Tell an educated teenager they can’t pastor a small church because they are too young, and you will probably hear 1 Timothy 4:12 thrown back in your face. (Disagree with a few youth pastors and you might get the same thing.) It says…
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
Let’s forget for a moment that Timothy was in his late thirties when he received this letter. How young is too young to take the pulpit? According to some, it doesn’t matter.
Today, an article was posted with the title: 8-Year-Old Preacher Says God Has His Back on ‘Today’ Show. It begins with this run-on sentence:
Eight-year-old Samuel Green, who has preached at over 50 churches and hosts his own public access television show, “Samuel M. Green presents The Simple Truth,” appeared on NBC’s “Today” show yesterday with his mother and mentor to discuss being a child preacher and his future goals of helping children in need.
What?! Who knew there was such a market for mini-ministers? But the idea of a child preacher is not a new phenomenon. Who doesn’t remember the preaching baby video that went viral five years ago? Last year, National Geographic dipped into their infinite resources to shine a spotlight on the circus, calling them Pint-Sized Preachers. So what of it? How should Christians react to this new breed of child celebrity in the church? Is the Bible silent on the issue? Well…
Does the Bible speak directly against children pastors? No… because let’s be frank… the idea is absurd. It also doesn’t directly advise against hot-air ballooning in the rain… but if a child regurgitated the truth he heard in an early church service, no one would give the kid a job, a title, or much more than a smile. (The early church would have never lasted with eight-year-olds calling the shots.)
So does the Bible speak indirectly against the issue? Definitely. Let’s consider three simple questions:
- What is a pastor’s role?
- Is anyone qualified to preach/teach?
- Are there other biblical stipulations that make child-led preaching a bad idea?
What is a Pastor’s Role?
According to page 913 of Wayne Grudem’s famous book, Systematic Theology:
Elders are also called “pastors” or “bishops” or “overseers” in the New Testament. The least commonly used word (at least in the noun form) is pastor (Gk. ποιμήν, G4478). It may be surprising to us to find that this word, which has become so common in English, only occurs once in the New Testament when speaking about a church officer. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul writes,
“And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”
The verse is probably better translated “pastor-teachers” (one group) rather than “pastors and teachers” (suggesting two groups) because of the Greek construction (though not every New Testament scholar agrees with that translation). The connection with teaching suggests that these pastors were some (or perhaps all) of the elders who carried on the work of teaching, for one qualification for an elder is that he be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).
So preachers are teachers and elders. If the pastoral role falls under the canopy of biblical eldership, whatever Scripture says about elders applies to pastors. But Hans… these kids are preaching, not teaching. Let’s assume for a minute that you didn’t read the last two paragraphs. In one sense, we’re all preachers. Every believer is called to preach and teach (Matt 28:19-20). But not everyone is called to equip the saints through servant leadership in the church (1 Cor 12:27-30, Eph 4:11). If an eight-year-old kid is preaching/teaching at over fifty churches while hosting his own christian television show… how would you define his ministry? If he’s not equipping the saints for service or preaching the gospel to unbelievers, what is he doing? Is he even qualified to assume the preaching role?
Is Anyone Qualified to Preach/Teach?
Believe it or not, the Bible lists qualifications for elders (therefore pastors). 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 provide us with a list. An elder must…
- Be above reproach
- Be a lover of good
- Be sober-minded
- Be self-controlled
- Be slow to anger
- Be gentle (not violent)
- Be disciplined
- Be respectable
- Be hospitable
- Be teachable
- Be holy
- Able to articulate divine truth
- Not be arrogant
- Not be a drunk
- Not be a polygamist
- Not be quarrelsome
- Not be greedy
- Not be young in the Faith
- Manage his household well
- Have disciplined children
- Have a solid reputation
- Hold unswervingly to the gospel
- Rebuke those who oppose the gospel
How many men (redeemed by grace, but mature in faith and experience) meet those requirements? Now show me a child equipped for the task.
Are There Other Biblical Stipulations that Make Child-Led Preaching a Bad Idea?
Here are three final considerations:
- Regarding leadership in the church, Hebrews 13:17 says:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.
Who wants to give that responsibility to an eight-year-old?
- What if the kid goes way off the reservation? 1 Timothy 5:19-20 states:
Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
Sounds worse than ten minutes in a “time-out” chair.
- And finally, let’s not forget this famous verse from James 3:1:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
We can argue semantics all day, but if children are assuming preacher/teacher roles within the church… that’s scary for them, their parents, and anyone else who thinks this is cute or a good idea.
In conclusion, here are a few pastoral quotes from notable men:
“The true shepherd spirit is an amalgam of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but he is not fiery with passion. He is gentle, and yet he rules his class. He is loving, but he does not wink at sin. He has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp. He has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not license; solemnity, but not gloom.” – C.H. Spurgeon (28.573)
“An elder is simply a man of exemplary, Christlike character who is able to lead God’s people by teaching them God’s Word in a way that profits them spiritually.” – Mark Dever and Paul Alexander (Looking for a Few Good Men, taken from The Deliberate Church, © 2005, Crossway Books)
“To try to avoid leadership, and a leader among leaders, is to avoid not only a fact of life but a spiritual principle.” – Derek Prime and Alistair Begg (On Being a Pastor, Moody Press, 2004, p. 219)
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time looking to a pastor in pull-ups for servant leadership… let alone spiritual advice.