Should We Disciple Older People?
Last Saturday, I had a meaningful and heated conversation with some friends. I was inspired to blog it here. The topic? Younger people discipling older ones.
I’m writing primarily for disciple-makers or disciplers, answering the question, “Should we disciple older people?” But in my attempt to answer the question, I hope to be of help to disciples as well, answering the question, “Should we be discipled by younger people?” Thus, I’m writing secondarily for disciples.
As I remember the conversation, I thought about my stand on it. In this blog, I’m going to present my stand (which seems to me, by now, a revised one) and base it on biblical and practical grounds. And my answer to the question? Yes…and no.
I say yes because I remember 1 Timothy 4:12:
12Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Paul writes to Timothy, who pastors the church in Ephesus and is described as young. (Commentators say he’s in his late thirties. In the Greek culture, one is considered young up to 40). Definitely, there were people older than him (see 1 Timothy 5:1-2) and these people may discredit his ministry because of his age. The apostle Paul, thus, encourages him not to “let anyone look down on [him] because [he is] young” (NIV1984).
Paul continues to encourage Timothy, exhorting him to win the believers by living an exemplary life. That’s it! What matters is example, not age. I realized that one may be well advanced in years and yet live a bad model for living.
It’s possible that a younger believer set an older one an example. Today, I know lots of younger people who set me an example and who continue to inspire me. God forbid that I despise their youth.
So discipler, you may disciple older people, winning them through your example. Again, example is the issue, not age.
I’ve presented my biblical basis on why younger people may disciple older ones. This is my reason why my answer to the question is yes. Now, I’d like to proceed with my practical argument. This time, my answer is no.
Let’s face it. A believer, or specifically a discipler, may set an exemplary life to his disciples. However, he will be limited by his age. There’s a huge difference between a twenty-three year old and a forty-year old when it comes to maturity. (Let me make one thing clear: Age doesn’t mean maturity. So let’s assume that both the twenty-three year old and the forty-year old are solid believers, maturing in knowledge and character. And forgive me for the exaggeration of the age gap. I’m just making a point). The twenty-three year old may not be able to give guidance on matters related to finances, career, business, ministry, marriage, and family, because his age limits him.
Personally, I don’t see myself discipling someone who is older than me. I can give someone who is older, and let’s say he is a young professional, guidance (and set him an example) on issues related to spiritual disciplines. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for me, still a student, to give him guidance related to career. Why? Because of my age and consequently the lack of experience on matters related to career.
So practically speaking, younger people may not disciple older ones.
How do I reconcile my answers to the question? This is how I will do it. Younger people may disciple older people, and to do so he must live an exemplary life. But if in humility, he recognizes his limitations to disciple people on important aspects of living, he must pray, seek wisdom, and if necessary, point his disciples to other people who can disciple them and also help them on those aspects of living. The keyword here is humility.