Youth and Age!

These last few days various things have been making me think about age. Carl Trueman has written a provocative article about growing up (or, rather, not growing up) which merits reading. After having read Dr Trueman's piece, I worked through a newspaper article about young male graduates shirking responsibility with one of my English classes (leading to an interesting discussion on the role of marriage in giving men a sense of responsibility). That afternoon a parcel arrived in the post containing Thomas Boston's The Art of Manfishing. Boston wrote this book when he was only 22 years old and it is still in print today, over 200 years later. J.I. Packer describes it as 'a spiritual masterpiece' (Boston, The Art of Manfishing [Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 1998], 8). John Calvin published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion at the age of 27.

Boston and Calvin prove that youth does not necessarily imply irresponsibility and immaturity. Yet we don't need a puritan and reformer to prove that: Paul wrote to young Timothy, 'Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity' (1 Tim 4:12). Paul recognized that youth didn't necessarily equal immaturity.
But do we heed his words today?

I'm conscious of this issue. Sometimes I use my age as a reason not to do things, telling myself I'm too young (although probably couched in terms of lack of experience, or cultural norms, to make it sound a bit better). Sometimes other people use my age as a reason to tell me what I can't do. Yet, according to what Paul said to Timothy, age should not be used as an excuse. Maturity, capability, grace and age do not go together.

Yet statistics seem to show a different picture. In a study published in 2000, William Kay found that there are not very many young Pentecostal ministers in the UK. I teach at seminary, and our students can leave with their BA or BD at 21 years of age, and MTh at 23. Yet, proportionally, Kay found that there were not many Pentecostal ministers aged 29 or under. For the Apostolic Church only 2 pastors were in their 20s, and 12 were in their 30s (Kay, Pentecostals in Britain [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000], 207, cf. xix).

Perhaps the insights of Trueman and my English-class newspaper article shed some light on these data. Perhaps not.

Certainly Thomas Boston and John Calvin show that it is possible to be young and used of God; young and mature in the faith. I pray that my young students would be more like Boston, Calvin and Timothy than the inhabitants of Carl Trueman's Neverland.

But, with these data and these examples, 2 questions spring to mind.

1) What are our expectations of young people?

Do we really have open minds as to their levels of responsibility and maturity, or do we make assumptions based on their age? Are we like Paul, or like those who despised Timothy's youth? Do we really leave room for (or even want) young people like Timothy, Calvin and Boston?

2) Do our expectations lead to the reality?

Don't worry, this is not an overly philosophical point. I simply mean that it is perhaps possible that young people see what the church expects of them and then act accordingly. If we organise a youth-group with little Biblical or doctrinal content, should it surprise us when our youth don't have the faintest idea about very basic Bible doctrines? If, in what we organise for the youth, or in the way we talk to and act around young people, we put across the idea that we don't expect responsibility or maturity, does that not convey the idea that irresponsibility and immaturity are quite alright?

So, if we want a few more Timothys, Thomas Bostons and John Calvins, perhaps we need to change our expectations. Let's stop focusing on the world's view of youth and replace it with a Biblical perspective à la 1 Tim 4:12.