Command and teach these things. 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 4:11,12)
I'm a great believer in having a wide range of ages connecting with young people in some form of leadership or mentoring role within the church. I'm always concerned when I see that the only leaders in a youth ministry are those in their late teens or early twenties.
Older people have a wealth of life experience, insight and theological understanding that is indispensable for teenagers. Young people commonly go through a stage in which the beliefs of their parents are set to one side as they try to decide on what they'll believe independent of their parents. A helpful way to do this is to listen to other adult voices and ask the questions that are troubling them.
That's not to say however that younger leaders have little to offer in comparison.
It might seem sad to me but it's true - no teenager looks at me at my age and thinks "I want to be just like him!" Yet experience shows that they will look at older teens and those in their twenties who model for them what it means to love Jesus and aspire to be just like them.
Being young gives you that advantage over me but with this opportunity comes responsibility.
Apparently Timothy was young and was struggling with a tendency among older people in the
church to look down on him in his leadership role because of his youth.
The hardest criticisms you'll face in leadership are those you know to be true! In this case, Timothy was young! There was no way around it. In these verses Paul offers a solution.
Actions speak louder than words, so rather than trying to convince people he was "old enough", Paul quite simply offered this solution: "Be an example..."
There was nothing Timothy could do to stop people looking down on him. He couldn't control their thoughts but he could control his own behaviour. Paul listed five areas to focus on.
The first is speech. You can tell a lot about someone by the words they use. If you were looking to become a leader on my team and you used bad language or gossiped, I would be hesitant to use you. The words you speak indicate the degree of self-control you have. If you can't control your own speech how can you possibly exhort those you lead to exercise self-control in their own lives?
The second area a young leader needs to pay attention to is their conduct. Young people will remember far more of who you are than what you say. It only takes one foolish or thoughtless act to undo thousands of good words.
The third area is love and what Paul had in mind here was more than an emotion - it was an act of the will. As a leader you'll be expected to love everybody: the young person who is difficult or abusive; the parent who is critical; another leader who you clash with; or the person who looks down on you because you are young. Paul, says, just resolve to love these people and express this love in the way you treat them, even if your feelings don't always match.
The fourth area Paul mentions is faith. Young people underestimate the effect that a youthful and passionate faith can have upon older people. A unique temptation faced by many older people is cynicism and apathy. They can start to take their faith for granted and lose their edge.
Young people, with their idealism, enthusiasm and simple faith can be an inspiration in much the same way that Jesus commended children as an example of faith in Matthew 18:3.
Finally, Paul exhorted Timothy to be an example in purity. There is little you can do about your age, but determining to remain pure is something you do have control over. There is nothing more discouraging for young people than to see someone they look up to, experience a moral failure. Beware what you feed into your mind and the decisions you make.
Your youthfulness may be seen by some as a reason to look down on you but no one will look down for long on anyone whose speech, conduct, love, faith and purity is exemplary.
Consider each of the five things Paul lists in these verses. Which do you most need God's help with, in order to be an example to those who watch you lead?