Junior LeadersBy Nathan Mates
When one thinks of Biblical leaders, one tends to think of a figure like Charlton Heston, commanding respect by their looks alone. Tempered by age and experience, they lead people looking up to them. That seems reasonable-- in the real world, most presidents, CEOs, generals and the like tend to be older than most of their subjects. Another consideration is that the firstborn children tend to be seen as the leaders-- almost all presidents of the USA have been firstborn.
In God's plans, however, things are different. While some leaders are older, a significant number of leaders have been the young and the younger siblings. Consider the example of Moses, as mentioned above. While he was well aged when leading the exodus from Egypt, he was the kid in the family-- "Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh." [Exodus 7:7] Their sister, Miriam, was old enough to speak eloquently when Moses was 3 months old-- "Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?"" [Exodus 2:7] Thus, it is reasonable that Miriam was older than her brothers.
Centuries before, God had similarly reversed the natural order: "The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."" [Genesis 25:23] These two children were Esau and Jacob, and this did come to pass-- Esau sold his birthright, and ended up serving Jacob.
Even in the kingship of Israel, God bypassed the elder children several times in favor of those he chose. After God rejected the big warrior Saul, God directed Samuel towards a different kind of leader: "Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, "The LORD has not chosen these." So he asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives." So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah." [1 Samuel 16:11-13]
While David was the youngest of eight sons, and yet was chosen to be King, this continued on to his sons. David had several wives and children born to him before he became king. [2 Samuel 3:2-5] But, it was only after he was king that he fell (in the worst way) for Bathsheba. While their child conceived in sin died, things were different after that: "He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon."
Even outside of the realms of younger children taking leadership roles, there are also examples of age being not a factor in doing God's work. This starts with the oldest (in terms of date of writing) book of the Bible, Job. Job's three "friends" spend most of the first thirty books trying to convince Job that he has sinned. But, there is a fourth friend: "Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused." [Job 32:4-5]
Despite Elihu's anger here, he does manage to speak enough truth here to get off far easier than those three friends. God's magnificent comments silence Job, then "After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." [Job 42:7] Elihu is not mentioned by God at all, possibly earning him somewhat better marks than Job and the three friends.
Further on in the New Testament, as some of the later books written in the Bible, we see another example of the younger leaders: Timothy. On Paul's second visit to Lystra [Acts 16:1-2, first was in Acts 14:6-23], Timothy was well respected: "He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." [Acts 16:1-3]
Recruited quickly to go on missionary journeys, Paul referred to Timothy as his 'son' [e.g. 1 Timothy 1:18] many times. While this may reflect spiritual leadership-- Paul converted Timothy, Paul did pass on notes on leadership and care for churches in two letters to him. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that Timothy would be young enough to lead the next generation in the church after Paul. Despite any speculated age difference, Paul worked closely enough with Timothy that both of their names were on many of Paul's epistles as authors: 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, Philemon.
All of this does not contradict examples of the firstborn, and the olders leading within the church. Of two brothers, Simon and Andrew, Simon is listed first, signifying age. And, as Peter, he became the leader of the twelve disciples, and an influential figure in the early church.
But, all of us, regardless of position among siblings, or age within the church, should be willing to use whatever talents God has given us. God can and will bypass the natural order to select those who he can best work through. Because of this, we should be seeking to develop our skills and be committed to God, as there may be times when God disrupts his natural order and puts us on the spot.