people cheering during day

Wasted Youth?

I preached this sermon on August 31, 2014 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, MD. This is probably my last sermon as a lay speaker at Trinity as an employment change will have Kathy and me soon leaving New Jersey.

George Bernard Shaw, the Nobel Prize winning Irish playwright once observed, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Almost every person who reaches a certain age, whether the middle years or older, has at one time or another proclaimed to the effect that had we known in our youth what we know in our aging, we would have lived life differently. Seasoned adults look at youths and young adults and see people who just do not understand life and, therefore, are not worth serious consideration. Their music is incomprehensible. They dress poorly. They are not serious about important things, yet serious about nonsense. In short, young adults would be so much better if they just acted as if they were not young!

Unfortunately, by looking at youth and young adults through eyes disposed to criticism, we can miss that they often possess knowledge and wisdom from which we can learn, and passion for righteousness and the courage to pursue it that years may have squeezed from their elders. Fatherhood can be one of those blinding experiences. As a father, I considered my responsibility to shape my children, but not the possibility that I would be shaped by them. So when my son became a senior patrol leader in Boy Scouts, I figured that I now would be able to pass to him what I knew about leadership. I was leading a significant business organization and had not only read much about leadership, but also had substantial formal leadership training. I was clearly ready to give him my wisdom.

So when the time came for him to close his first meeting, I watched him step to the front of the stage in the church hall where his meetings were held, and call the troop to order. He then stood at attention and watched as the boys ran about and ignored him, doing nothing and saying nothing more. In time, they saw him standing at attention, fell into line, and after closing announcements were dismissed. On the way home, I counseled him to use a strong, more directive voice in dealing with the boys rather than be so passive. He responded though, that if he yelled he may get their attention, but not necessarily their respect and that they had to respect his authority. He also emphasized that he was in control because they were not leaving until they fell into line and listened. That night rather than being the teacher and coach, I was a student to my son.

So too were the adults who watched the 2002 King’s High School girls’ basketball team. King’s High School was a Christian school in Washington State. They were furious competitors and after a very successful season reached the Washington State Class A championship game. Despite a late game rally, their hopes were crushed by defeat. As with all such games, the aftermath was chaotic, marked by great joy in the victors and disappointment for the King’s girls and fans. The King’s girls, however, as a team approached the winning coach and asked to meet with the winners in their locker room. Nothing like that had happened before, but the teams met and the King’s girls congratulated the opposing team for their victory. All season the girls had wanted to show that Christian athletes compete as tenaciously as all committed athletes, but that their commitment to Christ covered everything they did. In defeat, they took the grace of God to the opponents. As their story spread, the way they had handled their defeat became a greater lesson for all than anything that might have come from a victory.¹

Although we may regard youth and young adults as unformed, God does not see them that way. When Christ enters their lives he takes their gifts, talents, passion, and energy and immediately begins to use them even as they grow in spirit and stature. As Joel 2:28 reminds us, our sons and daughters become prophets. And our Gospel lesson from Luke has Jesus at the age of twelve teaching in the Temple. They are not just youth and young adults, but brothers and sisters in Christ to whom we, the adults, not only must share our learning and wisdom, but also from whom we can learn.

Our lesson today in the first letter from Paul to Timothy teaches both young Christians and those more seasoned some valuable lessons. Timothy’s age at the time the letter was written is not known, but he probably was in his late twenties or even in his early thirties. At that time, somewhat like today, if you were not at least forty you were considered someone that should be following elders rather than trying to lead. Paul had appointed Timothy as the leader of the church in Ephesus, but he encountered problems with those who were older and did not want to follow the younger Timothy. So Timothy was having a crisis of confidence at the time Paul wrote.

Perhaps the first important thing to note in this passage is that Paul wrote to Timothy. He did not write to chide the older members of the church for not accepting him, but rather he wrote to Timothy. Paul was making clear that leadership is not a function of age, but rather who a person is and how a person conducts himself. Paul starts with a rather bold direction, “command and teach.” In that direction, however, Paul is affirming Timothy’s authority. Paul is addressing Timothy’s confidence by telling him he can lead and is authorized to lead. Paul makes clear to Timothy that he is the leader.

In verse 12, the key verse of the passage, Paul then tells Timothy how to conduct himself to establish his authority as the leader: “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” Paul is coaching Timothy that a Christian leader leads by example. He also is emphasizing that Timothy is responsible for how he leads.

The five leadership virtues that Paul emphasizes, speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity are worth a little closer examination. Paul first advises Timothy to set an example in his speech. We all are measured by what we say and how we say it. A leader uses words to influence others and a spiritual leader must watch the words used very carefully, for the words must not only be influential, but also influential within the Kingdom of God. People take the words of a leader very seriously, and decide whether to follow based upon those words.

Setting an example by conduct also is the second critical leadership virtue. “Do as I say and not as I do” never works for a leader. The first person a leader must lead is him or herself. A spiritual leader must demonstrate the behaviors that represent life in the Kingdom of God. The fifth virtue Paul mentions, purity, might also be considered with conduct. Purity involves moral behavior and integrity. Sadly, we too frequently see church leaders who stumble into immorality and deceit. Impure behavior can very quickly leave a spiritual leader with no followers.

