By P.J. Casebolt
Age distinction can be a good thing; age discrimination can be a bad thing.
The same is true of sex distinction and discrimination. If we are to reap the benefits of the male/female relationship, we must first recognize and admit that there are certain distinctions to be made between males and females. Some are trying to ignore this fact, and any lawful effort to distinguish between male and female is branded as discrimination.
In the social sector, some progress has been made in the area of age discrimination, but we still have a long way to go. Arbitrary age limits are established for job, military, and educational qualifications, and if you are one year younger or older than the lower or upper limit, you are disqualified. In fact, you could miss the cut-off limit by even one day, and still be disqualified, depending on your birthday.
We may not have too much control over age discrimination in the social or civil sector of life, but we should be able to capitalize on the advantages which both the young and the elderly have to offer in the church. And, while preaching is not the only work to be done in the church, it may tend to illustrate our tendency to discriminate when it comes to the matter of age.
Under the law of Moses, certain age limits were established for service in the tribe of Levi, including those who served in the priesthood. It was not God’s idea to have kings ruling over his people in the first place, but certain restrictions were placed upon those kings. Yet, no age limits were established as to when a king’s reign was to begin or end. Some younger kings put some of the older ones to shame when it came to using common sense or obeying the Lord.
In this dispensation of time, we have a better covenant than the one which God made with Israel. We need to act accordingly.
Let me cite a real-life example of show how we sometimes discriminate against the youth of the church.
This particular young man has been preaching for a couple of years, and has the knowledge and poise of those who are much older. He is so young that he still has to have someone drive him to his preaching appointments, because he isn’t old enough to obtain a driver’s license. He often completes his newspaper route before going to preach at some area congregation. I remarked that he may be the only boy who ever had to make a choice between being a paper boy or a preacher.
While this young man is now receiving encouragement to develop his talents, the case illustrates my point. If you were to suggest sending a 15-year old boy to preach for a congregation which was not aware of his talents, he would be rejected on the basis of age alone.
On the other hand, if you suggested sending a 95-year old man to preach for the same congregation, under similar circumstances, that man would probably be turned down on the basis of his age. Yet, I knew a preacher who continued to preach at that age, whose physical stamina and mental alacrity would equal that of many preachers half his age.
Admittedly, these two “Alpha and Omega” examples are exceptions to the general rule, and yet they show how arbitrary we can be by not taking advantage of the youthful and elderly talents in the church.
I have known young preachers with years of experience and good recommendations who desired to preach, but were turned down because the brethren wanted “a more experienced man.” In some instances, the congregations had elders who could have continued to oversee the flock while giving a young man the opportunity to do the work of an evangelist. All too often, the younger preacher has to get his “on the job training” under some of the most difficult (and often disastrous) circumstances.
At the other end of the age discrimination spectrum, there are preachers who are still physically and mentally alert even at the threescore years and past, but still are hindered from fulfilling their potential because brethren have decided that anyone that old could not possibly meet their concept of what a preacher out to be.
When I first began to preach, several brethren thought that I was 10-15 years older than what I actually was. I just hope that some may think I am that much younger than what my birth certificate indicates. And, I have known brethren to miss a preacher’s age by that many years, just judging by appearance. I have also known brethren who thought a certain preacher had a college education when he had never even finished high school, and some who thought a preacher had not finished high school when in reality he held a college degree.
The apostle instructed a young preacher how to behave himself so that no one would despise his youth (1 Tim. 4:12). And, in all fairness to many brethren and congregations, age alone has not been a factor when considering men for the work of an evangelist. It certainly hasn’t been in my case, or if it has, I never knew about it.
Maybe Jack Benny had something when he kept telling folks he was 39 years old. Some preachers are either too young or too old to suit some brethren, but a middle-aged man (whatever that might mean), may still not have the other qualifications necessary to do the work of an evangelist.
We need to take advantage of the talents of youth, and the church is the ideal place to blend the zeal and energy of youth with the knowledge, wisdom, and restraint characteristic of older Christians (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1,2; Tit. 2:4). And, the beautiful thing about it is, we don’t have to start special organizations for either the young or old in order to capitalize on this rich resource of talent, The church and the home are still sufficient to this end.
It may be unwise at times not to recognize age distinction, but it may be just as unwise to practice age discrimination.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 7, pp. 206, 214
April 5, 1990