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Young Men and Old Men

Labels!  We don’t like them!  Young men don’t think of themselves as young and old men don’t think of themselves as old, probably because the words “young” and “old” are not specific enough.  They are highly subjective, are they not?  A man who dies at 65 was “just too young”, a man who has a child at 45 was “just too old”, and a man who watches The Bachelor at any age is “just too weird”.

And so the title of this post can be a bit objectionable, for we know that a man can be youthful at 65, fruitful at 45, and odd at any age.

Nonetheless, the titles of old men and young men are used in Scripture and therefore will be appropriated for this post.  How should young men in ministry act in regards to old men in ministry?  What is the line between appropriate mentorship and unhealthy idolatry?  Many men in their 30’s are now succeeding faithful men of God who have led for many decades.  Young men are launching out to start new churches that will look slightly different than the ones in which they were raised and trained.  In a lot of ways they are like Joshua, the heir to Moses’ ministry.

Of all the Old Testament leaders I have come to relate most with Joshua, son of Nun.  For Joshua was an inexperienced successor to a legendary leader.  I too am following in the footsteps of my father, a successful church planter, loving pastor, who genuinely walks with God and is a great leader among men.  

Here’s what I see from Joshua’s example:

1. Honor the Legacy

Pulling down your predecessor doesn’t prop you up any higher.

The human mind is corrupt.  We are simply broken in so many ways.  One illustration of this truth is that we think the way to exalt our name is to debase another’s.  To demonstrate our strength we must point out another’s weakness.  However, we never see this in the life of Joshua.  He never ridicules Moses to make himself appear grander in the sight of the people.  In fact we only see him honoring the legacy of Moses (Joshua 1:13-15).  

Too often young men feel it is necessary to draw stark lines of contrast between their ministries, philosophies, and methodologies from those who have gone before us.  Like an incoming administration we feel it necessary to point out the mistakes of previous generations in order to distance ourselves from the natural frailties of men.  But Joshua felt no compulsion, even though the previous leader was literally kept out of the Promised Land for having made a legendary mistake.  Joshua chose to focus on the positives rather than pick at the negatives.  

2. Follow the Father

The best way to honor your mentor’s legacy is to have a personal walk with God.

The greatest thing Joshua could do in honoring his mentor would be to follow his mentor’s God.  It was now time for Joshua to shift his loyalty from the Man to the Deity.  Joshua had the books of Moses to follow and he was instructed to study it and never depart from its’ teaching (Joshua 1:8).  But this was not really Joshua following the words of Moses as much as it was Joshua following the words of God.  So, it is true today for those who have been blessed with legendary mentors.  There comes a day when it is time to follow God, alone.  

My father and I recently found ourselves discussing this very truth.  And with great joy we spoke about the transitioning God does in the heart of a young leader who happened to have a strong mentor.  At some point, in the early years of our church plant, I remember God clearly speaking to me about my earthly father.  I was to no longer look to him for approval, validation, and identity.  He would not be the one I spoke with first after a strong Sunday of good attendance, baptisms, and salvation decisions.  David Teis was simply a guide to bring me into a relationship with my Heavenly Father.  The security, validation, and direction I once found in my relationship with my earthly father would now be found in my relationship with my Heavenly Father. 

Too many times young men forget to make this essential shift, looking for the approval of an earthly father rather than seeking direction from the Heavenly Father.  In doing so these tragic young men are spiritually stunted while looking to a man to provide them what only God is capable of giving.  Furthermore, our mentors would never truly want this lazy type of loyalty.  Like the carpenter Joseph, nothing would please a godly man more than to hear his beloved son say, “I must be about my Father’s business.”

3. Lead with Courage

Courage is found in the deep moments of prayer and meditation.

Perhaps Joshua was an insecure man.  I say this because in the opening dialogue between Joshua and the Heavenly Father we see the Lord say three times, “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:6-9).  It’s not always easy following God without the help of your trusted mentor.  For Joshua, Moses was now gone.  His only recourse would be to pray and seek the face of God, in every circumstance. 

At times it would be so much easier to call someone else and ask what they’d do.  Often, when faced with a ministerial problem, I’ve been tempted to pick up the phone and find out WWDD (What Would Dad Do?).  But I’ve learned that turning to the Heavenly Father in such times has grown my faith, expanded our ministry, and deepened my walk with God like never before.  

As a spiritual leader, it’s really not easy following a legendary leader.  But if you’re smart, you’ll do the one thing they did well.  You’ll pray, and seek the face of the Heavenly Father above all others.  

So, what are your thoughts?  Is my analysis correct?  What mistakes have you seen young men make in regards to older men?  What mistakes have you seen old men make in regards to younger men?  Are you a Millennial or Baby-Boomer offended by the labels of young and old?  What labels would you have used?  I want to hear from you.  Comment below:

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