paul did so often with young Timothy.

2. Young pastors are not to be brash and unteachable. We don't respond to those who "despise our youth" by in turn despising their agedness or becoming sulking, raving, cantankerous brats. That would certainly confirm their biases and make the task of leading all the more difficult.

3. And young pastors should not adopt an attitude of defeat in the face of people who despise their youth. Such pastors should not hang their heads, murmur or complain. They should square their shoulders, lock their eyes on Christ, and bid all to follow them as they follow Christ. One thing I saw Mark do often amidst things that might be regarded as "despising his youth" or some other conflict was to point the way forward, disdain distration, and push toward the mark. That could be frustrating for some people around him, but I'm learning how useful that quality can be in a pastor. At the end of the day, we have to keep following Jesus--whether we're the old ones despising the young or the young ones refusing to be "benched" because of the attitudes of others.

Perhaps you're a young pastor facing this kind of difficulty. Beloved, you must not quit. You must not shrink. You must not whine and pout. You must "command and teach." It's interesting that Paul's instruction in verse 12 follows the rather strong word to "command" in verse 11. Likely he knew about the fear of man and the tendency to cave that resides in young ministers.

There seems to be at times a 1:1 correspondence between youth and hesitancy to lead with authority, the younger you are the less likely you are to lead with an authority commensurate with the authority of God's Word and the office. So, in an interesting sort of way, this instruction calls Timothy to "man up," to "grow up," to lead in such a way that his age is no predictor at all of his ability, godly confidence, and dependability as a pastor. It's what a good young pastor is to do. So it's a good word to young pastors, and a good challenge to older members and pastors.


Scott Welch said...

Thank you so much for this! I am a young pastor and I needed to hear this today desperately. May God continue to be glorified in your ministry.

Colin Adams said...

Thabiti, these are very wise words on a topic not often discussed. Like Scott, I am a young pastor, beginning four years ago with my church, aged only 22. It certainly brings peculiar pressures from both outside and within. I'll be sure to take this wisdom to heart.

P-Lee said...

Very timely post related to what I looked at this morning in Jeremiah 1.

In response to God's call to Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah says, "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth" (1:6).

About this response, Philip Graham Ryken writes:

"God did not disqualify Jeremiah on the basis of his youth and inexperience. In fact, he treated him the same way he treated Moses. He did not deny the basis for the prophet's objection. He did not argue with Jeremiah about his speaking credentials or quiblle with him about his age. Jeremiah may have had reasonable doubts. But God exposed his false humility for what it really was: a lack of faith.

Jeremiah had forgotten that God is not limited by human weakness. God himself possesses everything Jeremiah needs to answer his call. In fact, enabling weak tools to do strong jobs is God's standard operating procedure. His entire work force is comprised of dubious candidates. When God calls someone to do a job, he gives him or her all the gifts needed to get the job done. With God's calling comes God's gifting."

Tim said...

I am a young pastor (26 years old) and have found that my peers in ministry often throw this verse around in order to justify themselves when accurate criticism comes along. Rather than heeding advice from those older and wiser, they let the input bounce off with this verse in mind, "Oh, the elders are just looking down on me because I'm young, but scripture says they shouldn't, so I'm right, they're wrong." This attitude so dangerous and feeds arrogance. The balance is knowing the difference between legitimate criticism and what's not legitimate and heeding the what's said with wisdom.