Shepherding and providing pastoral oversight to people 20, 30, or even 60 years older than you can be quite difficult. There is the endless barrage of comments like, “You’re younger than my youngest child”, “You’re old enough to be my grandchild.” With multiple comments of these sorts, it dawned on me the possible attitudes that could be prevalent behind these statements. It could be a way for the older person to find “common ground” with you and it’s them attempting to break that barrier. It could be way for the older person not to be placed under the pastoral oversight of someone as young as their so-called “Christian” child. It could be a blatant lack of respect to the office by saying “you’re not my pastor.”
Regardless of the comments or the underlying message behind the comments, pastors are to minister to all and provide oversight for all. Before long, tempting thoughts may begin to convince you of these “objections.” A fear of man begins to creep into your discipleship and thereby prohibiting you to provide effective leadership or speech with 100% biblical fidelity. But how does a younger pastor gain the rapport needed to minister to those much older than him?
Honor them for their age
There is something to be said for men and women that have still fear God over the years. Moreover, there is something to be said about an elderly couple, when you are standing from the pulpit and see a husband leading his wife during the service. Any person younger than them has something to learn from their life.
Whenever we have older men and women under our oversight, we honor them for their age. 1 Tim 5:1–2 provides great insight into this idea. “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father…older women like mothers…” I’ve seen plenty of older men and women fall into grievous sins, but due to their age, they have the right to be treated with honor. From the nature of the word “rebuke,” sin is most likely involved. However, regardless of what has been done, because of their age, they have the right to be treated differently by those younger then them.
Listen well and be teachable to an older generation
I recall during my early adolescence, working for an older gentleman for weeks on end. I didn’t realize it until much later what this man was attempting to teach me. During our time together, he would tell me story after story after story of things he went through in life, lessons he had learned, people he had encountered, tragedies he had suffered, and more. This man was attempting to disciple me in a two-fold process: teaching me lessons of life and teaching me the value of working hard with my hands. I didn’t realize what he was doing at the time and I wish I had.
A younger pastor ought to listen to life’s stories that older men and women have lived through. On a more or less worldly wisdom principle, they have lived through life longer than you and possibly have non-moral earthly wisdom that will benefit your maturity, especially if it is from a man that fears God.
One item that revealed itself rather quickly was the inadequate doctrine of this man. Any brief study of the theological development during the 20th century will reveal that. Here is an older man under the influence of the “vineyard” movement, easy-believism, and deacon governance attempting to disciple a young man entrenched in the reformed resurgence. Even at the time, I could begin discerning the vast rift in our theological thinking. There was no need to fix his doctrine. For starters, it wasn’t the right place or the right time. Moreover, his doctrine would continue to be sharpened and molded as I would preach this coming Sunday.
Correction of doctrine will happen over time. Titus 2:1 provides the command to Pastor Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” There is then a list of what the older men and women are to instill in younger men and women. And this man was doing just that, he was instructing me “to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). Younger men and women ought to be placing themselves under the older generation for at least two reasons: 1. Provide a means to fulfill a Titus model of discipleship, and; 2. Learn (both good and bad) from a previous generation to change tomorrow’s decisions.
Set the standard of Godliness
Some immature older men and women place younger pastors under the microscope of failure, waiting for the moment to expose their young immaturity. And if that happens, it will take time to undo that one faux pau. Younger pastors ought to make great pains to set standards of godliness within the local church. Immaturity of doctrinal quarrelling, lack of teachability, and a lack of patience already plague our hearts.
Coming back to Titus 2 again, the structure is quite intriguing on how Paul provides instruction.
- Titus to teach sound doctrine (v.1)
- Conduct and character of an older man (v.2)
- Conduct and character of an older woman (v.3)
- Content of instruction from an older woman to younger women (v.4–5)
- Content of instruction from older men or Titus to younger men (v.6)
- Character and conduct of Pastor Titus (v.7–8)
Titus 2:7–9 states,
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Titus is to serve as the “model” of good works before his people. The excited young and vibrant preacher must demonstrate integrity in his teaching. The speech must provide no room for condemnation.
