This could and might come across like an arrogant young guy (which I can be), but as I have read the scriptures, listened to some consistent complaints, I can’t help but wonder if we are forming our theology of discipleship around scriptural principles or personal preference. I also want to be quick to say that I value the wisdom of those with more life experience.
I desperately need it and if there were more older men and women who were discipling in the church, my assumption is that we would be better off. We desperately need men and women who are older to remind us of the truth of God, to disciple us through their wisdom, and continue to guide us with their advice. I absolutely believe that multiple generations of God-centered people in community with one another truly embody God’s design of the body of Christ.
I’ve heard this complaint so many times that we can’t really have discipleship happening because we lack older men and women to do it. It also seems impossible to avoid in church planting circles when the average age seems to be early to mid-30s. Not exactly seasoned veterans right?
It seems that people have an idolatry of the aged thinking that an individual must be above a certain age to be listened to, to be followed. The scriptures and church history tell us another story. Psalm 119 declares that observing the precepts and scriptures of God makes one wiser than the aged. John Calvin, who is arguably one of the best teachers in church history, was 27 when he wrote his Institutes. Martin Luther was 34 when he nailed the Ninety-Five Thesis to the front of the Cathedral. Charles Spurgeon started preaching the largest Baptist church in London at 20. It wasn’t their age that qualified them for leadership in the church nor was it their age that disqualified them.
Are we looking for the wrong things when it comes to who can or should disciple us?
Again, there is nothing wrong with seeking the wisdom of older men and women. In fact, it is greatly needed, but to claim that a church is lacking discipleship because of lack of these older men and women is incorrect. It’s a myth.
So what should we look for in someone to disciple us?
Follow Christ-Like Character at any age
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he anticipates the pushback that Timothy will give him about stepping into leadership. Timothy knows his age will be a question mark, but Paul’s charge to him in 1 Timothy 4 is to not let anyone look down on his age, but in all areas to set a Christ-like example.
When the same letter from Paul asks Timothy (a young guy remember) to appoint elders and deacons the bulk of the criteria is character that displays Christ to the world. In discipleship, we aren’t merely looking for people with more years than us; we’re looking for people with godly character and wisdom from the scriptures.
Follow Sound Teaching & Life Combined
In addition to character, Paul turns Timothy’s attention to his doctrine as well for a reason for leadership. If the word of God is truly the authority for the Christian, than discipleship is a leader who teaches the truths of the word of God and not merely worldly wisdom and advice. It doesn’t neglect wisdom and advice, but its emphasis is on sound theology.
Why is this?
Theology and behavior are forever linked. When we understand who God is and what He values, we learn what we should value. The scriptures also indicate that until we love God and His ways, we won’t live for them; if God captures our attention, our lives will be shaped by His will and His ways.
Follow Someone Who Recognizes and Repents of Their Sin
Discipleship that involves life and doctrine will inevitable reveal where the leader is falling short in one of these categories. As I was discipled, I learned a lot of doctrine, but I can attest to being most impacted by the humility of those who have led me to acknowledge the areas of their life where God is asking them to repent and change.
My aim in discipling other men is to model for them this idea. Truth learned is essential and valuable, but truth applied in repentance is worth following because it points to Christ as the only perfect one.
This has massive implications for discipleship.
The value a single man or young married brings to the table for an older father can be immense if his character is embodying godliness. The authority that younger and older men or women stand on is their life experience (which varies) but on the Word of God (which doesn’t vary).
This will force us to confront the preference of learning from someone in or above our life stage. This is hard for us, but it is good for us to acknowledge that it’s hard for us to learn from those younger, but we need it since we are unable to be right in every circumstance. They may not be able to help us in a specific situation we face, but they may be most valuable in pointing us to the truth that ultimately guides that specific situation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ and the word of God have the ability to make one wiser than the aged. If we believe the word of God, then we have to deal with discipleship myths that don’t match up with scripture and embrace God’s ideas over our own.