Written By Tyler Edwards, USA
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.
At what age is a person old enough to become a leader in the church? We love having younger people serve, but when can they transition from serving into leading?
1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” How a person serves in church should not be limited by their age. As a general rule, the “young” have more free time, energy, and passion than our older counterparts. But too often, we can’t preach because we are “too young.” We can’t lead because we are “too young.” We can’t organize an event because we are “too young.” The list goes on. Too often, our abilities and gifts are never considered because they’re hidden in the shadow of our age.
Age is a factor, but it is a far less important factor than maturity. I have seen 60-year-old Christians with the spiritual maturity of toddlers, and I have met teenagers with a passion for the Kingdom and a closeness to the Lord that many senior citizens have never experienced. It is dangerous to see someone older and assume that because they have gone to church for a long time, they have a mature relationship with God.
Timothy the Youth
1 Timothy is a letter Paul wrote to someone called Timothy. We know from the letter that Timothy was a young man, and many scholars think that he might have only been 16 years old when Paul first met him in the city of Lystra. In our society, that’s not even old enough to vote! Yet Timothy already had a reputation as a godly man, from Lystra all the way to Iconium (Acts 16:2). That’s 40 miles, which is two days’ travel by foot. In today’s terms, Timothy would have been internationally-known.
Timothy was young, but Paul didn’t say he was “too young.” Instead, Paul sent him to resolve some of the most significant problems at churches across the region—including at the church in Corinth, which we know had sexual immorality, incest, and all sorts of other problems! Timothy also pastored the world’s first megachurch at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). He taught, preached and was in charge of a church, all at an age that today would likely be considered “too young.”
Timothy had skills and was called by God. Paul saw that, and he used Timothy—despite his young age—to do what God had gifted him to do. The Great Commission Jesus gave applies to every Christian. There is no age requirement. If the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, why do we turn away perfectly good help just because they don’t have as many years under their belt?
The church is often guilty of ignoring 1 Timothy 4:12. When considering someone to serve and lead in church, we must learn to look beyond their age, and see their maturity, their faith, how they conduct themselves, how they speak, and how they love.
Lead by Living an Example
But 1 Timothy 4:12 is not only a challenge to the church. It is specifically a challenge to young Christians. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” That’s a call for us to display our maturity beyond our years by setting an example. We can’t control how others think of us. We can’t control how they will judge us. But we can demonstrate our love for Jesus, our maturity in speech, and in conduct.
Too often, we approach the older generation as if they are out-of-touch dinosaurs. Don’t come in with a list of complaints. Don’t demand that others listen to music you like or dress like you. Your greatest gift is your passion, but if you want more seasoned Christians to take you seriously, you need more than that.
You need to offer them the respect you want to receive. If you approach someone with frustration or contempt, you are likely to receive it in return. But if you show your passion and heart for the Gospel, if you demonstrate your maturity in Christ and seek for others to come alongside you, you might find that they try to listen. Share a vision for reaching your generation and invite others to join with you.
I was 21 when I first served as a lead pastor in a church, and most of the congregation was old enough to be my grandparents. I knew that my age was an obstacle for the congregation, and I didn’t want it to distract them from what I had to say about Jesus.
So I sold the beautiful car that I loved in exchange for a four-door family vehicle. Every Sunday I donned a nice suit, despite the fact that I really don’t like suits. No one had asked me to do this. I did it because I wanted to help the church accept me in spite of my age. I didn’t change my personality—that would be fake—but I focused on changing how I presented myself. I met my church members in the middle. I didn’t just demand their acceptance.
More importantly, I focused on what I was qualified for. As a 21-year-old kid, I was not qualified to give a lot of life advice. But I had Bible knowledge. For years, all my application, all my advice, all my expertise came from knowing the Bible and from getting to know it better. People didn’t care what I had to say about raising their kids, because I had never raised kids. So I shared what the Bible said. I didn’t talk about my perspective or my opinion. I talked about the Bible.
God did not say that no one has the right to look down on us; instead, He challenges us to live in a way that no one can look down on. Prove maturity by setting an example of godly character. Present yourself appropriately. Live like Jesus.
No one looks down on someone who speaks well, who lives right, who has a strong faith, who loves, and who characterizes maturity. People don’t look down on examples—they follow them.
So what does that look like?
1. Be involved
Everyone respects someone who works hard. Get involved in the old system even if it needs a lot of improvement. Serve. Work hard. Prove that you care. Often we complain, but we don’t want to do anything ourselves. We’re busy with our own lives, but so is everyone else. The people who hold the most sway in a church are the ones who work hard and are actively a part of it. The more involved, the more reliable, the more invested in our church we are, the more people will care about what we have to say.
2. Take initiative
If you have an idea, take action. As a church pastor I can tell you, no one comes to us with more ideas for things they think should change than young, idealistic Christians. At the same time, no one is harder to get involved in the work and mission of Jesus than those same young idealistic Christians. While we need to be careful not to over assert ourselves or to act out of bounds, sometimes doing something unofficially can wake the church up to do it officially. When you do it first, you prove you have your thumb on the pulse of the community.
3. Let go of your entitlement
The Gospel is clear: the only thing we deserve is death and eternal condemnation. It is only by the grace of God that salvation is possible. Entitlement is anti-thetical to the Gospel. Let go of your entitlement. Don’t take things for granted. Appreciate what others do. Be gracious. Be patient. Be humble.
Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him, and Paul told him how exactly to achieve that. Set an example—in your speech, your behavior, your love, your faith, your maturity.
The church needs young leaders. The world needs Timothys. Out of our love for Jesus, those of us who are young need to learn to grow and mature as Godly Christians so that we might lead now. Not just 20 years from now.