Furthermore, as a call to all pastors, part of our shepherding oversight of our flock is to provide an imitable life for them (1 Pet 5.3). Are people able to look at your life, your character, your thoughts and intentions, and conclude, “That’s what I want to be?” A younger pastor must go to great lengths to provide this example.
Don’t make a big deal about age by teaching true biblical wisdom
Though the previous exhortations attempt to elevate the age of others, there is also the balance of not widening the age gap in their mind. Encouraging it though immaturity will already confirm preconceived notions. The young pastor must not let those that are older look down or condemn because of age (1 Tim 4.12). However, the true test of wisdom has zero to do with age. Though with age, maturity should exist.
How many times have you had a conversation with an older man or woman that demonstrated no teachability within the local church? The proverbs call that person the fool. Proverbs 18:2 states,
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
How many times have you encountered a man or woman that is constantly complaining? That person is a thankless person, having no true “theology of trails,” and is heading the course of being “given over by God” and having a darkened heart. Romans 1:21 states,
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
The problem with the older generation is the years and years of compounding sin upon sin that will result in a blackened heart. It is extremely difficult ministering to older men and women because of the length of time they have continued in their sin.
True wisdom has NOTHING to do with age. Rather, true wisdom has everything to do with fearing God, shunning evil, and listening to instruction. Proverbs 1.5 states,
Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understand obtain guidance.
Proverbs 1.7 states,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Job 28.28 states,
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away form evil is understanding.
Setting the standard that wisdom is biblical knowledge applied to life and not always determined by age will take great amounts of effort. Yet, a six year old can posses more wisdom than an eighty year old.
Preach with great conviction and rich content
This will be one of the chief means to pastor an older generation. The primary command to Titus, within the contextual descriptions of generations of men and women, is to “preach sound doctrine” (Tit 2.1). There is nothing greater for a pastor to step behind the sacred desk and say, “open your bibles.” It is at this moment that your life spent with the sheep is now backed by preaching and doctrine. This is the place not to back down from pointing out the hard biblical principles. This is the place not to have a fear of man. This is the place to present an exalted Christ, a life-changing word, and a rich gospel message.
There is nothing more disappointing for a pastor to realize at the end of the day that he acted with cowardess in the pulpit. Preach hard and firm the truthfulness of text with zero apologies. Step off the platform with humility. Put your arm around your sheep. Gaze your eyes up to the pulpit and say, “Isn’t God great, let’s try to worship Him together.” Preach hard and firm with conviction, only to step off the platform to have great patience, love, and affection for your sheep.
Truth and time go hand-in-hand
There is the old adage, “truth will be exposed for what it is over time.” This is somewhat of a biblical principle. It is true that everything will be laid bare before God during the final judgment. However, what this statement typically refers to is that truth will be exposed in this present life. This is not true at all! Consider Job. No reason or information was ever given to him for why he suffered. No vindication was ever given for Job before his friends. The idea that truth will be exposed in this life is some man-made psychological means to relieve them of their present pain. God may never reveal it in this life but will keep it hidden.
However, for the preacher’s life, “truth and time” go hand in hand. An exhortation given to young Pastor Timothy is 1 Tim 4.16,
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers
Oh young pastor, watch your character in private, watch your conduct before the sheep, and take great efforts to continue refining your biblical thinking! For by doing so, over time, your life and your teaching will be the means to save your hearers!
What this means is that we need young preachers to have longevity in a single local church. We need young pastors to show up first to crises in other’s lives. We need young pastors that demonstrate teachability to the word and the wisdom of others. We need young pastors to stand behind the sacred desk and preach hard the things of scripture. We need young pastors to provide the standard of raising a family before others, of addressing personal failures and sins, and of demonstrating great patience to their sheep.
How does a young pastor reach the older generation? Break the mold of youthful immaturity, act like a wise man, watch your life, love your people, preach hard, and demonstrate great patience and teachability with others.