What's in an age?
I have done almost five weeks in this role, and I have already lost count of the number of rooms I’ve walked into where people have been barely able to contain their surprise that I am Bristol’s new DDO (diocesan director of ordinands).
The elephant in the room, I assume, is my relatively young age in comparison to the significance of the role. Now, I will confess to rigorously using an excellent skin cream, but I suspect this is not the main cause of the problem. At 32, I am young to have been trusted with the responsibility of this role and having just come out of curacy means that I have less of the traditional experience that a DDO might be expected to have.
However, I have been greatly encouraged by the willingness of the Diocese to move beyond what might be expected and to make a surprising appointment in light of the changing landscape of the Church.
On my first day in the role, my devotional reading happened to be from 1 Timothy 4, which contains the sentence, ‘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’ – what great encouragement (and deep challenge) that God does not look primarily at a person’s age but the holiness and faithfulness of their life.
From Abraham who was 75 when he first set out in response to God’s call (Genesis 12:4) to Samuel, the boy who heard God’s voice in days when the word of the Lord was rare (1 Samuel 3:1). From Anna in the temple who had been a widow for 84 years (Luke 2:37) to Mary, the teenager called to bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38), God calls the very young and the very old, and all in between, based primarily on their open heart and obedient spirit and not the length of their life.
We all know and celebrate this in principle, so why have I encountered so many bemused faces in response to my appointment?
In spite of the obsessive attention given to youth and beauty in our culture (and perhaps in prophetic resistance to it), the church is heavily influenced by the idea that age and experience are necessities for wisdom and maturity.
Of course, age and experience do bring with them immense wisdom and maturity, which are of great benefit to the people of God, as Job (12:12) and Proverbs (16:31) testify. However, this focus may lead us to forget that wisdom is essentially a gift from God (James 1:5; 1 Kings 3:5-12; Job 28:23), given in his grace to those who are humble enough to ask for it.
I am also reminded that Jesus, the true embodiment of God’s perfect wisdom, only reached the grand old age of 33!
I raise this as an issue because with the renewed national emphasis upon younger vocations, the Church is going to need to be open to increasing numbers of younger people in positions of senior leadership in the Church. It is one thing for the ministry development team to work hard encouraging and nurturing young vocations, but if churches are not willing to consider appointing a young incumbent when they finish their training, what is the point?
This isn’t just an issue to be debated by DDOs, selectors and training institutions, but the whole Church needs to embrace the idea that God delights to call and equip (the right) younger people for significant leadership roles.
How would your church feel about their next vicar being a 27-year-old or the next bishop being a 38-year-old? We know that ministry should not be primarily about age but about discerning God’s call on a person’s life and whether they have the character, skills and capacity to fulfil the particular role. But given that someone in their late 20s might have all of those things – would you whole-heartedly support their appointment?
I therefore invite you to join me in praying that God might inspire and call increasing numbers of young people to offer themselves for licensed ministry in the Church and that God might prepare his Church to wholeheartedly embrace, endorse and accept their leadership and vocation.
Helen Collins Adviser for Licensed Ministry
Adviser for Licensed Ministry