Letters to a Young Preacher, Pt. 1

I have heard many a preacher speak of their love for Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, but it was not until I had been in ministry for a year or two that I began to fully understand why. Don’t get me wrong: I had always appreciated those letters if for no other reason than they are a part of the biblical canon. I also knew that they were written to preachers, so I can see how a preacher would be drawn to their contents. But after preaching for a few years, Paul’s words to these two young preachers struck cords in my soul and resonated in my being. While reading these letters, I found myself encouraged one moment and humiliated the next—encouraged by his exhortation to fearless faith in God; humiliated by his warning to avoid “meaningless talk” (1 Tim. 1:6; cf. 2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 1:10). (It seems Paul was not a fan of sitting around and debating things that didn’t amount to a Scriptural hill of beans; does that mean he never attended a preachers’ luncheon?)

Most meaningful to me, however, is Paul’s counsel concerning the generation gap in the church. Today, I want to begin a two-part discussion on Paul’s comments to Timothy to Titus.

To Timothy, Paul gave an explicit command to honor the older members of the church (1 Tim. 5:1-3). This belongs in the “humiliating” category I mentioned earlier because I have not always respected my spiritual elders. While there is still a (hopefully small) part of me that thinks that some of the church’s problems would be solved by a few more funerals, I know that such an attitude does not honor God. So, I ask myself, what is it that I can give the older generation? What do they need from me? And not just from me, but also from other members of my generation?

According to the apostle Paul, the older generation needs…

My SERVICE, not my STUNTS

In 1 Tim. 5:3-10, Paul gave instructions to Timothy concerning service and care of the congregation’s widows; in 2 Tim 4:5, Timothy is reminded to discharge all the duties of his ministry (not just the pleasant and convenient ones). Titus was to remind his brethren of their obligation “to be ready to do whatever is good,” (Tit. 3:1, 14). Later to Timothy, Paul clearly wrote: “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone,” (2 Tim. 2:24). Obviously, I have no idea whether Timothy was guilty of pulling an immature “stunt” from time to time, but Paul made clear his feelings on the matter. “Don’t quarrel; be kind.”

I imagine that it is only because I’m getting older, but I look back in shame at some of the immature stunts I once pulled in my ignorant and reckless youth. My only comfort is that I am not the first, and regrettably not the last, to attempt some of these foolish things. If we greenhorns thought things through once in a while, and looked both ways before crossing the street, a lot of tension between young and old in the church would not exist. When a young person, especially a young preacher, dishonors the older generation, he does so to his own shame. Motives, no matter how noble, are never an excuse. The path to hell, after all, is paved with good intentions.

Rather, what the older generation needs from me is my service. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is the golden rule here. For a young minister, this includes visiting the hospitals and assisted-living homes. One of the greatest acts of service that can be rendered, often more valuable than replacing light bulbs or mowing yards, is simply listening. The older generation, especially shut-ins, have much to share and few people to share it with. My life has been enriched when I chose to visit and listen. I glean wisdom not found in a book, but gained only by many years of living. Serving the older generation will serve you as well. You will garner much good will that will pay dividends when you inadvertently pull a stunt. It’s inevitable. No matter how mature you try to be, you will pull a stunt. But you will be more quickly and eagerly forgiven if you have proven in the past that you deeply love the senior saints.

My PASSION, not my PESSIMISM

I do not intend this to be a back-handed criticism of the older generation; it is what it is. It’s just that, over time, our zeal and enthusiasm wanes. Our passion lessens. If it does not lessen, it certainly takes a more-difficult-to-recognize form. There are exceptions to this, but it is a general truth. The younger generation does an invaluable service to the senior saints by spreading contagious optimism. I don’t know what it is about growing old that turns one into a pessimist, but I imagine I will find out soon enough.

Misery may love company, but I do no favors to the older generation by spreading pessimism, aka the devil’s poison. Solomon was on to something when he claimed, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” (Prov. 17:22). In a real way, I can spur physical decay in my brethren with my sullen attitude. There will be times when the only thing that gets a senior saint through the week was the powerful and positive message of hope and faith God presented through me from the pulpit. If you are not a preacher, you still can offer immense encouragement. Smile warmly and remind your older brethren that God is still present in their lives in a powerful way. Spread to them your contagious optimism about the Lord, his church, and the great things God is doing. They may respond with an unsolicited update on their medical condition, but your spiritual passion will not go unnoticed. They will see in you a reflection of themselves from days gone bye and be encouraged.

With words I cannot improve upon, Paul wrote to Timothy, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,” (2 Tim. 1:6-8).

My PRAYERS, not my POINT

Concerning this last point, I write with the most shame in my heart. I have spent far too much time trying to make a particular “point” to my older brethren and not enough time praying for them. I have little patience for people always trying to make a point, though I still run afoul of this myself from time to time. No one likes a person always trying to make a point. You become a punch line. If you really want to be a tremendous blessing to those around you, spend more time in fervent prayer for the senior saints instead of dwelling on all the reasons why they are the bane of your existence. At the end of the day, like it or not, we are commanded to honor them as spiritual fathers and mothers.

Through trial and error, I have found it difficult to resent those for whom I consistently pray. If you pray regularly for the older generation in the church, you will be rewarded with a fresh perspective and many meaningful relationships. Paul was on to something when he commanded Timothy to honor and respect his elders. He was really on to something when he commanded Timothy to pray for everyone (1 Tim. 2:1), including the senior saints. Perhaps they were the very people making life so difficult for young Timothy (cf. 1 Tim. 4:7?). But Paul knew that the answer to bridging the generation gap was not found in Timothy necessarily “making a point,” but in prayer.

Heavenly Father, help those of us still blessed with the joy and passion of youth to bless the lives of those who have gone before us. Help us to be eager in our service, passionate in our encouragement, and fervent in our prayers for them. In all things, may we all be robed in unity, humility, and love until your Son comes again. In his name.

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