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More Young Foolish Leaders Please

AndrewBurkhartIs the pastor of your church a young foolish leader? Does that frustrate you? Maybe you are older. Maybe you are wiser. Does that make you secretly despise young foolish leaders? People who really think they can face any problem and keep advancing forward.

Martin Luther spoke into the “young foolish leader” phase as a 57 year old man. First, a little bit of back story to appreciate Luther.

Martin Luther was born in 1483. At the age of 34 he confidently nailed 95 theses to the castle doors in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was outraged at the practices of the institutional church of his day. His greatest frustration culminated with the practice of indulgences.

Here’s how indulgences worked. Would you like to have your grandmother expedited through Purgatory? She’s been suffering in Purgatory for a little while but will probably be there for several thousand more years of purging before entering heaven. If you purchase an indulgence, however, your granny will stop gnashing her teeth and the church leadership will ensure her time is sped up.

Martin Luther despised indulgences. At the age of 34 he refused to remain silent. His 95 complaints were meant to be an internal discussion trying to reform the church of his day. Complaint #82 captures the essence of Luther’s angst:

Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.

Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut. If the pope was powerful enough to free someone from Purgatory why does he need money? Out of love shouldn’t he just free everyone so they can worship God in heaven? Luther had visited Rome and he knew they were trying to raise $2 billion to build St. Peter’s Basilica. The money was raised for a building project. Yet heaven is forever, wouldn’t the pope choose the eternal over the temporary? Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut.

At the age of 57, 23 years later, Martin Luther was having dinner with his family and students. On this day in 1540 he reflected on those crazy years in his mid-30’s. He specifically reflected on his time at the Diet of Worms. Luther’s students loved hearing all the dinner table side stories. They would secretly go back home after dinner and write down all the funny, strange and profound things Luther mentioned at the dinner table. These have become known as “Table Talks.” Hundreds of them survive to this day.

Before I share Luther’s story over dinner in 1540 you need to have a little bit of background about the Diet of Worms. Luther’s writings were grabbed by friends and unknowingly the Printing Press spread his 95 theses all over the world. His ideas were a spark getting ready to light the whole world on fire. Luther, the German monk, was summoned to the town of Worms in Germany. The institutional church had expected to get this young monk to recant of all his writings.

Luther was brought into a room full of church officials looking over all his writings on a table. They simply asked Luther if these were his writings. He said yes. Now was the golden moment. The leaders would tell Luther to recant. He would recant under the pressure of his leaders. Word would quickly spread that Luther had recanted of all his writings. The uprising would be over and life would go back to normal. If Luther didn’t recant, however, he would simply be burned at the stake.

The Diet of Worms did not go as the leaders planned. Luther refused to recant of all his writings. His writings were full of quoted Scripture. He argued that he couldn’t just recant of all his writings carte blanche because he would inadvertently be recanting of all the Scripture mentioned in his writings. Luther required the leaders to show him all the areas he was wrong and then he would consider if he should recant of each individual idea. The leaders refused, they wanted him to recant of everything in his books. Luther, the young foolish punk leader, refused saying:

Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds and reasoning – and my conscience is captive to the Word of God – then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.

Luther, miraculously, wasn’t burned at the stake. He prepared himself that he would die that day in Worms. He even wrote out his will in advance. Luther, however, was unknowingly kidnapped by his benefactor before he could be killed. Friedrich the Wise hid him away in a castle tower allowing Luther to lead the Reformation with paper and ink.

Alright, that’s enough background. Let’s go back to Luther’s dinner table and the quote that sparked this whole post. As a 57 year old man looking back he said:

When I approached Worms, and was not far from there, Spalatin sent a messenger to me with a warning from Friedrich the Wise, who was already there, that I should not come there and that I would be in great danger. But I answered the messenger, “If there were as many devils in Worms as chimneys on the roofs, I would nevertheless come there.” Because I was not alarmed, I was not afraid. God can certainly make one so insensitive to danger. I don’t know if I would be that foolish today. (table talk 5342b.)

Did you catch the last sentence. Knowing how mightily God used Luther in his foolish 30’s to re-awaken a world to faith by Jesus alone Luther is not sure he would be so foolish today, as a 57 year-old man.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next young foolish leader. He might be holding 95 theses in his hands ready to be used by God to turn the world upside-down. He’s young and foolish enough to actually give it a shot.

