So Many Christian Infants
Why are we so good at leading people to faith and so bad at prodding them to maturity?

Gordon MacDonald's column for October is my own lament: Why are there so many spiritual babies? And why don't the mature believers do something about it? We're really good at bringing people into the kingdom, Gordon says, but lousy at prodding them to maturity. Our sage is not afraid to point fingers.

I have been musing on the words of Martin Thornton: "A walloping great congregation," he wrote, "is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints.

The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre."

"Saints," he says. Mature Christians: people who are "grown-up" in their faith, to whom one assigns descriptors such as holy, Christ-like, Godly, or men or women of God.

Now mature, in my book does not mean the "churchly," those who have mastered the vocabulary and the litany of church life, who come alive only when the church doors open. Rather, I have in mind those who walk through all the corridors of the larger life - the market-place, the home and community, the playing fields - and do it in such a way that, sooner or later, it is concluded that Jesus' fingerprints are all over them.

I have concluded that our branch of the Christian movement (sometimes called Evangelical) is pretty good at wooing people across the line into faith in Jesus. And we're also not bad at helping new-believers become acquainted with the rudiments of a life of faith: devotional exercise, church involvement, and basic Bible information - something you could call Christian infancy.

But what our tradition lacks of late - my opinion anyway - is knowing how to prod and poke people past the "infancy" and into Christian maturity.

A definition of a mature Christian is lacking. Best to say that you know a mature Christian when you see one. They're in the New Testament. Barnabas is one. Aquila and Priscilla are others. Onesiphorous impresses me. And so is the mother of Rufus of whom Paul said, "she has been a mother to me." That's a short list.

The marks of maturity? Self-sustaining in spiritual devotions. Wise in human relationships. Humble and serving. Comfortable and functional in the everyday world where people of faith can be in short supply. Substantial in conversation; prudent in acquisition; respectful in conflict; faithful in commitments.

Take a few minutes and ask how many people you know who would fit such a description. How many? Apparently, Paul, pondered the question when he thought about Corinthian Christians and said, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ."

October 01, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 48 comments

Leopoldo Nicolas

October 17, 2007  6:47pm

I have crossed from third world worshipping Christian to first world worshipping Christian (migrated 7 years ago). This is what I can share, the more life a struggle the more you incline to grow spiritually, in the same token, the more life is easier the lesser the growth spiritually, at least lackadaisically mediocre. Take the cases of the Corinthian Church where the Epistles were addressed and the seven churches in Revelation particularly Laodecia, they thought they are rich and sufficient yet spiritually impoverished,not cold nor hot, yes lukewarm. This is plain complacency in the highest order.(Please read "In Pursuit of God" by A. W. Tozer) After accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, most often than not we just deteriorate spiritually, we stop pursuing Jesus Christ as we owe to do. We can't just wait for His return and do nothing. The ball is always at our court as Christian. We need personal revival!!!

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October 16, 2007  2:34pm

Lots of fingerpointing going on between the generations. Well, I'd love to have a spiritual mentor in my church. I'm 31 and had a few pop up sporadically: two Christian, one Hindu – and if one of you even dares threaten to slap my fingers for going outside my faith, there will be a stand-off in the parking lot after I get through with this post, so quit it already. I now have a chance to mentor a few individuals myself even though I still question how I can be seen as a role model. But they sought me out, just as I sought out my mentors. One of my "kids" is 20 and thinks I'm one of the coolest people she knows. I've known her for a few years and her mom even looks up to me. We've had several deep discussions about many things from spirituality to boys. Another friend of mine (33) is a single parent and went through a very bitter divorce. She was spiritually battered and has, along the way, gone through some healing and become my spiritual apprentice. The third is in her mid-20s and is a singer in our church band. We bonded one night while strolling up and down one of the main streets in town and talking about how we were raised, histories, and how faith came into that. While I would love to have one of the women in my church stop with the business of "women's ministries" and the spoon feedings that go on in their Bible studies, the conferences, mass meetings, and get some depth in their talks along with actually learning about mental illness, flippant remarks, taking an active part in the community, and stop the gossip chain – er, prayer chain. I've found that mentoring these young women and reaching out from my experiences has been very beneficial. I'm still learning and get support from other sources. Just not from my current Baby Boomer church.

