Among the things floating around in the top drawer of my dresser, various bins in the basement storage, on a top shelf on my bookcase or in the glove compartment, there are a few items I treasure more than most. The list of things I treasure has changed through the years. When I was 5 or 6 I remember being at my grandparents’ house, opening Christmas presents. My grandpa got a little too excited when he found out he got socks. I remember thinking a few things:
- “Grandpa, what a sick joke this was for someone to have done this to you.”
- “There’s something wrong with you, Grandpa.”
- “If this is what old people enjoy, I’ll have nothing to do with it thank you very much.”
Wouldn’t you know it now I love socks! I consider it a luxury to open my sock drawer and find a dozen pairs to choose from and I have no problem receiving them as gifts.
One other thing I’ve come to treasure more than I should is McDonald’s chocolate chip cookies. If you don’t agree, you just haven’t learned how to order them. Most people don’t drive through McDonald’s for cookies, and if you do go just for one cookie, that’s your first mistake. If you order one or two, you get the cold ones in the case by the register. You have to order the cookie tote which has 13 cookies. There’s never 13 in the case so they have to make them for you fresh. They come to you in this happy meal-like box.
I’m the kind of guy that wants you to know the joy of something. I not only want you to discover it, I want to make sure you know how to order it. If you really needed help, I would go to McDonald’s to help you order them. I’ll even quality check one for you to make sure it’s a most excellent experience.
To say something is underrated is to say we believe in something–to have faith in it, when most others do not.
- “If you just knew what I knew about these cookies.”
- “If you only knew how good this band was live.”
- “If you would just meet this guy once you’d see he’s not as sketchy as everybody says he is.”
- “If they only knew this about me, they’d change their mind.”
I share this story with you because we all have those moments where we ourselves feel underrated. You may have big aspirations to be a change agent in the world but no one knows you. Even worse, they may know you but some bad decisions on your part have hindered others from taking you seriously. How do you grow when you feel underrated by others?
The good and potentially bad news is that this is nothing new.
Paul the Apostle mentored a young pastor by the name of Timothy. He saw something special in Timothy and believed in him so strongly that he gave some of his authority away to him. Paul had started in Ephesus but then moved on to start churches elsewhere and left Timothy in charge. Paul was looked upon by the church there as kind of a godfather and they didn’t have respect for Timothy because of his age. There has always been an inclination for the older generation to look down on the younger for nothing other than a lack of experience. This letter to Timothy would have been like Lebron sending a message to his son Bronny…
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you can only dunk one handed. Remember that you’re only 14. I’ve been to the NBA finals 6 times and I have three rings. You have what it takes to be in the NBA but for now let’s just take it one day at a time. Getting a shoe deal isn’t as important as learning to be a team player. Just be yourself, enjoy the season of life you’re in, get better at what matters, listen to my advice, and I’ll make sure you get a shot at what I do someday. Maybe we can even play on the same team for a couple years.”
Here’s some of Paul’s advice to Timothy found in 1 Timothy 4:12-16.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
The reason Paul was instructing him not to let other people look down on him wasn’t just like, “Hey man, you’re young. I get it. Don’t let them disrespect you.” It was tied to verse 11, which says:
“These things command and teach.”
I’m sure there were many that didn’t take too well to a younger person telling them what to do. Much of this has its foundation in pride for sure but this didn’t stop Timothy from stepping up into the leadership role that was designated to him. God used this in his life to test him which ultimately helped him to grow in Christ and as a leader.
It’s exciting when God calls you to lead, but the kind of leadership He calls us into looks a lot like loss… because it is. An aspiring Christian leader must die to themselves in order to do something significant in God’s kingdom. This is not a death to any and all ambition but serving in a higher capacity in the kingdom of God requires a complete overhaul in motivation.
Ambition can be sneaky and even violent in the best of the well-intentioned.
This creates a problem for many young people aspiring to accomplish great things for God. How do you influence others that may be older than you when they look down on you for lack of experience? We can all agree that people believe what they see long before they believe what someone says. No pics means it didn’t happen.
Paul told Timothy not to let others despise his youth but went on and gave him a few areas of his life where he should be an example. In essence, Paul said, “Don’t go on and let bad judgment, that so readily accompanies youth, speak on your behalf. Instead, be the example in your word and conduct. Don’t give your word out so easily and be careful to back it up. Be known for tangibly loving others. Express genuine faith in God and believe the best in others. And don’t sink the ship with a lackluster sexual purity for crying out loud!”
People tend to look to leaders who have learned the discipline of self-denial and God knows this takes time. Hastily running to lead others before you’ve learned how to lead yourself never ends well. I speak from first-hand experience. I had some moderate charisma as a young leader which meant I could copy someone else’s example with conviction but had no life experience from which to speak from. I was in a state of theological puberty but I’m glad I got started either way.
If you are a younger person with aspirations to influence others, I offer you 5 ways to grow as you are going.
- Spend time with leaders. An internship is a great way to do this. Simply seeing what they do on a weekly basis can be the best visual for determining whether or not someone is fit to do it as well. Taking counsel from a spiritual leader is valuable for the person seeking whether or not leadership is for them. At least once a month, ask a leader to lunch and be prepared with questions ahead of time. Here’s an example.
- You need three people, or types of people in your life: coaches, comrades, and counselors. Here’s another post about that.
- Read. Read a lot. Read not only books on leadership, read Scripture, biographies, poetry, blogs, etc. Have a diverse approach to learning. Deep reading is your answer. While not all readers are leaders, ALL leaders, without exception, are readers. Here are some good books for young Christian leaders that are getting started in leadership.
- Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders
- The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
- Developing the Leader within You by John Maxwell
- A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke
- The Character of God’s Workman by Watchman Nee
- Mentor someone. Having the burden of being prepared for someone keeps you sharp and intentional about the things you’re learning and practicing.
- Abide in Christ. This should be first and last. Read through John 15 once a month. Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing.” I would love to tell you that my drive as a young leader wasn’t influenced by pride. I had no cause other than the one to be known and admired by others. Sylvia Plath says “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” The old brag of my own heart was vaulted in a secretive ambition to win the world over to myself and not to Christ.
- Prayer really does change things, but mostly me.
- The stones in the shoes of the gospel of peace are not always meant to be removed.
- The Gospel is for believers and nonbelievers alike.
- Bleeding people means a hemorrhaging leader.
- It will only, ever, and always be about Jesus.
- Not citing sources is a mark of a proud heart.
- Visible suffering for righteousness sake in the leader’s life can be an encouragement to people, while suffering brought on by sin is a huge turn off.