15 Responses to “More Young Foolish Leaders Please”

  1. Just as an additional statement. I do want to say we need tons of older, wiser leaders too. Let’s not forget Luther wisely made this statement as a 57 year old man leading many young bucks from his dinner table. The post is not against older leaders but instead simply for the younger ones too.

  2. This was really encouraging.

    I love that Andrew’s picture is up front on this blog. :-)

  3. I too started young, very young leading under youth ministries. That was thanks to our leadership who always understood the importance and relevance of young leaders in the church. Our church is lead by a prominently large number of young adults. BUT, as a disclaimer (note that I like your article, this is just a disclaimer), when I look around the church in general, unfortunately, we do have many young leaders out there with lots of knowledge but little practical wisdom. And yes, young Luther changed history, but there was only one young Luther in history and most of us will never even get close to half of what he has accomplished in his lifetime. I’d say be young and daring as a leader but always seek the counsel of older spiritual folks who has walked the long path of christian ministry before you.

  4. “Young foolish leader”
    Depends on what you mean by foolish. If we go by the Bible’s definition of “foolish” the person shouldn’t be in leadership, should they?

  5. Thrufaithalone and Derek,

    Don’t forget foolish can be used in more than one way. Don’t forget 1 Cor. 1:27, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

    This is the sense I’m using foolish. For the young leaders who may not be “equipped” and “wise” enough in the eyes of the world to lead people to Jesus. If they are following Jesus, and called by God, then God will equip them.

    I hope that’s clearer for you two,
    Tim

  6. For what it’s worth, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, it’s good to provide clarification on statements that might leave people with a somewhat ambiguous understanding of what you’re advocating, so thanks for the added clarification.

    Concerning those who believe themselves to be called of God to be leaders in the church, it is indeed a fine work they desire to do.

  7. He (Luther) was certainly a bulldog for Christ.

    Maybe that’s why the 12 Apostles were all young men. The fire in a young heart burns hot (sometimes).

    But…also in a few of us oldsters, also (now and then).

    The Lord works in mysterious ways, in those whom He has called to be His own.

  8. God uses us for His hands, young or old. The ‘foolishness’ of youth is sometimes unrealistic (even when the thought behind it has truth), and often rash (out of that enthusiasm that we get from seeing a truth clearly). This is when God uses the older more experienced to help guide the young to use ways that will be solid, thoughtful, and ultimately effective, rather than confrontational, so that their ideas won’t just be rejected out of hand by the defensiveness of other older or just more rigid minds. That is why both young and old need to listen to each other, with calm respect. At the same time, sometimes true injustice must be acted against by the young and foolish, as, yes, we older get timid and act out of self-protection and fear, and lose the respect of the young.
    Sorry if I went on too long. Just a moment of weakness.

  9. If you’re looking for young foolish leaders, may I suggest:

    http://www.churchrepent.com
    and
    http://www.pulpitandpen.org

  10. Enjoyed the Post Tim.

    Despite his greatness, in 1543, Luther also shared his wisdom (at age 60) in the much beloved book “On the Jews and their Lies”. It has stained the Lutheran Church for almost half a millennium. And remains a source of antisemitism today.

    “Youth is wasted on the young!” I had significant knowledge of scripture, theology, and philosophy even in undergraduate school. But didn’t learn how to have profound respect for people who don’t share my worldview and are belligerent about it until I was north of 40.

    That said, I was often discounted by older leaders who were ignorant of the greek text, how to exegete a passage, how to handle philosophical difficulties of the Christian Worldview, etc. I remember numerous times when Senior Pastors would state “That issue is just a mystery we have to learn to accept,” when confronted by issues of free will and God’s providence, evil and suffering, God’s love and creation of hell, reconciling science and the Bible. When I would tell people that I have an answer if they were willing to hear it most were not willing.

    So your point is a fair one that we discriminate by age in the Church and deoptimize our ability to grow and mature in Christ as a result. In my apologetics groups I often have the 18-year olds teach for 45 mins on subject matter. This approach inspires older students that they can surely rise to the occasion and do the same.

  11. Luther did say some terrible things in his old age. Some believe it dementia had some part in it. Maybe. Maybe not. But he was a medieval German. Not to excuse it. There’s no excuse for it.

    But Luther also said a lot of very wonderful things. And those are what we hold to and profess.

  12. I guess you guys might be right.

    This is from my 67 year old pastor:

    http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/the-one-true-foundation1.mp3

    Older…and a fool…fool for Christ, that is.

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