Can You Be Too Young to Lead in Church?
What your age should mean within your congregation.
I’m in my early twenties and have been asked to teach at my church. Many of the people in the group are my parents’, and even my grandparents’ age, and I’m not sure I can or should be teaching people who are my elders. Am I too young to teach?
– Still Green
Two things immediately stand out to me from your letter: first, you’ve been asked to teach. That means someone older and with leadership authority in your community has identified some character and gifting in you, and they want you to develop it.
This is a very encouraging sign: we often need experienced leaders to call out and cultivate gifting we may not even have been aware of in ourselves.
Secondly, you’re aware of your relative youth and inexperience. That’s also good. There are few things that annoy me as much as people who get up to speak when they have given little or no thought to how those hearing their words might be in a completely different life-stage and circumstance to them. Your awareness is a gift: humility is a gift.
Youth doesn’t disqualify you from teaching (just as old age doesn’t necessarily qualify anyone to teach). Any authority we hold in teaching Scripture comes from Scripture itself, not from our own credentials. People should pay attention because it’s God’s word, not ours. Like the noble Bereans in Acts, we should scrutinize every teaching—even those from the apostle Paul himself—and hold their words against the plumb line of God’s word.
God does not give children (or women) a junior Holy Spirit. Every believer is indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, and it is He who instructs, equips and teaches. As Paul encouraged Timothy when he was young and starting out in ministry: his gift was given by God, so he had to make sure to “not neglect his gifts” (1 Timothy 4:14), but rather “fan them into flame” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Scripture has precedent for us not to be afraid of developing the gifts we have: Timothy was specifically enjoined to devote himself to preaching, teaching and the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13); and in doing so, to not let anyone look down on him because he was young (1 Timothy 4:12). One of the greatest preachers in history, Charles Spurgeon, preached his first sermon just months after his conversion, at age 16!
So, Still Green, your relative youthfulness shouldn’t disqualify you from teaching those older than you, but you would still do well to approach teaching cautiously. James 3:1 tells us that those who teach are judged by a higher standard.
It’s more than our teaching, too, that needs to be up to par. Your entire lifestyle needs to be an example: in speech, in behavior, in love, in faith and in purity, says 1 Timothy 4:12. We set an example not just for those younger than us, but for the entire community of brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul doesn’t just tell his young charge to “develop his teaching skills” (although he does say that); but he also gives him firm warning to pay diligent, whole-hearted attention to Christlikeness in his life and his doctrine, too.
My advice to you is this: Use your gifts in the service of your community. However, it would be wise to put yourself in teachable, accountable mentoring relationships as you pursue this—so your growth in skill is accompanied by a growth in character at every stage.
Ask a handful of mentors to give you honest feedback not only about your teaching, but about every aspect of your relationships, work and thought life. As you do this, ask them, too, to share their own stories and life experiences. Not only will you learn a lot from their stories, but the breadth of their years of experience will, in turn, help you to interpret and apply the Scriptures in a more nuanced and wise way that, indeed, will reach those a generation older than you.
Age doesn’t qualify us to teach, but one thing age can give is maturity and a variety of life perspectives gained by different life experiences. Tap into the experiences of others, and serve our God alongside your older Christian brothers and sisters with great joy.
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