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Respect Rules (1 Timothy 5:1,2a)

Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother. (1 Timothy 5:1,2a).

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I was training to be a youth pastor was this: "Never talk down to anyone. Talk to everyone as using the same manner you would use if you were talking to your boss."

It's advice that has served me well and can be summed up in one word: respect.

While I might feel I have a right as a youth leader to tell young people what they should do, if I don't show respect, they will ignore me at best or dislike me at worst.

When a leader shows respect to those they lead, these people are more likely to show them respect in return. When a leader shows respect, people will feel valued and in turn will value their leader. When a leader leads with respect, people become motivated to follow them. 

In this verse Paul has in mind two situations: leading those older than you and leading those younger than you.

Timothy was a young leader of a church. In this role there would have been occasions he'd have had to appeal to older men to examine and correct their behaviour. This would have been especially hard to do, given the strong cultural expectation that younger people show respect to their elders. 

Paul exhorts Timothy to act but to do so with the same respect he would show if speaking to his own father. What might this have meant in practice? Two words come to mind: gentleness and humility. By adopting this manner, Tmothy would both show respect to older people while at the same time teaching with God-given authority.

As a leader, most of the time you'll be leading people younger than yourself. Here Paul has more advice: talk to them as you would your brothers. In other words, speak to them as equals, showing the same gentleness and humilty.

Being humble and gentle doesn't mean we can't be speak up when someone is doing something wrong. If you need to offer correction, look a young person in the eye, and state directly what you're expecting of them. There is no need to speak loudly or aggressively. Two more words to keep here are firm and loving.

Being harsh and demanding may force young people to do what you say, but when you speak to them in a manner that is firm but loving, and if your approach is gentle and humble, you have the opportunity to not only change their behaviour but to win their heart.  

Now, of course, there is no guarantee that young people will listen and respond when you treat them this way. You need to set boundaries and at times you'll need to enforce rules but again, all this is done with a right balance of gentleness and firmness.    

At very least your approach will demonstrate that Christian leadership is primarily about love and respect, not dominance and control.

Reflection:

How do I speak to young people, especially when I want them to co-operate with me? What tone of voice do I use? Is it the same tone I'd use for an equal?

Do the young people I lead see me as someone who loves and respects them?