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October 14, 2007  8:23pm

Mr. MacDonald hits the nail on the head. As a 29 year old guy, with not quite half of those years lived by faith, I can attest–no, shout that this is exactly how I perceive my faith today. One that is wandering down a path, knowing the right choices and wrong choices, making most of the wise choices, yet still very, very few present day examples. This is indeed a big problem as I live abroad and encounter hundreds of other young people like myself filling the expat churches across the globe, filled with fervor and zeal for the Lord, but largely walking in circles. It's sad. And at the moment, I am more deflated then inspired by the outlook. To the current fathers and those whose sons have recently moved out of the home...BE REAL. Be the man that us young one's want to be, but lacking the 20-40 years of real world experience that you have had. Be the man who tells us straight up, I did this and that when I was young and these are the horrible consequences that came of it. Pray for insight and introspection that will allow you to see the good and bad outcomes of all your past actions. Be the father that asks his son (or man being mentored) the hard questions. i.e.- "Do you tithe? Why not? Can I tell you from my life how I've been blessed while tithing, and how I've stumbled when I didn't make it a priority?" "Do you date often? How do you chose the girls you date? What sort of fulfillment does that bring? Do you touch her? Don't you think God wants it a different way? Let me tell you about the stuff I had to endure because I made bad decisions with girls I dated (or problems that occurred with other women while married)?" "Do you care about other people? So, you do have a heart for missions? Then what is it about your career/job that has you so enthroned by it that you couldn't just get and spend 3 months serving? You're single aren't you; living on your own? Is it possible the Lord could use you or train you elsewhere than in the workplace at your young age? I made the decision when I was young to do this and this and that...and now I regret this, but I think this other part had a very positive outcome. Do you think your life would show the same results?" ~This is the elder man I want to meet...Not the man who wants to golf with me, ski with me, hike with me, although those are excellent ways to initiate a mentoring relationship.

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Janna Rust

October 14, 2007  5:39pm

What a hot topic this is and one that is dear to my heart. I promised myself a couple of years ago that I would never be so busy that I did not have the time to disciple/mentor someone else one-on-one so that they could become able to stand on their own and feed themselves out of God's Word and eventually disciple someone else. There are lots of truths stated in this article as well as within the comments. I have to say that I also am not seeing the younger generation wanting someone older to mentor them. To me, the younger crowd doesn't have much interest in getting to know God better through His word but rather through experiential Christianity. Any emphasis as to the importance of bible study will often lend itself to the criticism of it being legalism. It saddens me to see the lack of mature believers out there. All we can do as mature believers is try to find and impact the "younger" Christians one at a time.

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The Krow

October 12, 2007  4:44am

I'm trembling from reading this article. This has been my search for 3-4 years now, to find a spiritual father who can teach me and hold me in love and accountability as I seek to become mature in Christ. Where are these people? I know I'm not alone, many in my generation, the one before and the one after mine seek for spiritual parents to rise up and teach us. We're are tired of the ABC teachings we've gotten and crave to go deeper but need mom and dad to get us there, not to spoon fed us like infants but to love us and guide our paths and pick us up as we stumbled.

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Pam Sydney

October 11, 2007  2:15pm

I just came from a church meeting where the young people basically kicked the older generation out of it's way. This group is led by a pastor who himself is a baby christian. They will never know maturity, especially when the pastor refuses to be mentored. I liken them to know-it-all teenagers. Are we so in need of men in the pulpit that anyone will do? This man is working on his doctorate and of course thinks he knows more than those he has just pushed out the doors. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree baby christians need mentoring. Bravo to the wise ones that know they need it!

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October 11, 2007  1:47pm

Don't you think that churches serve infants rather than mature Christians? Mature Christians won't perhaps look for any church, but live their lives among ... people. As you said, no program, etc. There is enough out there in life to live.

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Melinda S.

October 10, 2007  6:31pm

(Sorry this is late–just read the article. FWIW, I am 38.) I don't think the problem is that "mature" believers over 50 don't want to mentor others. I think there is a real lack of "mature" believers over 50! I do know some mature believers, over and under 50, and they are ALL interested in mentoring others. I also know a lot of immature believers, both over and under 50, MOST of whom have no interest in mentoring others. So, I think we are asking the wrong question. It's not "why aren't mature believers mentoring others," but "why aren't there mature believers out there who can do so?" (Not that there are none, but that there are far too few.) Also, when I was younger, I would have welcomed a mentor, but I didn't know any of the older women well enough to ask. They didn't really know me, either. Now, I guess, I'm in the middle–I still don't really know most of the women over 50 (and the ones I know who are really godly have a lot of other women they are already dealing with, who probably need it more than I do). But on the other hand, I don't really know the younger women, either. I'd LIKE to mentor them, to be involved with them, etc. But how to get to know them, how to offer this, is beyond me.

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October 10, 2007  6:10pm

Great topic. I remember the mentoring of an assistant pastor, who took me out "visiting" each week before a group discipleship class. Those were times of great growth! Unfortunately, my evangelical denomination has taken a turn in the past decades toward "pastor led", meaning "laity silent." Without the chances to stretch and grow, we've become flabby from non-use of our spiritual muscles. We serve other church members and recite Christian jargon to one another. Those who could be great influencers have been beaten into submission, and there are none but the precious isolated few to provide modeling from a distance. So I guess what you are saying is that I need to be willing to be slapped down for the Gospel if it means mentoring a couple of teens the way I was mentored?

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Rod Hufnagel

October 10, 2007  1:59pm

Right on! Exactly the problem and the solution. That's why my church is aiming at a new vision: To rescue our world by raising spiritual fathers and mothers Who radiate Jesus. I am convinced this is a God-thing. He convinced me of this personally before I even knew there was a band wagon for it.

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