There seems to be in every generation some tension between young men and old men. The old guys tend to see the young guys as compromisers. The young guys see the old guys as hide-bound traditionalists incapable of change even when it is necessary. The old guys are sometimes jealous of the young guys, particularly if they are having good success. The young guys are disdainful of the old guys because they are out of touch, unaware of current culture, and unable to minister to the younger generation. The old guys tend to see the young guys as disrespectful, and the young guys tend to see the old guys as controlling. Young guys can sometimes be a bit rebellious, and old guys can sometimes be more than a little bit cranky.
Of course, the story of Rehoboam from I Kings 12 comes to mind when considering this topic. Much is made of the fact that he forsook the counsel of the old men and took the advice of young men who had grown up with him. Obviously, the advice of the old men was right. He had an opportunity to serve his people, to demonstrate kindness to them, and to earn their affection and loyalty for the rest of his life. I find it particularly intriguing that the Scripture tells us that he “forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him . . .” (v. 8). The Scripture does not tell us that Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the old men when he took a different approach than what they had suggested. It tells us he forsook their counsel when he began to listen to the counsel of the young men. Sometimes the very act of listening to our peers can be a rejection of our patriarchs. Having received good, godly counsel from the old men, what need was there for Rehoboam to go to the young men?
And yet, there are Bible examples of the old guys making mistakes. Paul was wrong in his judgment of John Mark. He ought to have given the young man another chance. Barnabas, who certainly by this time had become very much the junior partner in ministry, was correct. I believe it is God’s desire that the old men be a Paul to the young man’s Timothy. I believe God is most glorified when the Joshua honors the Moses who preceded him and keeps intact his truth.
Here are a few thoughts for the young guys and the old guys.
- Each should respect the other. A young man of God is still a man of God. Those who are older need to be careful not to treat him as “a kid.” I find it extremely helpful to refer to the young men in our church - particularly those who have grown up in our ministry - as “brother” rather than simply calling them by their first name. This is a term of affection, a term of connection, and a term of respect. I do not usually call the students in our Christian school or the teenagers in our church “brother,” and when I take a recent graduate and refer to him in this way, it demonstrates that I view him as man.
- Young men can learn from old men, and old men can learn from young men. I do not believe that information is only to be transmitted from the old to the young. After all, in the Book of Job, it was the young man, Elihu, who was much more accurate than either Zophar, Bildad or Eliphaz. It would be helpful in a relationship that most older preachers have with younger preachers if they would listen to their ideas, adopt some of their programs, and try to understand the principles by which they operate. There are many cases in which I have learned from a younger man.
- The older and the younger generation should not allow minor differences to divide them. I wear a suit and tie to preach Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I do not now, nor have I ever had (except for a brief time on vacation at the urging of my wife and daughters) facial hair. However, if a young man in a hot climate determines that it is better for him to not wear a tie at his midweek service, I’m not ready to write him off as a New Evangelical. Nor do I want him to feel that I don’t respect him or appreciate him. He’s doing something I would not do and might not be able to do with a clear conscience. He is not sinning. He is not violating a Bible command. I think I should be allowed to grow facial hair - after all, I have none on my head! Maybe I will someday, but I doubt it. But please remember that D. L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, and virtually all the prophets had facial hair, as did our Savior. On the other hand, a young man should not be offended or critical if an older man asks that he wear not only a tie but a white shirt when he comes to preach for him. I often wear different colors of shirts than white when I preach. But if I preach for a man for whom I know this is an issue, I always wear a white shirt. I respect his desire to stay on the right side of things and will not allow a minor difference to divide me from him.
- Each generation should recognize and promote the blessings and successes of the other. One of the great delights in my life is to preach at churches pastored by young men. I have the opportunity often to preach for people like Bros. Steven Chappell, Adam Zamora, Chris Chadwick, Ryan Beilfuss, Michael Jones, and a host of others 15-30+ years my junior. It is a thrill. I regularly tell others of their success. I frequently write about a young man in the Preacher’s Page in order to give him exposure and let others rejoice in what God is doing. At our Summer Preaching Conference, I often include a younger preacher whom I believe will be a blessing to our people but might not have attained the notoriety of some of our other speakers. Likewise, it is wise for a young preacher to have some older preachers speak to honor their faithfulness: to recognize that their many years of walking with God have given them some deep and helpful insights into trends and truth.
- Old men who are concerned about the direction of younger men should reach out to them rather than condemning them. Why are we so quick to believe that someone has compromised? Why do we accept a negative report without making a phone call? Why is it when we do make a phone call it’s only to “check up” on a young man and never to love or be an encouragement to him? When I feel sensitive that a young man may be drifting some, and I have a relationship with him, I often try to encourage, help, befriend, and spend some time with him. Sometimes, I discover that there was no reason for concern. How often do we make a mess because we fail to heed the Bible admonition: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13) or “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” (I Timothy 5:19).
- Both old men and young men need to be committed first to truth. This means that the old man needs to be able to explain the Bible principle behind his decision. This means that the young man needs to be willing to pay attention to the Bible principle, even if it winds up prohibiting a great new method he wishes to use. For what it's worth.