Bringing our first child home from the hospital was a joyous event. But after a few days of sleep deprivation, my wife and I were teetering on the edge of insanity. After a particularly difficult night, I called my mother to apologize for my selfish teenage years. "Now I understand why you were so angry with me," I told her. "I'm finally beginning to understand how much you invested in me. Until a few days ago, I had no idea." I could tell her laughter was tinged with a deep satisfaction.
My daughter turned eight this spring, and watching her mature, along with her two younger siblings, has been bittersweet. Soon we will be leaving the joyful baby-phase of our life, but it also means we'll be leaving the midnight-feedings-and-exploding-diapers phase as well. As one author put it, "It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't."
Spiritual infants present a similar paradox. New believers and young congregations are a source of great joy, and churches experiencing numerical growth are right to celebrate. But immaturity has a downside. Churches filled with juvenile believers are prone to shallowness, conflict, stagnation, and sin. (They can also be the source of sleepless nights for their spiritual mothers and fathers.) We love churches filled with baby Christians, but we don't want them to stay babies forever.
A few years ago, Leadership editor at large Gordon MacDonald wrote a column questioning our collective ability to nurture mature believers. ("So Many Christian Infants"). He admitted that we are "pretty good at wooing people across the line of faith in Jesus." And he gave evangelicals a passing grade for communicating the rudimentary elements of the Christian life. "But," MacDonald ...