When young leaders are looked down on, organizations struggle. In the workplace, looking down on young leaders hinders the organization from moving forward. In the Church, the Body of Christ suffers because certain body parts are being restrained from working as they are intended. Forsaking young leaders is always a bad thing.
It is hard to be a young leader. Trust me, I know. I am one of them.
Not only do we deal with our own high expectations and the daily struggles of leadership, we also have to fight perceptions held by those who are older than us. Whether it’s the “I knew her when …” or the “When I was that age I …” young leaders are often times put through an unfair assessment by those whose numerical age is higher. Many times, these age-based assessments are unfair and get in the way of a young leader’s actual leadership.
What is a young leader to do in these situations? What should a young leader do when viewed as a second-class leader? One could look at Jesus and His “turn the other cheek” ethic. This is more of a passive response to older people looking down on us young leaders. There are times for young leaders to turn the other cheek and take the high road in regard to age-based criticism.
I think the Apostle Paul has something to say to us as well, and his approach is a more active solution to the problem. Paul wrote two letters to a young pastor named Timothy. In the first one, he gives Timothy this instruction: “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).
According to Paul, there are two responses that young leaders are to give in situations of age-based criticism. The most obvious of these is the second half of the verse that encourages young leaders to be examples. When faced with criticism, young leaders are to throw themselves into good speech, good conduct, love, faith and purity. Then the young leader’s critic may see this example and repent of their judgement.
This is generally where people stop. But there is a second command. Paul writes, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” That is an active command right there. It is like Paul is saying to Timothy, “Take active steps to not let anyone look down on you because of your age.”
There are three ways we can do this. First, before any age-based criticism comes, we should be pouring ourselves into being an example. It should not be a reactive thing, that criticism comes before example making, but example making should come first. In this, we must seek our own personal holiness.
Second, when criticism comes, we must speak our minds to our critic. This active confrontation is not something that comes naturally, but it requires a level of wisdom and maturity. When someone looks down on us because of our age, we must turn to them and let them know how that makes us feel. This isn’t scolding, but it is a chance to walk in relationship with others. Only if the young leader’s perspective is voiced can the older person repent of their sin.
Third, we must seek out places where our youth is not a problem, but rather an asset. I work at a church that values and respects me as a young leader. The pastors and staff give me opportunities to lead and to grow in leadership. They value my opinion and feedback as someone who can look at situations with fresh eyes. My age is not an issue here, but rather is an asset in a situation where young and old alike can submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, as Paul admonishes the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:21).
When young leaders are used to their full capacity, exciting things happen. Older leaders must always seek to let younger leaders free to do what God has called them to do. Young leaders must respectfully submit to older leaders but this should never be to the point where the young leader is looked down on. Only then can the Body of Christ reach its full potential.