I was sitting in a meeting last year, fiddling with my glass and listening to the leaders share their vision for the team. They were saying that we needed to find more people willing to step up and lead small groups.
Something in me stirred. I felt excited. “Who can be a leader?” I asked them. What I really meant was; Can I be one?
Someone else in the group chimed in; “Well I think that obviously, age is an important factor. I think, for example, 21 would be too young to lead a group.”
I looked at the person who’d spoken. They looked at me. I felt small. “I’m 21,” I said quietly.
They blinked, and continued: “It’s just too young to have the maturity or life experience to lead others. It’s like letting the blind lead the blind."
I understood what they meant. I tried not to take it personally. But their words niggled at something deep inside of me. I felt an inexplicable frustration.
As a kid, I was blessed to live in a community where age didn’t mean a whole lot. When I was 8, I was sharing my testimony in front of a church in South Korea. At 10 I was allowed to steer the 350-crew ship we lived on.
In our community, we valued wisdom and experience over age. My Dad stepped up to captain the MV Doulos & its crew when he was just 35. I suppose it would have looked strange to others, seeing ‘older’ people submit to the authority of leaders far younger than them. But for us, that was normal.
So in my world, age hasn’t always meant a lot. And I think that, within reason, it didn’t mean a whole to Jesus, either.
Of course, respecting those who are older than us is important. But I also believe that someone’s youth should never discredit their voice or ability to make a difference.
As Paul said in his first letter to Timothy [4:12]; “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”
Young people get a bad rap. We hear the message everywhere; that we are selfish, lazy and dumb, inexperienced and ill-equipped. We’re told that we don’t know the value of hard work. That we are self-centred and immature. That we don't have what it takes to be leaders.
If you’re a young person reading this, please hear me: none of those labels are you. Being ‘young’ doesn’t mean that you are any of those things, in the same way that being 50 doesn’t automatically mean you’re wise and mature.
And if you’ve got a young person in your life, please tell them they have what it takes. Call out the strengths you see in them. Encourage them that they can be all the things the world needs them to be; a young person who is wise and kind and hard-working and selfless.
Because you know what?
You’re never too young to be a leader.
-love, a 21-year-old who is called to lead.