Gabriel Azucena, who goes by the artist name GAWVI, is a Christian rapper whose popular song, “Fight for Me” features some honest lyrics about meeting the expectations of others. I was struggling with something similar to what GAWVI writes while approaching my final year of seminary:
“I got way too many thoughts
Fighting these expectations, got me feeling stuck like
Ayy, yeah Think I feel it all the time
Ayy, yeah, Did I really miss my prime?
I don’t know how to cope when I’m low.”
These lyrics might resonate with a lot of aspiring pastors, pastors, and even folks who are self-conscious of their age. We live in a culture that loves to see the young prodigy rise up. Sports networks are after the youngest, most talented athletes to showcase on their weekly programs. The one-and-done college athletes are idolized. It’s not just in sports, but in the business world, too. A headline that reports a middle-aged man becoming a self-made millionaire doesn’t turn heads. Our culture hungers to see young talent and young leadership who make something of themselves early on. Those who are classified as the “up and coming” catch our attention. Due to this cultural fascination, we find ourselves discouraged or even depressed when we don’t match the success that people younger than us have obtained. This is not a secular-only issue, but an issue that we are having to learn to confront ourselves as Christians. One of the idols of our age has become our age.
The Pressure of Early Success in Ministry
When was the last time you leaped for joy for a person who was younger than you who was moving up? The 25-year old who was voted in as the lead pastor of a megachurch tempts us to become covetous. Do we not cringe when someone asks us our age? Why is that? It’s because we are not content with the success and progress we’ve made so far in our own life. Youtuber’s are becoming millionaires by the age of 21. Online gamers are becoming multi-millionaires by the time they graduate high school. The pressure is not only on those in the world to become successful early on, but it is on young men and women aspiring to be in vocational ministry.
Christians aren’t exempt from the pressure to be successful early on in ministry. Certainly, God calls young men out of seminary to shepherd big churches. Dr. David Platt was 26 years old when he was called to pastor a megachurch in Birmingham, AL. The Scriptures support young men and women taking hold of weighty tasks and bringing glory to God. In 2 Kings 22, we read about God appointing Josiah, an 8-year-old boy, to reign as king over Jerusalem for thirty-one years. In 1 Samuel 17, instead of using King Saul, God used David, a young shepherd boy to slay Goliath.
God’s Providence in Vocational Ministry
God providentially uses young men and women to take on influential roles. We must remember this is not a standard He has put in place. Yet we should praise the Lord in these instances. This is something that should only catch our attention and not our heart. The culture we live in embraces the idea that only the young, successful people are worthy of our attention, and it has belittled how we view pastoral ministry.
A pastor’s success in ministry is sometimes based on numbers and his climb up the corporate ladder of ministry. When they don’t make it into vocational ministry or out of seminary with a Ph.D. at a certain age, they feel inadequate, inferior, and useless. Sometimes this is a self-awareness issue, but the issue can also come from a poor understanding of the providence of God. God doesn’t pick men or women for ministry the way we see in our culture. God doesn’t look at the resume, but at one’s heart. He doesn’t look at outward appearances, how successful our parents are, or the prime connections that we have. He doesn’t need us to do His work, but He allows us to join Him in what He is doing in this world. Working in vocational ministry is all of grace.
God’s Spiritual Gifts Don’t Expire
On June 24th, I will turn 29 years old, Lord willing. In May, I graduated with my Masters of Divinity. It took me nearly five years to finish this degree. I believe God has used all five years to shape me for pastoral ministry. This looks different for a variety of students. Some will finish quickly, and for some, it will take multiple years. Each student has their own pace.
We must remember that ministry isn’t hands-off until after we finish our degree. We shouldn’t be discouraged if we are a student for longer than three years. Some students work 40-hour jobs so they can provide for their family of five and can only take two classes at a time. God uses seminary for your good, no matter your age or vocation, to shape you to utilize your education for the good of His church. While I think it is helpful to get done as quickly as you can, I understand that God draws many people from all walks of life to be educated in the seminary context. Remember, brother and sister, that just because you get older doesn’t mean you become irrelevant to God in ministry. The gifts God has given you will not expire because the spiritual gifts God gives you have a good shelf life.
Can We Miss Our Prime?
So, can we really miss our prime? Does the Christian desiring to go into ministry have a set amount of time they can get in and be useful? Of course not! God doesn’t only use young people to do His work. God doesn’t only use people who have seminary degrees or decades of ministry experience. God doesn’t only use men who are married with families in pastoral ministry. He doesn’t only designate single people to the mission field. As Christians, we never miss our prime if we are currently trusting God’s Word and delighting in His commands. The Church needs to understand that it’s not only the young who have something to offer our churches, but the older generations, too. The older generations are not meaningless. Just because they have entered into retirement doesn’t mean they are past their prime. When we think that only part of the Body of Christ has the ability to serve, we miss out on the full-fledged work the Spirit of God can do in our midst.
Christ is our Prime
What is more important than being hidden in Christ? Academic awards? A booming ministry? A book deal? Thousands of followers on social media? In an age that tells us we need to climb the mountain of success to gain satisfaction, we have a Savior who ascended a hill who satisfied the Father in our place. There is nothing more important than Christ’s voluntary sacrifice for wretched sinners like you and me. He is the highlight of our life.
In pastoral ministry, there will be some of us whose churches experience rapid growth. Some of us will be writers and authors. A handful of us may have significant teaching ministries beyond the pulpit. Parachurch organizations may invite some of us to speak at their conferences, but the majority of us will remain in obscurity. Obscurity doesn’t dampen the atoning work of Christ in our life. He delights in our work at any time in our life as we obey Him and carefully handle His Word. If you are in Christ, “your prime” was buried with your former life. The most important part of your life is being in Christ. He is our prime!