Claire L. Eva, Assistant Director, General Conference Stewardship Ministries
Summary: Growing up is natural. If it does not happen, it is disturbing. Growing up in Christ is much the same. It is not “normal” for a long-time Christian to show signs of spiritual infancy. The author explores how we can grow up in Christ and serve God’s Church as spiritual “parents.”
There was an unexpected knock at the front door. When Jay opened it, he had to cast his eyes downward, for there stood Bobby, the dark-haired preschooler from across the street.
“Can Carlene come out and play?” Bobby asked.
This account describes a typical event in many homes around the world, but this visit was an exception. Carlene was the wife and mother of the house and Jay was her husband! When Carlene told me the story, we both had a good laugh. Why? Because, even though she was touched by the little fellow’s request, it was unexpected. It did not fit with the typical order of things.
Growing up is a natural part of life. We expect it. And if it does not happen as expected, it can be a disturbing thing. Not knowing how to tie your shoes at three is normal; at thirty, it is not.
We may not think of it, but growing up in Christ is much the same. It is not in the normal order of things for one who has been a Christian for some time to show signs of spiritual infancy. Paul speaks of it this way:
“By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong” (Hb 5:11-14, Message).
Sometimes we coddle ourselves and our members by not helping us or them to grow up in Christ. In his book, Intentional Disciplemaking, Ron Bennett describes “the process of successfully discipling a childish Christian into a mature adult through the family model” (p. 27). He outlines three stages of growth: the child, the adult and the parent (See Book Reviews, p. 15). Each stage is vital—from the total dependence of the spiritual child, to the adult who has delved deeply into God’s Word. But the third stage, the role of parent, reveals a level of maturity that moves beyond the other two. The parent is mature and responsible enough to mentor others in their spiritual growth.
Christ’s life example shows us that He demonstrated all three stages. He was totally dependent on His Father. He even said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). And He was steeped in the Word of God. As a result, He stepped out and took twelve men into His confidence. He was their teacher, their rabbi and mentor.
Our goal in growing to the full maturity of discipleship is to come to the place where we can be “spiritual parents,” or mentors. Isn’t it? As we learn to depend on Him completely and bathe in His Word to us, we may step out with Him in the blessed privilege of mentoring His children toward this same goal. This is what growing up is all about.