The train of time continues to chug down its tracks with increasing velocity. I'm now entering the tenth week of my ten-week internship in Manhattan, and it feels like I just began. Things at the church have been going great. The youth minister I'm working with is actually in Ecuador with eleven of the students on a mission trip, so for the last week I've gotten to play Youth Minister. So I get to sit at the big desk in our office. It feels nice. As long as I can keep all the students from denouncing Christ for one more week, I will consider my internship a glorious success. I feel like my last week may be a little slow, because I already have my Wednesday night lesson done, so all I can really think of to do is write a lesson for the next Sunday School and clean up the office. So if you feel like coming to Manhattan and taking me out to lunch...I'll probably be free.
1 Timothy 4:12 says this: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."
Youth ministries love this verse. When I was in middle school, our guys' Bible study was called "Platoon." And we had these sweet dogtags with our names on them and the reference to this verse. And I would wear it around, but underneath my shirt because I had another chain with a little flame on it that I wore too. And I eventually lost the dogtag, and I decided I should grow up and stop wearing the flame necklace when I turned twenty-one.
I'm a member of a very demanding generation. We demand our rights! We demand respect! We demand not to be judged! We demand to be heard! We demand drive-thrus that are open till midnight or later! And the same is true even among Christians. So the first half of 1 Timothy 4:12 becomes our mantra as we stream into churches shouting "Don't you dare look down on me because of my youth! God said that you have to listen to what I have to say!"
But there is a second part of the verse. It tells us to set an example through a lifestyle that is pursuing reflection of Christ's. Perhaps such a lifestyle is the means to the end of respect that the first half mentions. How does a young person keep others from looking down on him? By setting an example by his life. By establishing a filter between his reactions and his tongue. By guarding his conduct. By loving everyone as God does, seeing them through his eyes. By faithfully stepping out and trusting Jesus at his word. By grasping purity in the middle of a sensuously powered culture.
Society doesn't expect much from young people. Young people are supposed to go party and drink and have sex and hit the beach for spring break with hopes of landing a spot on an MTV special. They're supposed to be irresponsible, promiscuous, lazy, and self-centered. They're supposed to be everything but what Paul prescribes to Timothy. Culture has set the bar so low for young people, and unfortunately, we've often stooped to match their expectations. Alex and Brett Harris wrote a book called Do Hard Things, which is really geared toward high schoolers but can be easily applied to college students as well. And they talk about the "Myth of Adolescence," which says that young people are incapable of really doing much of any significance in the world. And maybe that's what Paul is talking about too. I'm twenty-one years old and in college. And I don't want to pretend that I'm older than I am. I want to go out and have fun and eat tacos at midnight. But I don't want to be immature either. We sell ourselves way short if we think that it's our responsibility to be foolish before we decide to finally "grow up."
As young, incoming Christian leaders, we sometimes like to complain about those who have gone before. We gripe about how the previous couple generations have crippled the church with their stubbornness and short-range vision. So it's a good thing we're here to save the day! And so we storm into the church making our demands for respect. And to some extent, we'll get it because we went to Bible college and have our names on a door in the church office and on the back of the weekly bulletin. But it's moronic to expect that others not look down on our youth if our lives remain spiritually infantile. Parents wouldn't let their baby make family financial decisions if he can't even wipe his own butt. So we shouldn't expect the church to pay too much attention to what we have to say if we're not willing to develop the lifestyle Paul outlines in 1 Timothy 4:12.
The purpose of Bible colleges are essentially to train Christian leaders. So we take all kinds of classes that teach us how to handle meetings and manage finances and work with other staff members and communicate effectively. And all of those things are important, but they're useless if not supported by a leader's lifestyle. Instead of flatly demanding respect, we need to demonstrate lives that demand to be heard.