I turned 30 a few months ago, so I’m actually at the beginning point of stepping out of this problem. But it still happens to me. People wonder what “that sixteen-year-old” is doing up front leading music or liturgy, or preaching a sermon. I’ve received so many comments over the years on how young I look that I’ve become inoculated to them. I’ve developed 100% immunity to being embarrassed or offended when people tell me I look like I just got my driver’s license. It’s even become a fun joke around church, such that when I became an ordained minister, they put my picture up among those of the other elders…only it wasn’t me; it was a doctored picture of Doogie Howser (no pun intended)!
The not so funny side of all of this is that when you’re young-looking, older people (and even some younger people) can have a hard time receiving leadership from you, and this can be detrimental to your goals of encouraging people, through Christ, to glorify God and receive His benefits in corporate worship. People can be distracted by you, and become more concerned with the young whipper-snapper up front than the God he or she is encouraging you to glorify.
In this situation, the worst thing you can do is play into the hands of such thoughts…to begin entertaining the reasons you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. It is akin to Moses, worrying about his stuttering problem when God summons him to be His mouthpiece.
What’s the remedy? First and foremost, it’s the Gospel. It’s the good news that your worth, importance, and adequacy is found in what God thinks of you. And because He sees you clothed in the perfection of Christ, you need no other validation. As Joseph Hart’s hymn says, “Dearly we’re bought, highly esteemed, redeemed with Jesus’ blood, redeemed.”
Secondly, I would encourage you with the same words I gave to a young friend at his ordination service: “Rise to your office. God has called you to this, and the call of God is the validation you should rest upon.” He was being ordained as a pastor in the PCA, which means this twenty-something was becoming a “younger elder.” We younger elders, because of our age, can be tempted to question our office and our call.
This reality hit me hard about a year ago, when an older man (in his 60s) in our congregation called me up, asking for biblical wisdom on how to handle the ethical situation of whether or not to take his dying, ninety-year-old mother off life support. When he first laid all this out, I thought to myself, “What in the world am I doing counseling this guy who’s twice my age and dealing with things that I’m not even close to experiencing?” The enemy began to poke at my sense of inferiority and inadequacy. But then I began to ask the question, “Why is this man seeking me out?” I came to the conclusion that he was doing so by virtue of my office and calling from God. He sought me out because I was a pastor, and that call and office transcends my age, lack of life experience, and sense of inadequacy. I quickly realized that to cower in inferiority would not only be a poor pastoral move to a man in need, it would be, in a sense, rejecting the call of God through His church.
Whether or not worship leaders are ordained ministers, the same concept applies. Every worship leader should be there because he or she is called to it. If that is the case, that person, irrespective of age, has been set in a kind of office, and they must rise to the occasion of that office. They must lead with confidence and authority, knowing that they are there because God wants to use them in that capacity. Caving in to the lies that you’re not “old enough” or “seasoned enough” does no service to Christ or His church. Furthermore, the people, in a way, depend on your confidence. When you are confident, you are in a place to put Christ in the spotlight. When you lack confidence, you steal that spotlight away from Christ by (perhaps inadvertently) diverting people’s attention to how awkwardly you’re carrying yourself.
For the older folks who just can’t get past your age (or perceived age), you need to realize that this is their problem. They need to do some of their own heart-work, their own confession and repentance, their own re-application of the Gospel. For you, as you faithfully lead through prayer, Scriptural guidance, and Spirit-led worship planning, you will begin winning people to your side. Both the young and the young-looking are still very capable of a mature, wise leadership.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)