Tip #3: Admit Failures (1 Tim. 1:15).
Nobody’s perfect, but the pastor is pretty close. The older generations grew up with that kind of mentality of respect for elders—which is by-and-large a very good thing that we young people could learn from. However, this respect sometimes almost led to exaltation—to the realms of perfection. Growing up, I felt like the pastors of churches and most of the deacons were practically perfect in every way. Like the dictators of many enslaved countries, the pastor’s integrity was not to be questioned or doubted. He had no major flaws—he had very little struggle with sin.
Of course, we all know this isn’t true. And glaring scandals tend to dash young people’s trust in leadership. I do think the pastor should be respected and admired for his integrity. However, there must be a balance.
Millennials today most respect the most “real” people. In other words, if you appear to be this perfect saint who knows no struggle, the millennial will perceive you as aloof and unrelatable. However, if you appear to be a genuine person, not hiding your frailties and failures, you will come across as approachable and down-to-earth.
I’m reminded of my former college president. He was a younger guy and was the most-respected man on campus to the students. Why? Because he was real about his struggles. He went through a major health crisis that caused him to step down. Throughout the process, he was vocal about his faith struggles—his challenges to see God as good in the midst of deafening disaster. He also was quick to apologize for past and present errors, whether his direct responsibility or not. He never presented himself as a “super saint,” but rather a “super sinner” who was in the process of sanctification. And the students adored him.
That’s exactly the type of man Paul was. If you read the book of Acts, you might come away thinking this guy never struggled. But keep reading into the epistles, because throughout the books he writes, Paul scatters revelations of his own struggles with sin. One of those passages is 1 Timothy 1. Writing to his young friend in verse 15, Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Do you present yourself as the foremost sinner? Though Paul had been talking about his former sins of killing Christians pre-conversion in prior verses, yet he uses the present tense in this verse. He is still, after progressing in sanctification from murderer to missionary, the worst of sinners—er, the best of sinners. That’s the kind of guy that millennials can relate to.
Perfect people do not make practical preachers. Or mentors. You must make your mentee aware that you are not—nor ever will be on earth—anywhere close to perfection, but you do have experience that can help them in their own sanctification. You must be blunt about your struggles, admitting your doubts, lusts, temptations. You must share what’s helped you overcome sin. These sorts of conversations will dramatically open up your mentee to share his own struggles and be honest about those secret sins.
Try it! Admit your failures and open up your imperfections to the light of God’s grace. You might be surprised by what happens…