By Jeff Krajewski
In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul gives some wise advice to his young apprentice. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” I personally wish he would have added, “Don’t be arrogant, self-absorbed, condescending, or a jerk.” I know this is implied, but as I stepped into ministry 10 years ago, I needed a hammer over the head.
Later in chapter 5, Paul reminds Timothy that though he should not see his youth as a barrier, he must not use his authority in the community as a weapon. “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.” In other words, take it down a notch. I needed that one too. I needed to learn that before I could lead others I needed to be led myself. Before I could influence I needed to have a heart that was broken and contrite before God.
What I thought I needed was a great strategy and an innovative mission statement. Yet, deep in my heart was something only time and the agony of life could root out. I needed to be taken down a notch. I remember with regret some of the more poignant conversations I had with longtime and well-respected leaders in the church. Not because of the content of my conversation with them, but because I did not treat these time-tested, faithful men and women of God with gentleness and respect. I was passionate about my views of the church and ministry and how we could best engage culture, but I allowed those views to become more important than the people I shared them with.
Maybe this is why there is a growing sense of “us” and “them” mentality between the younger generation of leaders and those who have gone before us. I have always thought, until recently, that the reason for the divide was the fault of the “old guard.” They can’t take the change. They don’t like innovation that threatens their comfortable forms. They do not like to challenge the status quo.
I am coming to wonder, and am more and more convinced, that the problem has much to do with us. (I don’t say us to mean every young leader in the church, because I know many younger leaders are way ahead of me on this.) Is it possible some of the tension that exists at times between younger leaders and our predecessors has to do with our arrogance and youthful exuberance that has caused a bull-in-the-china-shop mentality when it comes to leadership within the church? Are new churches being led by younger leaders who simply do not want first to be led and taught themselves?
Some of us should ask some of you for your forgiveness. If you have been torpedoed by a younger pastor who has railed on your leadership style, or your organizational philosophy, or your ministry programming, or your preaching prowess and its lack of relevance in the world today, we need to say we’re sorry. We should recognize that many of us who criticize came to know Jesus under your “ineptness.” We apologize for making you feel irrelevant or unwanted, or worse, unneeded.
The truth is we were trying to find a way to the place of influence within the family of God. Many of us didn’t believe what Paul told Timothy would actually work. So we ranted and raved and even walked out, putting you in an awkward and understandably defensive position.
So now, every time the conversation of postmodern or emergent or Gen-X comes up, you cringe. When the guy in the flip-flops comes to talk to you about anything, the walls go up. I recognize I have been a contributor to this divide. I apologize for that.
We are living in exciting times in the church. Change is happening at a rapid pace, and new churches are being planted like crazy. Young leaders are excited about innovation and experimentation with new forms for the church. We are convinced the gospel of Jesus is a relevant message to this particular cultural challenge. We forget, at times, the message has always been relevant and that our exuberance today is the same sense of opportunity many of you sensed when you were in our shoes.
At the same time, the challenges of our day are different than the ones you faced. We live in a world much different than the one where you began your faithful service. You know this and can see the effects in your communities and in your churches.
The challenge is to discern how we can effectively transition established churches and plant new churches together. We need each other. I do not believe that an “either/or” mentality will help us make this transition. We all need to affirm the legitimacy of each generation’s forms and learn together in a time that needs many different expressions of the body of Christ.
As a young leader who is getting a bit older (and hopefully a bit wiser) I would like to invite you to come alongside us. We need wise and seasoned practitioners who will display patience and kindness to younger leaders in the church as we continue to come of age. Young leaders need to be students before they can be teachers; they need to be led before they can lead with humility and submission.
This will be difficult for both generations. We believe Rome actually can be built in a day, and sometimes we need to be reminded to slow down. You can help by listening to us, dreaming with us, speaking some hard truth to us in love, and at times being open to learn from us. While we don’t know everything (even though we may tell you the opposite), we do have insight that will help the church continue forward in this particular time of chaos. This will be difficult for you, as much of what we believe about the church and its future will challenge the accepted forms and norms for the church of the past. The challenge is for you to help us in our pursuit toward a new era in church history without feeling threatened by the closing of the previous chapter.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the privilege to meet with the senior pastor of a large congregation in our city. While our two churches are very different, his humility and openness have been a great encouragement to me and other young leaders in our city. This man is constantly learning, always open to considering new ideas, and always spurring us toward creativity and innovation while remaining passionate about where God has called him to serve.
I invite younger leaders to read the words of Paul to his young apprentice again. While our youth is not a deterrent to effective and dynamic impact for the cause of Christ, neither is it a license for arrogance and disunity within the body. We must approach our calling to this new age of the church with humility as we “teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity” (1 Timothy 4:12, The Message).
Together, we will see the glory of God continue to be made known through the family of God that loves, serves, and cares deeply for one another.
Jeff Krajewski is lead pastor with Common Ground Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.