Tensions in the Millennial Ghetto
by James Madden
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,
1 Timothy 4:12, 1 Timothy 6:20
Two commands in one relationship between two people; that the young man might grow into maturity, to become seasoned in the faith like the old man. Such is the letter from the Apostle Paul to his protégé, Timothy. Of course, there are many themes, motifs, and principles one can draw from 1 Timothy, yet there are two trajectories within Paul’s first letter that produce an internal tension within young Timothy. Juxtapose the verses I Timothy 4:12 and 6:20, and weigh how the two messages might interact with one another. On the one hand, Timothy is to stand tall and confident, a leader for whom all ages and stages of the Christian life might point and cry, “Yes! That is it. Behold, the young man of God.” On the other hand, Timothy is a disciple, a guardian of good news entrusted to him to protect, proclaim, and preserve the future of the church. One posture is that of a proactive, public leader. The other is that of a sentinel, a recipient. Do the two conflict? Not necessarily, but they do require a subtle wisdom to embody.
The public leader has several characteristics, and according to Paul, he is to exemplify these virtues as a role model for everyone, including those older than he. He is to speak humbly, but boldly. He is to act with conviction yet humility. He is to love, but within love there exists rebuke and compassion. One must also walk by faith and not by sight and still be authentic in periodic doubting. And yet even then, one must be pure: holy, righteous, blameless, and set apart from the world. So, no pressure for young Timothy.
Not dissimilarly, the private custodian holds equally important responsibilities. He is to protect the Gospel, curate it even, and he is to then guard this deposit while simultaneously engaging in his present cultural context. How does one know when to interject the good deposit into public dialogue? How can one proclaim and protect the Gospel within a cacophony of public voices and yet still avoid the red herrings, circuitous debates, the rhetoric, and the idea du jour?
I am a young minister of the Gospel, and I feel this tension. Of course, I am no Timothy or Paul or anyone for that matter (not to self-deprecate too much), but I have been called, taught, examined, and now installed to proclaim the Gospel while simultaneously living a public life of faith and purity. So no pressure. It is obvious that it is an impossible task for anyone to do perfectly, let alone someone green like myself or Timothy. So, what to do?
One comfort for the young minister is the apostle Paul. Whether that is Paul himself or an older living pastoral figure, the young pastor must see the Christian live before him. I must see it lived before me. Thankfully, Jesus did not overnight mail the ESV Bible to His disciples and say, “Best of luck! When in doubt, use your grammatical-historical exegesis!” No, He lived with them for years. There was an indissoluble link between word and deed throughout His ministry. As much as He died for the disciples, He also spoke to His life, death, and resurrection’s significance, even if the disciples did not understand. The young minister is looking for someone to watch and follow after. Will he find someone?
Let’s expand the scope. The Christian life must be modeled for all Timothys, those in pastoral and lay ministry. Will the young Timothys find their Pauls? I don’t know. There is a hunger within the millennial generation (those born between 1980-2000, roughly) for mentors, and yet millennials alienate themselves from older generations. The millennial gets Paul’s first message: be an example, be a leader, change the world (no pressure). The millennial does not understand the second: guard and keep the deposit entrusted to you.
I fear for the millennials, because there is moxie without maturity. I live in a millennial ghetto—there is no attachment to past history, Christianity, philosophy, or culture. Millennials are shiny cars without drivers; they have impressive engines, great custom interiors, but who will drive? Where will Timothy go if Paul does not show him? And yet what is even more troubling is the endemic moral incoherence of our Western moment (yes, even within the churches, too).
Millennials are products of their cultural milieu; we are not special or unique. There is great potential within millennials, but again, I fear the moxie. The call to be big and bold and set an example has been reinforced ever since grade school. What is often omitted is the entrusted deposit of the good news of Christ.
I am eternally grateful for my upbringing within the PCA, because through it, I believe I received the good deposit. I have watched and continue to watch many Pauls show me the life he commands Timothy to emulate. I want for others what I have received, for we are surrounded by irreverent babble and contradictions. Many of the latest advances in knowledge, particularly within the social sciences, epitomize what is falsely called “knowledge.” Only wise believers, able to sort through the noise, will be able to show the millennials what it is to abide in Christ as we rejoice in the Gospel.
I will say it again and again, with love and humility: We need the Pauls.