So we've already talked about two big ways we accidentally offend others, and the third one is a little bit different:
YOU ARE YOUNG
This one is unavoidable, and it's not actually your fault. This part comes from a bit of unexpected personal experience, and I'm sure you will run in to it as well on your journey. I hope this post will at least make you more prepared for it.
The truth is, people don't like being led by others who are younger than they are, even worse if you are significantly younger than they are! I get asked at least once a week at Severn Run how old I am. Once I respond (and I do, because I'm not ashamed!), more often than not I hear "Wow! I have kids your age!" Here's a response you are welcome to steal if you often hear this as well: "Wow! So does my mom/dad!" This response has been wildly successful for me and here's why:
Generally, people tell you that they have kids your age as a way to either 1) put themselves down for their own age and accomplishments, or 2) give themselves permission to treat you like one of their children instead of as a leader. I've noticed my lighthearted response has been able to snuff out both of those underlying intentions quickly and with a laugh, which is always a good thing. It also removes your age as your defining factor and provides a little humanness to you.
Unfortunately, not all of these types of situations can be solved with such a lighthearted response. So far, I've only had one really bad incident of offending someone with my twenty-something leadership, and it was really tough! It happened on a Sunday, during services, and ended up with me being completely chewed out by the person that I offended right in the middle of our very populated atrium. Let me tell you this, I'm from the deep south, and I really take respecting folks seriously because, growing up, if I didn't, I was in deep, deep trouble. I'm so thankful for this ingrained character trait of mine (thanks mom & dad!) and honestly, I go over the top to respect those I lead who are older than me (and younger too). So when all of a sudden I thought I had disrespected someone, it tore me up quite a bit. I didn't sleep well that night because I was replaying every single bit of my interaction with this person over and over again trying to figure out where it was that I had crossed the line, and I just couldn't find it. I went to work the next morning, and the story of my public berating had gotten to my Executive Pastor. He called me to his office and we went over the entire situation a few times. By the time we were done, he assured me that he was taking care of this situation, and for me to not worry about it, oh and, "Welcome to ministry..."
We will all face people who are offended by our leadership because of our age. As I said earlier, this isn't our issue, but we do need to make sure that you are leading well to remain confident in this fact. In order to do this, first get yourself a good, professional mentor. Allow this person to call out the good and bad in your leadership situations, and take their advice to heart. Second, make sure that you are always following Jesus. If you are wholeheartedly seeking Jesus in your leadership you will be able to confidently look at anyone, any age and say "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." - 1 Corinthians 11:1
Back to my story, two weeks later I found myself in a meeting with the individual I had offended, my Executive Pastor, and another co-worker...and it was suuuuper awkward. My EP and my co-worker knew (and still know) that I'm seeking Christ in my leadership, so after a lot of talking, apologizing, and explaining it was really easy for my EP to call the situation as it was...a problem of age. This isn't a sunshine and rainbows story — from what I know, this individual quit their ministry and still hasn't rejoined because of my leadership — but I am still leading confidently because this is not an issue of my heart. I still pray for this person regularly, and I still go over the top to show respect to the people in our congregation, but I also stick behind my leadership decisions confidently, even though I'm only 25.
Another thing you should take away from my story is that you should be leading in an environment and under leaders who love and respect your leadership no matter how young you are. And be sure to remember that scripture backs you up, "But it is the spirit in man (or lady), the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right." - Job 32:8-9 (emphasis added); "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." - 1 Timothy 4:12. This problem is as old as time itself, so don't take it personally when someone (inevitably) disrespects your leadership because of your age.
Keep following Jesus. Keep moving forward. Keep leading. The church needs you. And one day when you are one of the old farts in the world, you'll remember what it was like to be a disrespected young leader sometimes, and your choice to instead respect young leaders will bless them (and you) immensely.