Success at a young age can have its downfalls. We see it often in the entertainment industry, when a child star has national fame and an unending flow of fans…and then, as soon as their voice begins to crack, the public focus shifts away to the next young talented person. The starlet usually doesn’t handle this rapid change in fortune very well, either. Our news feeds are full of sad ‘Where are they now?’ stories.
I think a large reason why these starlets begin to flail and eventually fail is because they are not receiving sound advice as they navigate their early success. Their manager’s (and oftentimes, also their parents’) ambition is to take advantage of every opportunity to keep the starlet’s name in front of the public. Whirlwind tours, constant events, and deceptive sweet-talk convince the child that he or she really is the center of the world. When the starlet begins to believe they are the reason for everything going so well, they think that they actually deserve the spotlight.
As Paul explains to Timothy which characteristics either seek out or avoid for someone to fill the overseer role for the local church, he includes this warning:
1 Timothy 3:6-7
He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.
Paul’s concern is that a “young one” in the faith will not be ready to handle either the rapid success or flattery that could come their way in an overseer role. An overseer’s job is to leading people toward God, helping them avoid personal pitfalls, and instructing them on how to navigate cultural issues. However, if an overseer doesn’t keep his focus on God, if he begins to dwell on all the compliments that come his way…then he might become conceited and think that he is reason for his congregation’s success.
It was pride that cost the Devil his position as an archangel. Likewise, if an overseer becomes conceited in his position, God will remove him.
Satan is more than willing to use his experience to lay a trap for the overseers in God’s church. Therefore, overseers must be vigilant in protecting their reputation among those in the larger community, and especially among non-believers. The world loves to point out the stories of when Christian leaders fall into disgrace. If an overseer is a new convert, then the risk of being caught in these traps goes up significantly…so it is better to let the young one develop a blameless reputation on his own before he carries the burden of representing a larger Christian community.
Paul doesn’t gives Timothy these guidelines so individuals will be excluded from doing the noble work of an overseer; rather, Paul wants to protect the individuals who do lead, the church, and most importantly, God’s reputation among unbelievers. We need competent, mature leadership within our church family.
This is why Paul mentored Timothy. Now it’s Timothy’s turn to mentor others.