How Young is Too Young for Leaders?

It’s harder to be a leader when young than old, and the old folks don’t always respect the young leaders and the young often get irritated with the older folks. So, what to do? I suggest reading a short chapter by John R.W. Stott, in his book Problems of Christian Leadership (IVP, 2013). Yes, of course, Stott looks at 1 Timothy 4:11-5:5.

1Tim. 4:11   These are the things you must insist on and teach.  12 Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  13 Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching.  14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.  15 Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.  16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1Tim. 5:1   Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers,  2 to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.

1Tim. 5:3   Honor widows who are really widows.  4 If a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn their religious duty to their own family and make some repayment to their parents; for this is pleasing in God’s sight.  5 The real widow, left alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day;

This is a famous passage in the past for the issue of youth in leadership, and it is often ignored today when this issue arises. For some it seems like the elder-is-in-charge chain.

But Timothy’s authority was via Paul’s appointment. But he was relatively young. Commonly and Stott agrees, “youth” means under 40. Who knows why the folks were resentful of Timothy, perhaps because he got to do what they were hoping they’d get to do. So Paul deals with this very issue: what to do when you are young and others don’t respect your leadership?

First, Paul says watch your example. Look at me is more potent than do what I say.

Second, Paul says identify your authority: “Until I arrive.” Read the apostolic writings (Stott’s view) … teach them and preach them… and let those apostolic words be the authoritative voice.

Third, Paul says exercise your gifts.

Fourth, Paul says share your progress: “Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress.”

Fifth, Paul says mind your consistency.

Sixth, Paul says adjust your relationships. Notice these profoundly wise words: “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers,  to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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