Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
Paul wrote these words to the young pastor of Ephesus, Timothy. The reason he had to offer this encouragement is obvious. Timothy must have struggled to establish the credibility and confidence in his leadership, especially amongst those who were older than him. In that way, times haven’t changed that much. If we are honest, we too can often overlook and underestimate our youth. The temptation is to take the attitude that they are to be seen but not heard in our midst. And God forbid that they should take on any sort of leadership or significance in the life of the church.
A wise man of history once observed:
The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders… They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.
Would it surprise you to know that this quote is attributed to Socrates by Plato in 380 BC? There is truly nothing new under the sun! Youth can’t seem to get any respect. No matter which age they live in.
Today we celebrate Youth Sunday in our Diocese. It has been set apart so that we can recognize the importance of the youth in our midst, not just for their contribution to the church of the future, but also for the church today. Someone pointed out at a recent meeting that I attended, that most spiritual movements in history were started by people who made their faith commitment before the age of 20 and distinguished themselves as leaders by the time they were 28.
For example, Martin Luther came to Christ at 21 and was ordained at 24, By the time he was 25, he was teaching at the University of Wittenberg, and became dean at 29. He was only 34 when he launched the Reformation by nailing the 95 theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg.
Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf started a prayer movement in his student days in Halle, Order of the Grain of the Mustard Seed by the time he was 16. He gave asylum to persecuted Moravians at 22 on his family estate and helped them organize into a community at age 27. He was instrumental in sending out the first Moravian missionary when he was 32, launching the Moravian missionary movement which became one of the main catalysts for the modern Protestant missions of today.
Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China was converted by reading a tract at 17, and by the end of that same year committed himself to become a missionary to China. When he was 21, he made his first visit to China but later returned to England because of health problems at 29. While continuing to prepare himself for the mission field in London, he founded China Inland Mission at 32, after which he returned to China to spend a lifetime helping to bring the Gospel to China. Today the China Inland Mission is known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) which is headquartered in Singapore.
Closer to home, Lee Kuan Yew got involved in politics as a student at Cambridge in helping a friend campaign as a Labour Party candidate. Upon returning to Singapore, he soon got caught up in the labour movement at 28. By the age of 31, he inaugurated the PAP and by the age of 35, he was the 1st Prime Minister of Singapore. While this example is not really a spiritual movement, we have to recognize that what he had done to establish our nation today, is what allows us to fulfil our destiny as the Antioch of Asia, to launch a new wave of the Gospel for our continent of Asia.
I bring these facts to our attention because 33% of our congregation are below the age of 30 (according to the Whole Life Inventory survey done in 2017). We have a responsibility to challenge, nurture and support our youth as they find their place in the world, and step up to take their place in the church. We should begin to intentionally allow those who are younger to “Expect great things from God, [and] attempt great things for God!“ This is a phrase is attributed to William Carey, the father of the modern missions movement, who himself established a missionary society at 31!
Let us as a church pray for and encourage the young in our midst. Let us believe in them and allow them to step up and flourish in their God-given gifts. For the sake of the church. For the sake of the world. And for His name’s sake. Amen!