“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”
– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)
I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.
The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”
I never have. Never will.
Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.
I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?
And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”
So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.
That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.
I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.
And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.
Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.
Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.
Let them in.
Let them do.
Let them be.