Youth No Bar to the Ministry
A MINISTER is one who serves. Jesus made this point clear in his lesson on humility occasioned by the request of the wife of Zebedee that her two sons, James and John, be granted the chief seats with Christ Jesus in his kingdom. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. Just as the Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—Matt. 20:20-28, NW.
A minister of God, therefore, is one who serves God. How old must one be to be one of God’s ministers? Many an official has looked askance when a minister, appearing before him, stated that he had dedicated himself to his Creator when but a lad and that he had been a minister ever since his dedication. Can a child be a minister of God or does his youth automatically bar him from being one? What do the Scriptures and the facts show?
First of all let us note that Samuel began to serve at the temple right after being weaned. And when God had a message for Israel of impending disaster, he did not send his angel to aged Eli, nor to his matured though dissolute sons, but to the young boy Samuel.—1 Sam. 2:12 to 3:19.
And what about Jeremiah? When Jehovah said to him: “I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations,” he replied: “Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child.” Did Jehovah accept Jeremiah’s excuse? He did not, but answered him: “Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.”—Jer. 1:5-7, AS.
Yes, the Hebrew Scriptures give many examples of youthful ministers of Jehovah God. There were also David, Joseph, Josiah, Daniel and his companions. And so also the Christian Greek Scriptures, wherein the first and chief example that comes to us is, of course, Christ Jesus. At the age of but twelve he was found “in the temple sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them. But all those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers”. (Luke 2:46, 47, NW) And should it be argued that he was an exception, being the Son of God, then we ask, What about Timothy? He must have been very young when he started out on his preaching career, for some ten years later Paul still found it necessary to counsel him: “Let no man ever look down on your youth.”—Acts 16:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:12, NW.
Not only do the ministers of Jehovah thus have good Scriptural precedent for their ministerial activity while still youths, but their critics are estopped from caviling by the record of history on the subject. For instance, John Calvin was recognized as a chaplain at the age of twelve. Pope Paul III elevated his grandson (yes, that is right, his grandson) Alessandro Farnese to the cardinalate at the age of fourteen. Pope Leo X was made an abbot when but eight years old and became a cardinal at the age of thirteen. Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) appointed his grandnephew Alessandro a cardinal at the age of fourteen.
Also in modern times we repeatedly read of youthful ministers serving in the pulpits. Perhaps the most sensational instance was that of a four-year-old son of a California clergyman who preached in 1948, 1949. In fact, due to this child-minister’s performing a marriage ceremony a bill was introduced in the Missouri legislature prohibiting ministers under seventeen to perform marriages. The bill, however, was defeated, on the ground that it violated religious freedom.
What does it take to be a minister of Jehovah God in these days? Dedication to Jehovah, a knowledge of his Word, a desire and ability to tell it to others, and faithfulness in spite of opposition. That one does not have to be an adult to have these qualifications is apparent from the following report received from a traveling representative of the Watch Tower Society serving in the Gold Coast:
“On my arrival at the small coastal town of Senya Beraku I met a young brother about thirteen years of age, whose one eye was bloodstained. When questioned as to the cause he told his experience. He first came in touch with the truth two years ago by following an older schoolmate to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s witnesses. After some time this schoolmate lost interest, but not he. Soon he was joining the brothers in the house-to-house preaching. His mother being dead and his father away, working on the Ivory Coast, he was staying with a grandmother and aunt who repeatedly beat him to discourage his activity, but in vain. Twice he was prevented from attending an assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses where he hoped to get baptized, but only by their hiding his clothes. On the day I saw him he had been getting ready to join us in the group preaching activity when his aunt got hold of him and had some boys stretch him out and beat him. After the beating he asked them if that was all they could do and then left to meet us for witnessing. That beating accounted for his bloodstained eye.
“People mock at his going from house to house, calling him asempfo, which means ‘bearer of good news’. He calmly tells them that he appreciates the name, for that is what he really is, and then asks them why do they not also want to become asempfos, bearers of good news, themselves?
“They tell him that he ought to be in school instead of thus preaching, to which he replies by pointing to the urgency of the message. The fact is that in spite of his ministerial activities he is at the head of his class in school. His answers are so tactful and intelligent that some express resentment and others amazement that such replies should come from such a little boy as he is. When he goes from door to door his brief case containing Bible literature practically drags on the ground, he being so small.
“Early Sunday morning we immersed him and you can imagine his joy that at last he had been able to symbolize and give public declaration of his dedication to Jehovah.”
How many professed Christian ministers, mature in years, show such understanding, zeal and integrity? Truly, not age but fruits determine whether or not one is a minister of God. Age is no bar to the ministry.