Today, a fellow pastoral leader (of a different denomination) referred to me as "young man." He certainly didn't mean anything by it, we were leaving a meeting, I suspect he doesn't know my name, and so he said to me, "See you later, young man." [Why is it that it seems appropriate to respond to someone as a young man, or young woman, but the same is not true with regard to referring to someone as an "old man" or "old woman?"]
Its not the type of thing that offends me--I am relatively young (especially as far as pastors go) and I am a man--so technically speaking he was correct--I am a "young man." However, it had the ring of the type of thing I heard as a teenager or a college student. My dad used to refer to me as a "fine young man" up until about the time I got married and became the sole provider for not only myself, but also my family (about a decade ago).
Moreover, I think my gut response that this felt inappropriate was connected to an earlier experience this week. A local hospital was conducting a community needs assessment in our church, and when I met the woman from the hospital who was organizing the assessment, when she first met me, the first thing she said was, "You are not old enough to be a pastor!" Ha! If I'm not old enough today, what she would have thought 10 years ago when I began serving as a student pastoral intern? Moreover, I am this year the traditional age of Jesus at his death (33). If I am not old enough for ministry, neither was he!
But this posting is not actually about age--in reality, I am long over being considered by some as too young for a pastor. More to the point is holding this idea against another. My Father-in-Law, now near sixty had expressed that he sometimes feels as though there are people who think he is too old to serve. That at 60+ you just can't be cutting edge enough in the church to meet the needs of these fast changing times. So apparently there are people who think pastor's should be older than 40, and younger than 60.
Why is there such a narrow picture of the most appropriate age for ministry? I think it is tied to an overall assumption that the call to pastoral ministry must be rare. There are any number of excuses which people can give themselves from entering ministry--I'm too young, I'm too old, I'm not "holy" enough, I have bad history, I'm not smart enough, etc.
This points to a deeper issue that sometimes we speak of God as so holy, righteous, and transcendent--such that the idea that we can serve this God, that we can speak to the nature of our God--that we can share the love of this God seems almost impossible. But our God is not one who stays far off and distant. Our God is not one who uses the obvious people to share demonstrate God's love. God uses a stutterer to talk to Pharaoh, a murdering adulterer to be the greatest king of God's people, a king who was a descendent of a Midian woman who threw herself at Boaz to convince him to have her as his wife so that she and Naomi could live. The list goes on--murder, prostitution, stealing--nothing is a barrier to being used as God's servant.
I believe that we put barriers on who we expect God will use because too often we don't expect ourselves to be used. Serving God in certain ways is for uniquely called people--those who few who must somehow meet special unknown requirements--certainly they won't be too old or too young, they have some unique connection to God--something the rest of us do not have.
Let us not be surprised that God uses all kinds of people for all kinds of different reasons. I am not too young, and my friend from this morning is not too old. The recovering addict is not too broken, and the workaholic is not too busy--God cam close to us, walked among us, and promised to be with us always. God is in our midst and can use any and all of us--we know this.. it isn't surprising, so lets stop acting surprised when God uses a variety of people in varied ways.