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Saint Timothy
Patron Saint of Peach-Fuzzed Pastors
A. Trevor Sutton

I have decided to grow a mustache. I will channel my inner Tom Selleck and join the illustrious ranks of mustachioed men. With that bushy display of age growing on my upper lip, folks undoubtedly will believe that I am old enough to be a pastor.

At least once a day someone reminds me of how I am too young to be a pastor. Sometimes it is subtle. Upon introducing myself as a pastor the usual response is, “Oh neat, like a youth pastor?”

Other times it is more blatant. When I am calling upon my parishioners, the same hospital receptionist is perpetually shocked that a “young boy” (her words, not mine) could be a pastor.

timothyThis ageism is not all bad. At least once a day someone reminds me of how wonderful it is to have a youthful pastor. A parishioner says, “We just love the youthful excitement that you bring!” But once moments before I officiated a wedding, the mother of the bride felt compelled to tell me how glad she was that some “moldy, old pastor” wasn’t performing her daughter’s ­wedding.

Welcome to the peculiar sort of ageism that young clergy face. Folks want their thirty-year-old pastor to have sixty years of life experiences under his belt. They want him to have grayish hair and a soul patch. They want him to drive a Buick and play Frisbee golf. People want their pastor to use a tablet during Bible study and be old enough to remember Charlton Heston lugging the stone tablets down from Mount Sinai.

This ageism is more than just an inconvenience for a baby-faced pastor; it is a symptom of a deeper ailment in the modern church. Just as there is an absurd longing for pastors who are both young and old, there is confusion surrounding what a pastor is actually supposed to do. The church has split expectations: it wants new leaders with new perspectives while it also wants old leaders maintaining old routines.

There is a deep yearning for pastors to preserve the age-old conventions of Christendom: an hour-long worship service, easy-to-sing hymns, followed by coffee and doughnuts to wash it all down. We assume there will always be semi-assigned seating in the pews. And somewhere in Leviticus it is written that pastors must have salt-and-pepper hair, a tender disposition, and reasonably soft hands. This is the type of pastor people had as children; this is the type of pastor people want spreading a pall over their casket.

Yet, at the same there is a palpable longing for someone to come in and repair the church. The great affirmations given to young clergy are also veiled criticisms of the existing church. Allow me to translate: “We want the excitement of a young pastor,” means, “This congregation hasn’t been excited since Reagan left office.” “A young pastor will relate better with our youth,” means, “Maybe you can keep our kids from leaving the faith in droves.” “We are excited to try your new ideas,” means, “What we’ve been doing sure ain’t ­working!”

The hope for church revitalization has been entrusted to the young, whether they asked for it or not. There is a perpetual optimism that maybe this next batch of pastors will be the ones to get it right. Maybe this next generation of pastors will be the ones to moisten dusty baptismal fonts and polish off all those the stale ­communion wafers.

Charged with such a task, it would seem that young clergy need a patron saint. Who better than Paul’s peach-fuzzed protégé, Saint Timothy?  I am certain that Timothy’s stomach problems came from congregants calling him “Little Timmy.” Constantly being confused with a member of the youth group would cause any pastor a level of anxiety.

Thankfully, Timothy had an older and wiser father in the faith to help him curtail the self-doubt brought on by ageism. Paul left this young pastor with a piece of advice: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20).

Timothy was not tasked with guarding the congregation’s endowment. This wet-behind-the-ears pastor was not instructed to preserve potlucks, pipe organs, or attractional church programs. On the other hand, Timothy was also not there to form a praise band or decorate the youth room. Timothy was not given a bunch of gift cards and told to hang out at the Starbucks in Ephesus.

Instead, Timothy was there to guard the Gospel. He was charged with protecting the message of Jesus Christ. He was to pass it on to later generations in the same condition as when he had received it. It did not matter whether Timothy was young or old. It did not matter whether Timothy had a soul patch or a moustache. Paul could care less whether this young pastor played golf or played Settlers of Catan.

What mattered most was espousing the cross of Christ. Timothy was to guard with his life the proclamation that all things are made new through Christ’s death and resurrection. The old life of death and decay is over; the new life of love and restoration has begun. Guarding this deposit was the crux of this young pastor’s ministry. And guarding that very same deposit is the crux of any young pastor’s ministry.

 

A. Trevor Sutton serves as pastor at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Haslett, Michigan. He is managing editor of Relief Journal: A Christian Literary Expression.

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