New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position. New young leaders feel this pressure even more. If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure. Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.
A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead. Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership. You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church.
When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands. However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face.
Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus. When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership. At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.
So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:
1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things. No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”. In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn. The same goes for leaders in the church.
Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring. Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).
Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness. However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position. The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions. As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.