I turned nineteen years-old in May of 2017. I graduated high school only one year ago. I accepted my call into ministry only a year and a half ago. I am what most people would call “young.” Sometimes this causes problems. Only a few years ago, I had situations where people did not take me seriously or did not give me any respect. The problem was not my age, though, but instead that I had not earned their respect.
I have directed community theatre plays with adult casts as well as a high school one-act with a cast made-up primarily of students older than myself at the time. Over the last year, I have led meetings with peers my age and older, preached to people five times my senior, and shared great discussions with my professors and mentors. I say all of this not to brag, but to explain: the age difference did not change, but I changed.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to his devoted student Timothy, he said, “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” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV). In chapter four, he describes Timothy, his role, and why he tells him this. For those going into ministry and even as a universal truth to all young Christians, this verse applies broadly outside of the narrower context of Timothy’s life.
Paul is telling Timothy to earn their respect. If you want to lead despite your age or circumstances, then you must set the example of behavior. Direct your course, so that the people around you have no choice but to follow. When Paul says set an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity,” he knows just how daunting and difficult of a task that he is giving Timothy, but he also knows that it is a necessary one. Although there are cases of people—even the young—earning undeserved respect, those cases are vastly outnumbered by those where respect must be earned.
I had a friend that always had 1 Timothy 4:12 as his favorite Bible verse for years, and I have begun to become increasingly partial to it as I attempt to follow its mandate to gain the respect of my elders, peers, and youth. I can summarize my advice to everyone seeking to lead, especially the young, in seven words: “set an example that must be followed.” In that verse, Paul communicates a wealth of wisdom: if you want to lead and earn respect (despite your age), then set an example that cannot be ignored. I challenge any young person reading this to think of what they can change either in their speech, conduct, love, faith, or purity to set a better example; and I challenge every older person to either find a young person that deserves respect and intentionally give it to them or find someone that needs to be mentored and do it. Final note: when leading, set an example that must be followed.