In looking at our youths and young adults, however, we must be careful in the conduct by which we judge them. The very fact that they are younger than many in the church guarantees that they will behave differently than their elders. They will laugh at different jokes, listen to different music, wear different clothes, and so on and so on. Too often our youths and young adults come under criticism just because they are different. The question is not just what they do, but whether their conduct reflects a relationship with Christ.

The third and fourth virtues that Paul emphasizes to Timothy, love and faith, might be described as virtues of spiritual character. Love and faith are the essential cornerstones of all Christian life, but absolutely critical for any spiritual leader. Timothy was in a situation where an unloving response to the elders who were challenging him would have been very natural. But no matter how his opponents behaved, Timothy had to respond not with bitterness, resentfulness, or a lack of forgiveness, but rather seek their good. Simply stated, he had to love those who might be unlovable. Practicing Christian love is not easy. A leader may silence critics with a harsh response, but in the longer term a loving response demonstrates spiritual maturity, gains respect and confidence, and builds trust.

So too with faith. A spiritual leader that shows that he or she turns to Christ for answers is far more likely to have the trust of believers, no matter what the individual’s age, than someone who seems to pursue an agenda other than God’s. Faith inspires. Faith builds respect. And faith in a leader multiples in the faith of those who follow.

Paul’s message to Timothy is a message to us from several perspectives. For youths and young adults, it is solid coaching on how to grow in authority and leadership. For spiritual leaders of any age, Paul provides sound advice on the characteristics that leaders must have and show. But to those of us who might be considered the older members of the church, Paul also sets an example for us. Paul not only reminds Timothy not to “let anyone look down on you because you are young,” but also reminds us not to look down on the young. Paul shows us that we have a responsibility to encourage youths and young adults to grow spiritually and to recognize and support them as leaders and teachers.

At the end of our passage Paul encourages Timothy to use his gift. I have spoken to you before about my friend Don, whom I love to call a “musicianary” because of the way he blends his music with his ministry. In his younger days, Don was a missionary, often into Muslim countries. Now he travels the world giving workshops to young adults about the Kingdom of God and how they can serve as leaders and missionaries in the Kingdom. Don’s work is very Pauline in the sense that he is focused on encouraging youth and young adults to live and lead for Christ and to use their gifts. Don has embraced a ministry of encouragement. I love to follow Don on Facebook because everywhere he goes he posts pictures with the young adults he trains. Any time I have concern about the generation of rising adults I need only look at his pictures and read his messages, and those from whom he teaches, to find Christ at work in young adults.

If you have any doubt that we can learn about Christ from youth, consider Mary Khoury. Mary was a 17 year old girl living in a Christian village during the Lebanese civil war of the late Twentieth Century. Muslims entered the village, shooting everyone who would not deny Christ and convert to Islam. Mary refused and was shot in the neck from behind. Unlike others, she lived but was left with her arms paralyzed and outstretched from her body in a manner reminiscent of crucifixion. Now handicapped, Mary proclaimed,

Everyone has a vocation. I can never marry or do any physical work, so I will offer my life for Muslims, like the one who cut my father’s throat, cursed my mother and stabbed her, and then tried to kill me. My life will be a prayer for them.²

Just 17 years old, but Mary was very mature in Christ. We have much we can learn from her.

Christ is at work in and through youths and young adults all over the world. Young Christians are being persecuted across the globe. They are dying in the North Korea, the Middle East, and other Muslim countries because they will not deny Christ. They are manifesting Christ as they are arrested in China. Christ is at work in and through young adults who are soldiers, sailors, marines, firemen, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and many others who we trust every day to serve and protect us. Christ has equipped them equally well to serve and protect our churches. Contrary to Shaw’s observation, we may find young people everywhere who are not wasting their youth. But without encouragement, their youth may indeed be wasted, but by us, not them.

The church is always passing from one generation to the next, but the church in the United States needs the rise of a new generation of leaders now more than ever. We hear from many sources that we are facing a crisis in an aging church. So we, the elders, must become a Pauline generation in our encouragement of the young. We must do so for them, and for the church.


¹From A Life Well Lived, Chapter 29.

² From Jesus Freaks, by dc Talk and Voice of the Martyrs, 1999, p. 80-81.


  1. Don Stephens on August 31, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks Tom! I love it that you’re championing the young. They definitely have so much to teach us, and I find they’re often our examples as well, when it comes to stepping out in fearless faith and Kingdom adventures. I heard about an old African-American preacher who’s pastoring method was “to hold a crown a few inches above their heads, and let them grow into it.” That seems to be what they most need from us!

    Wonderful story about Greg, by the way. I love that my brilliant attorney-friend is still humble enough to be taught by a “child”. Also… I had never heard the story of Mary Khoury, but the YWAM base in Lebanon where I teach is located in the village (Damour) where the massacre took place. I haven’t posted photos of those students because some are former Muslims and it could put jeopardize their safety. But those young people are staffing a free school for the children of the Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslims. If I get back over there I’ll see what they know about Mary.

    Press on, Bro!

  2. Susan Ruhl on August 31, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Hi Tom,
    I shared your comments with Gene about Greg’s first meeting as SPL and he plans to use it at the “back to scouting” event next week….not for the boys, but for the parents who like to orchestrate everything their sons do. You are a wise dad and as such have great grown “kids”. Good message, Tom. Keep us posted as to where you and Kathy move.
    Sue Ruhl

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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