One theme that runs through the Pastoral Epistles is the need for Timothy and Titus both to put into practice the commands Paul is giving them and to teach them to others (1 Timothy 5:7; 6:2b; Titus 2:1; 3:8). But this is often easier said than done, and there seems to be some hesitancy on the part of the disciple in following the apostle’s orders, at least in Timothy’s case. At the same time that Timothy is told to teach the truths entrusted to him, Paul also encourages him not to let anyone “despise” him on account of his youth (1 Tim. 4:12). Timothy apparently faces opponents who refuse to take him seriously because of his youth or he is himself afraid that his age will make his ministry ineffective. Ephesus is not the only place where this issue has arisen; Corinth is another place where Timothy has apparently felt uneasy in his work (1 Cor. 16:10–11).
Timothy’s first-century contemporaries generally consider anyone under forty to be youthful, and so it is likely that he had to lead the Ephesian church while in his late twenties or early thirties. We can all identify with his fears. Here is a man who has to correct leaders who are probably a good deal older than he (1 Tim. 1:3) — quite the daunting task. Moreover, it is common for older people to question just about everything a young pastor does simply because of his youth. Of course, young pastors may have much to learn, but their God-given authority must be respected no matter their age. In any case, Timothy seems to feel inadequate for his task despite his being appointed by the apostle.
Yet Paul is sure that Timothy can succeed, encouraging him to set an example for others that he might win their confidence. All Christians must live out their profession (James 2:14–26), especially church leaders. Basil the Great, whose fourth-century work was key in formulating Trinitarian doctrine, writes, “If…the goal of Christianity is the imitation of Christ according to the measure of his incarnation, insofar as is conformable with the vocation of each individual, they who are entrusted with the guidance of many others are obliged to animate those still weaker than themselves, by their assistance (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, vol. 9, p. 182; hereafter ACCNT).
Besides the many difficulties of ministry that young pastors must learn to deal with, they have the extra hurdle of youth, which can unfairly render them suspect in the eyes of many congregants. We should treat young leaders with understanding and do all we can to support them in order that they might be encouraged to continue in ministry for the long haul. Let us all do what we can to respect and encourage those who are shepherds of God’s people, no matter their age.