In November 2013, my life changed: I was called by a normative sized local church, with an average age of 70, to be their pastor at the age of 25. My wife and I were the youngest in the church by nearly 20 years. To put this in perspective: The only child in children’s church at the time was my unborn daughter. But this local church entrusted me with the greatest privilege a man can have on Earth—to preach the gospel to them week after week. For nearly 5 years, I’ve had the honor to stand in the pulpit, open up the Word, and share with them the Truth. It is a blessing to deliver the Word, week in and week out, to the same congregation. In 5 years, we’ve seen spiritual and numerical growth, which causes me to rejoice. The Lord has blessed the rural church with resources to advance the gospel locally and internationally. But one thing remains true: the preaching of the gospel is foundational to my pastoral ministry.
In these short 5 years, the Lord has shown me several truths about preaching and pastoring from 1Timothy 4:12 that have been confirmed by personal experience as a younger pastor. There are many challenges to pastoral ministry that many, regardless of age, struggle with in a local church. But specifically a young pastor can struggle in his vocation due to his lack of experience. Yet, seeing the timeless truths of the Bible in my own life has confirmed my call to the pastorate. In 1Timothy 4:12 the Apostle writes to the young pastor Timothy, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (Christian Standard Bible).
Be an Example in Your Speech
As pastors, we have a lot of responsibilities. During the week, we may have deacons meetings, counseling sessions, and administrative tasks; but when Sunday comes, we have one important assignment: to preach the Word. I’m convinced, as younger pastors, we should obey the Apostle’s command to set an example in our speech. I believe this, first of all, applies to our preaching. What we preach drives the local church and impacts lives. We set an example to our brothers and sisters by preaching the Word. Paul reminds the young pastor in 2Timothy 4:2 to “Preach the Word: be ready in season and out of season.” But secondly, this applies to our personal speech to other believers, whether in the hospital waiting room, the living room, and/or on social media. We should be wise in our speech, reflecting the grace of our Lord Jesus. It is tempting as a young pastor to die on every hill, yet, not every hill is worth dying on. We must be wise in our speech, allowing it to be seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Personally, I’ve experienced the negative results of unwise speech in the church. Making jokes in a large context can be misunderstood as an attack. Using loaded words can be misconstrued to mean something else. As younger pastors, we must know our context and speak graciously.
Conduct Must Be Gospel Centered
There is much talk in the evangelical world concerning the need for Christ-centered Preaching. However, I am convinced the Christ-centered Preaching flows from a Christ-centered Life. As younger pastors, we can lead by example in godly conduct. If you look at the qualifications for a pastor in 1Timothy 3:1-7, they speak of godly conduct. I’m convinced reputation trumps resume when it comes to pastoral leadership. As we seek to preach God-honoring sermons, our lives must be God-honoring. Practically, how does the life of younger pastor communicate God’s glory? I think it is revealed in the way we conduct ourselves in the eyes of the congregation and, most importantly, in the home. As we allow the gospel we preach to impact our own lives, our conduct is conformed into the image of Jesus. I must personally take this seriously if I desire my life to count for the Kingdom. A pastor isn’t worth his salt if the testimony of his life doesn’t reflect the testimony of his word.
Reflecting Christ’s Love
Our preaching and conduct communicate the glorious gospel. This results in a sacrificial love for others. We set an example to those we shepherd by loving them with Christ’s love. We are called to love others and sacrificially lay down our lives to make Jesus famous. This kind of love can be seen in the way we serve our church, love our community, and reach the lost. What our churches need to see is a man willingly lay down his pride to serve them. In this aspect, we reveal the heart of the gospel. In a sense, we put on display Christ and His love for them. It is easy for a younger pastor to get so caught up in pastoral work that he forgets his real motivation, which is to love others with Christ’s undying love. The Lord has continued to work this into my heart and mind. He desires that His pastors love Him and others. As we walk with our members in love, we show them the gospel of Jesus.
Live a Life of Faith
In times of struggle, it can be difficult to live faithfully, especially as a young pastor. The trials that come with the vocation can be overwhelming. For example, criticism can be crippling. Preaching can become stagnate. Leadership can become weak. But one thing must be the true of the young pastor: his faith in God’s Son and his faithfulness to His call. The young pastor’s faith is the evidence of God’s work in his own life and reflects the need for the congregation to embrace God’s Son in faithfulness. If there is one thing that a young pastor needs, especially in my case, it is faith. When the congregation struggles, the young leader can inspire a congregation by his own faith in Jesus, knowing that Jesus will build His church. There have been times during my pastoral work that I’ve experienced moments of crisis. There have been times that the church has been rocked by various events. But through it all, the Lord has continued to strengthen my faith, God willing, using it as an example to the people I serve.
God desires purity of His pastors. He wants them to have a pure heart and mind. This becomes an example to the congregation. The fact of the matter is the pastor is a sinner too. But the redeeming work of Christ is continuing to cleanse the pastor. So as the pastor publically repents, asks for forgiveness, and longs for the Spirit’s work in his life this speaks volumes to the congregation he serves. My prayer is that my personal purity, which comes from Christ, reveals God’s heart for His people. This is why that young pastor’s personal purity is so important. God wants His people to be pure, which begins with His leaders.
These personal lessons have been a clarion call in my short time as a pastor. Youth can be a stumbling block for some people. I remember early on in my pastoral work, I was having a conversation with a church member over a particular issue, to which the individual stated, “It must be because you are young. One day you’ll learn.” At first, I was broken and hurt. Why would someone say that to me? Yet, in that moment, I remembered the words of the Apostle, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth.” So after throwing a youthful pity party, I acted in love and faith, believing the best of the person who made the remark. That moment changed me. Christ could redeem my youth, inexperience, and ignorance for His glory. The good news is this: Jesus loves young pastors.