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Let No One Despise You: Wisdom for Young Pastors

As a 73-year old man, it’s okay for me to admit this. We older guys can be a real pain in the neck. For example, when a senior church member looks down on you, a young pastor, with a condescending eye. When your sermon, or your comment in a meeting, or whatever your contribution, doesn’t count for much. And why does this happen? You aren’t being unfaithful to Scripture. You aren’t lapsing into fallacious reasoning. In the moment, there seems to be only one reason why you don’t carry the weight you deserve: your youth. And there is nothing you can do about the sheer fact of your age.

But maybe there is. Paul, the older pastor, advises Timothy, the younger pastor, about this very problem: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Let’s think our way through this insightful verse, phrase by phrase. It’s in the Bible to help young pastors today.

Let No One Despise You for Your Youth

It’s not that the despisers consciously intend to diminish you. But still, they sometimes do. I respect Paul’s frankness in putting this problem right out on the table in plain view of his young friend: “Sadly, there are some people who will just plain despise you. I understand this insult. You do too.”

Any of us can cheapen, scorn, marginalize, roll our eyes at — these are the ideas behind the word despise — another person within the thoughts of our minds. The other person might have no awareness of what we’ve done. But still, in our mental categories, we relocate that person from serious to frivolous. Then we don’t have to deal with him anymore. This cruelty of heart is a knife-thrust into the body of Christ.

Paul fully expects Timothy, as a young pastor, to be on the receiving end of this foolishness. For example, the despisers might say things like, “Son, when you grow up, you’ll see things my way.” Or, “Son, I was a member of this church before you were born. What do you know?” It can take many forms.

“Don’t let your despisers live rent-free in your head.”

But the apostle, himself an older man, respects his young friend, puts his arm around Timothy’s shoulder, as it were, looks deeply into his eyes, and says quietly, “Don’t let your despisers live rent-free in your head. They have no idea who you are, what you offer, how much your ministry is worth. The Ancient of Days sure never speaks to you the way they do.”

Younger pastors — and older pastors! — should never allow uncomprehending people to define for them their identity and worth. Only God has the right to speak to us at that deep level. Here’s what he says: “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4). Stabilized by the good news of our worth in the eyes of our Lord, any pastor can stand tall with dignity and keep going.

How then can younger pastors best respond to the inevitable slights?

Set the Believers an Example

“But set the believers an example,” Paul says. In other words, “Timothy, you can’t stop the unfairness. But you can still defeat it — and without becoming a jerk along the way. You can win by the undeniable reality of your consistent, publicly obvious example. Your despisers can count your years, but they cannot discount your maturity. Every church needs a grown-up in the room — always. You be the grown-up. It has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with character.”

Pastor, your best answer to an insult — maybe not your only answer, but your best answer — is to embody the personal magnificence everyone in your church respects. Not that it’s easy. It is so tempting to mouth off at people who mouth off. We feel that itch inside for a quick remedy. But we all know Matthew Henry is right when he comments, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.”

God offers us deep wisdom in the biblical call to “the patient endurance that [is] in Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). Here is the insight: God uses time. God created time as his servant. And because you are God’s child, time is your servant also. In fact, “all things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21). So, the passage of time is working for you. While you keep going with patient endurance, plodding along in the power of the Spirit, not lashing back but doing the next right thing, your servant Mr. Time is quietly and successfully doing his behind-the-scenes job, moving events toward your vindication. You don’t have to make a satisfying outcome happen. God will make it happen, using his servant and your servant — time. Your exemplary character over time is a powerful answer to your detractors.

Yes, I know. We all hate patient waiting. Amazon Prime built its business on our impatience! But whenever we force a hurried victory, it always backfires on us. Humble waiting, filling in the interval with sustained integrity, creates no regrets, leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Here are the actionable areas of growth that can make you admired more and more in the eyes of older Christians:

Speech, Conduct, Love, Faith, Purity

“In speech,” because our words shape the culture of our church, moment by moment. And when the pastor’s words make the moment better, and the people in the room become more hopeful and settled and confident and united, that pastor, however young, will be admired. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 10:11).

“In conduct,” because our magnanimous interactions with people in the church and in the community argue forcefully for our nobility of stature. In every conversation, whatever the topic, what’s really happening in that moment is the display of personal character. And no one can keep you from the conduct that even a cynic is compelled to respect.

“In love,” because the tender selflessness of love feels like the presence of the risen Christ. You might or might not be a great preacher of sermons, but every pastor can be a great lover of souls. When exhausted people drag themselves into church on a Sunday, as they do every Sunday, you be their gentle shepherd leading them to their ultimate Shepherd. They will thank you. And the tone of the whole church will change.

“Nothing is so breathtaking as a pastor who believes in God and walks with God.”

“In faith,” because nothing is so breathtaking as a pastor who believes in God and walks with God. I remember my dad quoting Ralph Cushman: “There is something magnificent about these prophet-dreamers who are so sure of God.” That’s you. Go ahead and show it. Your people will be inspired.

“In purity,” because in a predatory world, a man who isn’t out for himself, a man with whom vulnerable people are safe — that man will be sought after. And the younger he is, the more striking his purity will be. A young man with a fatherly heart for people? Anyone who disparages such a pastor will end up only embarrassing himself.

Setting an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity — you don’t need money in the budget for that. You don’t need anyone’s permission to start. You are right now fully equipped in every essential to set an uplifting example for everyone in your church, for God’s glory.

It almost makes me feel sorry for your haughty critics. The future will be hard on them. But your future ministry will be more and more fruitful, because patient, gentle, exemplary saintliness is the greatest power in all the world. God is faithful to make it so — and to keep it so.

Credit: Ray Ortlund

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