Tuesday, October 18, 2016


In what is perhaps the most-quoted bit of pastoral advice ever recorded, Paul wrote to Timothy, Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young.

But there's young, and then there's young.

As children, we are a certain type of young, but that's not really what Paul's talking about here. In an authentic young, people don't tend to look down on us. Rather, they look at us with eyes sparkling with potential (in the best of worlds, and even in the worst of worlds, there always seems to be one or two of these amazing persons who see more than we ever thought we could be). But when we're really young, people tend to be more honest about who we are.

They know our naivete. They know our inexperience. They know that we are little works in progress, and they don't hold us accountable to standards that we cannot possibly meet. After all, we are young. This is the time to teach us.

And they do. To a certain degree, the world invests in us when we are young. In our formative years, people spend their precious time and energy trying to mold us into something great. Or at least, something good.

But as we age, we reach a certain point where we become young again, and this is the struggle that Timothy, and many of the rest of us, really have.

At the time Paul wrote these words, Timothy was no child. It's not like Timothy was an emerging leader in the First Church Youth Group. No, he was rather what we would call an "established" man, perhaps right on the edge (in our contemporary model) of deaconhood or eldership. The church was starting to look to him for some significant level of service, but it was becoming apparent that this particular teacher was a little green.

He just didn't have a lot of experience.

And in this way, he was young. He was new. He'd been traveling with Paul to some degree for a while, but this was his first real shot at doing it on his own. And Paul knew the hurdles that he would face.

People would look at him and see a man less wearied than the most-famous apostle. They would look at him and wonder about his resume. Paul could claim churches all over the region; Timothy could really only claim Paul. The new church was going to face issues; that's a given. There were going to be people who didn't truth in Timothy's leadership to see them through it. What Paul says here is, You got this. You know what you're doing. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

That's the fundamental difference between being young and being young. As children, the world seems ready to teach us. The world seems willing to lend a hand to show us what we need to do. We're given the grace to mess up a little bit as we find our way. But when we're young, the world is all-too-ready to condemn. All-too-ready to scorn. All-too-ready to tell us that we don't know what we're doing, that we're not qualified, and that we may actually be a burden to the whole enterprise.

It's this kind of attitude that we face in ministry, and for most of us, it comes as quite a shock.

Because we're used to being taught. We're used to being led. We're used to being shadows of a greater apostle. When we get our first chance, we're pretty sure we know what we're doing, but there are always going to be people who don't think we have a clue and who aren't willing to give us a chance. There are always going to be people who know this is our first time and who think we ought to magically move from no real experience to at least two or three good shots at it before we get our first chance. (Yes, I meant that exactly as it reads. No, it does not make sense.)

This is where they start to look down on us. Particularly if we also look youthful.

If you find yourself in this situation, you're not alone. In fact, you're in good company. I don't know anyone who has not gone through this period of transition, this time of being young - both in ministry and in secular occupations and social positions. At some point, we're all doing something we've never done before. At least, not on our own. Not with our own authority. And it's a learning curve, for sure.

But take to heart the words of Paul to his young Timothy. Because you got this. You know what you're doing. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

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