I first started serving on staff at a church when I was 18 years old. Forest Hills Baptist Church called me to be their student pastor at the age of 23. Then they called me to be their Senior Pastor at 25. I say that not to draw attention to my age, but to share a continual struggle I’ve experienced the last decade in my ministry—not being despised for my youth. Over the course of my first decade in ministry, 1 Timothy 4:11-16 is well worn in my Bible. I’ve referenced it frequently in the midst of my insecurities for encouragement and guidance.
“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 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.” (1 Timothy 4:11–16, ESV)
I know there are many young pastors like myself out there who struggle to minister to people much older than themselves. But what Paul shows us in these few verses is that over time and by the grace of God, the older saints will grow in their respect for us as they see our maturity in Christ. How do young pastors model godliness as leaders to those around them? Paul gives us four ways.
1. We Model Godliness in our Character.
We are to set “an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This means that the godliness we cultivate in our life is put on display in our relationships with others. If you hope to garner the respect of the congregation, the grace of God should be evident in your life. If you’re a gossip or if you are a hot-headed, immoral, unreliable person, you are not going to gain the respect of anyone. We are all called to set an example to one another, particularly for those in leadership in the church.
2. We Model Godliness in our teaching.
Paul instructs Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” He tells Timothy not to “neglect the gift you have,” that gift being teaching. The authority of the pastoral office is not derived from age or experience, but from the authority of God’s word. The Bible is the rod in the hand of God’s shepherd. If a young pastor hopes to garner the respect of older saints, he must display a mastery of the Scripture but also display that he’s been mastered by it. He must use his gifting of teaching to faithfully build up the church. This for me (as shown in the journal quote earlier) became the great truth I’ve clung to as a young pastor. When anyone seeks to despise me from my youth, not only have a sought to model godly character, but I’ve devoted myself to faithfully teaching the Scriptures. I’ve labored hard to proclaim the word of God in season and out of season, and though I may be young—I pray that I’ve garnered the respect and trust of my congregation.
3. We Model Godliness in our Growth.
Paul tells Timothy to “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see you progress.” As a young pastors, we are far away from arriving to perfection. Yet, if we hope to gain the respect of older saints, we must display a pattern of growth, saturating ourselves in the truth. All should be able to observe our progress, our growth, and our maturity. As I think back over the last decade, I think of so many failures and sins in my life! I thank God I’m not the man I was at 18! I thank God that I’m not the man I was last year! I think of how much I’ve grown as a husband and father, pastor and preacher—and I still have such long ways to go! Again, no body hits perfection in this life, but over the course of our Christian journey those closest to us should be able to observe our steady plodding and growth in godliness.
4. We Model Godliness in our Endurance.
Our faithfulness to Christ must stand the test of time. Paul cautions Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Watch your life and your doctrine closely! He goes on to instruct Timothy: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” By enduing in the work of ministry over time, persisting in cultivating and modeling godliness, God will work. By continuing to faithfully shepherded the congregation, even as a young pastor, not only will Timothy’s own life be saved, but so too will those entrusted under his care. We must persist and persevere in Christ until the end, and a faithful shepherd who watches his life and teaching well not only has the gracious reward of heaven, but has the joy of knowing he helped his church to cross the finish line of faith.