Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Genesis 37:9-11
Just a couple of chapters later, after some hard life experiences and some growing up, we see Joseph making much wiser decisions. Life has a way of doing that to all of us. When I think back to the naive and arrogant young leader I was 20-30 years ago ,well, it is a bit embarrassing. Maturity, alas, cannot be learned from books or from classrooms. Moreover, it almost always requires a generous measure of time and experience.
It is worth noting that Joseph was actually wise beyond his years. By most standards, he is the model character in God’s story. He is, from the beginning, a young man of integrity and high character. His gift of interpreting dreams elevated him to leadership heights at a reasonably young age. But his youthful faux pas were glaring and ended up costing him years of heartache and hard knocks. In short, for leaders among God’s people, no matter the talent level, there seems to be no substitute for time spent maturing.
For this reason, I have some concerns about many of our churches’ apparent disrespect for our more elderly congregants and our seemingly obsessive search for younger, dynamic leadership to the exclusion of its older, wiser counterpart. I do not ever want to serve in a church without plenty of elder wisdom from more mature members.
I have been in churches whose “market” is Gen X and Gen Y, and who have precious little of the kind of mature leadership which only comes from 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50 years of experience in church life. The best case scenario for those churches is that they are literally filled with young “Josephs”. Maybe you have seen it happen in your own church…a bright, young leader comes up with an idea for this ministry or that ministry and he/she presents it with an arrogance that suggests he/she actually believes nobody has ever thought of it before. Yes, 2,000 years of the New Testament church in action, and he/she believes this is actually an original thought. It is embarrassing.
I believe the church is operating at its best when it has the benefit of both the energy and creativity of young leaders and the experience and wisdom of older leaders, and when there is genuine respect and humility in each of them toward the other. That, it seems to me, is what “church” should be…young Josephs and older Josephs working side by side and together.