This is a reminder to all of us aging Baby Boomers: God can work through the younger generation—and He does. The last thing we need to do is dismiss someone because he’s young or “just a kid.” (For clarification, my definition of “just a kid” is anyone who is too young to remember where he was when he heard Elvis died.)
Let me make my case from history and then from the Bible.
Alexander Fleming is the name famously connected to penicillin. I have written previously about Fleming’s serendipitous discovery of the life-saving impact of the Penicillium fungus. (See “Art That Saves Lives.”) I do not want to take away from Fleming’s fame, but he was not the first one to notice that certain molds can kill bacteria. That falls to a French doctor named Ernest Duchesne. When he was working toward his doctorate, he observed that bacteria and molds fight like two over-hyped professional wrestlers. The only difference is their fight for survival is not rigged nor does it involve throwing chairs.
Duchesne turned his findings into a doctoral dissertation and proposed that a mold like penicillum glaucum could be used to inoculate against many bacterial cultures. Duchesne made this discovery and published his findings in 1897, over 30 years before Fleming announced his discovery.
So why do we know the name Fleming and not Duchesne? Because Ernest Duchesne was only 23 years old. Duchesne submitted his dissertation to the Pasteur Institute, the French Institute dedicated to fighting infectious diseases, but he was considered too young. His dissertation was not even acknowledged.
Let that sink in. A brilliant mind was considered too young to be brilliant, so a discovery that could’ve saved thousands of lives during World War I was ignored.
Ernest Duchesne didn’t get his due until 1949—five years after Alexander Fleming was handed a Nobel Prize. But it was too late for Duchesne. He died in 1912 at the age of 37. Who knows, maybe he would’ve lived longer had he been given penicillin.
Under the apostle Paul’s mentorship, Timothy was pastoring a church. As we read the letter called 1 Timothy, we see that Timothy faced challenges, and Paul offered great encouragement. Timothy’s age may have been part of the challenge he faced, because Paul admonished him, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth” (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul’s antidote for this negative response from others was to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Give them no reason to question your character or walk with Christ.
I’m honored to work alongside a “Timothy,” a young man in my church who is leading in incredible ways. He’s a whopping 21 years old, but he serves as a deacon and is serving on the pastor search committee that will set the direction of the church for years to come. When I have sat in a few of these committee meetings, he knocks my socks off with his insight. I’ve started bringing extra socks.
Did I mention he’s only 21?
Is He still growing in Christ? Yes, he is—but so am I. No one has quoted 1 Timothy 4:12 to me since the Reagan Administration, but I have still to reach full-on maturity in Christ. I’m further down the road in my walk with Christ, but I’ve got quite a few miles still in front of me. We all do.
When God is involved, age doesn’t matter. God delivered a message through the boy Samuel (1 Sam. 3:10-18). David was probably a teenage boy when God used him to get a head—Goliath’s (17:1-54). And God even used me in my early attempts to serve and minister.
I’m sorry for the countless lives that could’ve been saved had a young physician been taken seriously. But I am determined not to take that same close-minded approach. I want to invest in those who are young, encourage them, and watch God do His work through them. No one despises me because I’m young—because I’m not!—but I can still “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”
Join me in this. Invest yourself in the next generation.
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