Setting the Believers an Example

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This is the first article in our series, “Justifying the Need for Youth Ministry.” There is a small but vocal camp in the church that does not think youth ministry should exist. They believe that age-specific ministry has damaged the church and usurped the role of the parents. In this series, we will talk about biblical, theological, and practical justifications for why we need youth ministry. 

In many contexts today, parents and people alike are wondering whether or not churches should have youth groups and youth programs. For example, I recently met with an individual at my church who said, “I don’t know why we have youth ministries anyways, the church should be one cohesive organism.” Even just the other week another church member said, “Why do you put so much effort into disciple and teaching? Our students shouldn’t be expected to do and think as much as you want them to.” 

I believe (and if you are a youth pastor, you probably agree) that God calls all Christian youth to a holy and godly character. And if God bids them to such a high calling, they need the discipleship to reach that calling. This is where youth ministries can step in to train, cultivate, and disciple youth in order to help them mature in Christ (Col. 1:28) and set an example for the believers (1 Tim. 4:12). This isn’t my pressure on the students, this is God’s call on youth to set an example for the rest of the church and the world. They are not called to be the “goody-goody kids” of the church. Neither are they called to just do things like put on a happy face and sit up straight. Instead, they are called by God to set the believers an example in response to the good news of Jesus Christ. They are sons and daughters of God, they are heirs to the Kingdom, and precious friends of the great teacher Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood pays the penalty for all sinners, not just old people or young people. Therefore, all believers are called to holiness regardless of their age. 

Set the Example

In 1 Timothy 4:12 Paul writes, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 

Paul begins this sentence by giving the command to, “let no one despise you for your youth.” Here, Paul issues the command to Timothy (who is believed to have been younger) so that no one would look down upon him while he led the church in Ephesus. It’s as if Paul was saying, “let no one strongly dislike you or look down on you because you are young.” Although Timothy was young, he was not to allow his youthfulness to get in the way of commanding and teaching the things that Paul had written to him (v.11). 

Instead of allowing others to despise Timothy for his youth, he was to set an example for the believers with his holy and godly character, so that he could reach the ultimate goal of teaching the congregation. Timothy’s act of setting an example was done here by toiling and striving (v.10) for the end goal, not in an aggressive or assertive way but in a way that professed godliness. In this regard, Timothy’s character resulted in respect from the congregation. Once his respect was planted, then he could command and teach the things Paul had written. As John Stott once commented, “A godly example inspires confidence.” Paul wanted for Timothy to inspire this confidence from his congregation.

Two Spheres of Character

God calls all Christian youth to holy and godly character. Regardless of our age, we ought to pursue these things as the outpouring of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this case, because the command is issued at Timothy who is a youth, we can assume that age doesn’t seem to be on the apostle’s radar. Like two spheres that overlap, much like your childhood Venn Diagram, Paul’s list of five qualities can be separated into outward and inward attributes that are virtually applicable for all Christians. This list consists of speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

If you put this entire list together we see the type of calling that God has for youth. He calls them to holy and godly character, just like every other follower of Christ. They are to do all of these things not because they are special or any more effective than adults (in most cases they aren’t) at setting an example, but because Christ has purchased them by his own blood for their own holiness and righteousness, regardless of age. 

So why should we have youth ministry? It is the perfect age of opportunity to cultivate! Youth need help and guidance in these areas just as much as adults do! Paul served as this guide for Timothy. God utilizes instruments like you and me (youth ministers), in order to foster and create godly men and women. 

All in all, Paul’s words to Timothy are clear. Timothy you are young. You are a youth. You are loved by God, through Jesus Christ. You are a son of God. You may be young, but you are called to be an example for all believers. It doesn’t matter if you are 8 years old, 15 years old, 21 years old, or 50. You are a city set on a hill, a light to the world. As long as you are my child, I will make you more like me. Follow me.

Join us for Rooted 2015, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore how the good news of God coming to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ offers student ministers and teenagers, hope, healing and connectedness.  

Also to learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check more articles from Rooted’s youth ministry blog. 

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