August 17, 2010
We don’t hear enough about the wonderful accomplishments of upcoming young leaders. In our ‘man-bites-dog’ media-saturated world, it is the ‘bad news story’ about youth that seems to get our attention.
The ‘Good Book’ is full of memorable stories about young people who made a difference when no one expected anything from them. Think about the young prophet Samuel in the Temple. Think about young David with his slingshot in front of an older and much larger Goliath. Goliath despised young David, saying: “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” And think about young Timothy, who was mentored by an older and wiser Apostle Paul.
Timothy was in an impossible situation in Ephesus, a port city in Western Turkey. The Apostle Paul had ‘parachuted’ Timothy into this troubled city to turn around a very confused and demoralized community. The problem was that the older, more sophisticated Ephesian leaders didn’t want Timothy around. They despised his inexperience, immaturity, and insecurity. Paul had to say to Timothy: “Don’t let people look down on you because you are young, but rather be an example for them in speech, in conversation, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.”
As the historian Dr. JW Milne puts it, “Ancient culture generally admired age before youth.” Paul was saying to Timothy: “Don’t let anyone underestimate your worth and value.” As the well-known Dr. John Stott puts it, this “is a perennial problem. Older people have always found it difficult to accept young people as responsible adults in their own right, let alone as leaders. And young people are understandably irritated when their elders keep reminding them of their immaturity and inexperience, and treat them with contempt.”
Now what age was Timothy anyways? Scholars estimate that ‘young Timothy’ was probably around 35 years old. Michael Griffiths commented that “Young in ancient culture meant anyone young enough for military service; ie under 40 years of age”.
So how was young Timothy to get credibility with older people, as he attempted to exercise leadership? The Apostle Paul was clear that Timothy’s authority was not to come by pushing his weight around, by bragging about his credentials, or by laying down the law. Dr. John Stott wisely noted that “the great temptation, whenever our leadership is questioned, threatened, or resisted, is to assert it all the more strongly and to become autocratic, even tyrannical.” The Good book defines healthy leadership as: “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples.” Rather young Timothy was to gain acceptance by setting an example in the way he not only ‘talked the talk’ but also ‘walked the walk’.
One of the most powerful ways that young Timothy set an example was by not ‘throwing in the towel’ when he felt discouraged. Sometimes Timothy was discouraged, disappointed and distressed, but like Winston Churchill, he never ever gave up. Young Timothy had that essential leadership ingredient that some called ‘stickability.
The Apostle Paul also encouraged Timothy by reminding him that he was very gifted. “Don’t neglect the gift that God has given you”. It is so easy to focus on our weaknesses and neglect our God-given gifts and abilities.
The Apostle Paul said to young Timothy that if he devoted himself to keep growing in his God-given gifts, then everyone would notice how much that he had matured and progressed. One of the dangers with leadership is that we stop growing, and we lose that sense of teachability. The word ‘progress’ in the Greek means to ‘cut in front’ and is used of armies advancing or ships cutting through water. Progress contains the graphic picture of a pioneer cutting his way forward through obstacles by means of a strenuous effort, like a man blazing a trail through a tangled Canadian forest.
One of our bishops, Chuck Murphy, had us do an exercise to find out if we are more like pioneers or settlers. Bishop Chuck concluded by saying that God is looking nowadays for innovative pioneers who are willing to be trail-blazers and ground-breakers.
My hope for those reading this article is that we may seek to honour the upcoming young leaders who will trail-blaze our future communities.