“Under Sixty”

Image                                                                                                                               A beardless and youthful Charles Spurgeon.

Charles Spurgeon was fifteen years old when he inadvertently preached his first public sermon.  A mentor had recognized his apparent calling and gifts and sent him to a Baptist meeting house.  Spurgeon was at that point unaware it had been arranged for him to be the preacher for the evening.  After encouragement from the pastor, Spurgeon preached to great effect upon the congregation.  This prompted one woman to call out, “how old are you!?” To which the flush-faced young but yet quick-witted Spurgeon replied, “Under Sixty!”   The woman replied with a smile, “And under sixteen!” This was well received by the congregation and Spurgeon was invited back.  He would enter the fulltime pastorate at seventeen.[1]

Though I am no Charles Spurgeon, I was unquestionably called into the ministry at fourteen.  I preached my first sermon at fifteen, I was in my first “pastorate” at eighteen.[2] I have grown accustomed to being the youth up front, but am still growing comfortable with it. One intangible piece of advice was given me by my pastor at the time of my call. It went something like this, “John, if the Lord is calling you in to the ministry, He is not calling you in to ministry when you graduate Seminary, when you are ordained, when you graduate college or even high school, He is calling you in to ministry right now, and you have to figure out what that means.”  That set a trajectory in my life that raised what others expected of me, and even more so what I expected of myself.

It did not take me long to come across what the Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This has, throughout each generation, become somewhat of a mantra for youthful congregants everywhere: “let no one despise you for your youth. . .” However, I had to mature a bit before I realized what I taught my own youth group over and over: If you are setting an example in speech, conduct, love faith and purity you will not (in most cases) be despised. If you are despised, then it let be for those reasons.

Spurgeon certainly does not stand alone as a youthful example of leadership. History, even recent history, is replete with young leaders. One of my favorite examples is William Pitt who became Prime Minister of Great Britain when he was 24.  His friend, William Wilberforce, was the same age when he set out on his lifelong battle against the African slave trade. George Whitefield was ordained and began evangelizing at age 19. David Brainerd, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, nor Jim Eliot ever reached the age of thirty.  Dr. Duke McCall was 28 when he became President of the Baptist Bible Institute in New Orleans, LA (destined to be become the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary), Dr. Albert Mohler was 32 when he became the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and most recently Dr. David Platt was 27 when he became the pastor of the Church at Brookhills in Birmingham, AL. What is more, is that Jesus’ public ministry began when he was around thirty years of age. How often do we stop to think that means the disciples were most likely younger (if not a lot younger!) than He was. It is possible that the Apostle Peter was still a minor (by modern standards) when he preached at Pentecost.

Let’s take one more look from the other end: Charles Spurgeon was still “under sixty” when he died. So were Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John Calvin, Urlich Zwingli, and John Bunyan. This is not to mention the countless martyrs ranging from Stephen (Acts 7) to Lady Jane Grey, to countless Romans, Chinese, and Indonesians whose names we will never know this side of glory and youth has been made immortal, due to their seemingly early deaths.

I am still under 60, and will be for quite a while. In fact, if someone is born today who is called to preach, he will also be under 60 with me (for a few months anyway.) There are days when I am asked about my age I am tempted to answer like the younger Spurgeon. In the meantime, in an age of prolonged adolescence, regardless of which decade we find ourselves in, we must be ever mindful that days are fleeting, life is but a vapor, and there is work to be done.  As we set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, let no one despise us for our youth, including ourselves.


[1] Recounted in Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon: A New Biograpy. Banner of Truth Trust. 1998.

[2] I was pleased to preach for a small and aging congregation called White Bluff Baptist Church in Marion County, MS that met once every two weeks in the afternoon.

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