If there is a redeeming quality to social media it is the remarkable amount of baby pictures that are shared.
I love seeing babies. They are incredible examples of transcendent beauty. No one would ever hold a newborn up to a fashion model and assume that the word “beautiful” means the same thing. Babies pull us out of our tired, rutted assumptions about life in so many ways.
But the problem with babies is that don’t remain babies.
And don’t start yapping at me about how they’ll always be your little baby. That might be your perspective, but the rest of us know the difference between a cooing infant and an 8 year old with a truck full of bad jokes and endless questions. We love them just as much, but honestly, they aren’t the same. #SorryNotSorry
But, because of the razor’s edge between optimistic and sardonic I live on, as a parent of two kids who are most definitely not babies anymore, I find myself neutralizing the power of the baby picture by whispering under my breath, “they get older, you know.” As if I am dispensing some kind of sage wisdom to all of the new parents who can’t hear me anyway.
But the last time I caught myself muttering unsolicited advice to new parents, I also found myself talking to myself; not about babies, but about Christians.
Christians: they get older, you know.
Believers don’t remain precious, wobbly, sincere, sweet-smelling babies forever. They get older. They start testing boundaries. They begin pulling the arms of their distracted spiritual parents as they try to get their own way. Eventually their voice begins to change, they stop asking you to help them out and instead they just ask you for the keys to the car.
They get older. We all do, you know.
The church needs at least as much grace to successfully handle adolescent and pubescent Christians as parents do. Every frustrating struggle that an adolescent child experiences, the awkwardness, the desire to “fit in,” the desperate longing to understand how the world works, the power of friends instead of mentors to influence, etc… all of these are a part of spiritual maturity.
The part of this that is difficult to own up to for the church is that we haven’t seen nearly as many spiritual adolescents as we should have because every week we are still seating multitudes of spiritual infants, with no desire nor motivation to grow. I do not believe we are in the midst of such great spiritual immaturity because people don’t want to be mature, but because we have not created a church environment where spiritual adolescence is safe to experience or engage.
I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,
1 Corinthians 3:2
Many studies done over the last 20-30 years tell us that the church loses the majority of teenagers once they go to college, move out of the house, or when they simply start life. I’ve read these statistics, you’ve read them. And certainly many churches have a relevance problem, but I’ve never heard any studies suggest that we are not allowing our converts to explore their faith like a child explores the world. Instead of feeling trapped and micro-managed perhaps young adults leave the church because they would rather choose to find some endeavor that allows them to ask their questions without having the last word snapped off with a patent answer that the church has had pre-prepared for 50 years.
So I ask: what would it look like if we treated our converts like actual babies? Give them milk, protect them, nurture them and protect them, until they’re ready to start exploring? Parents understand what guided exploring looks like. It’s not as terrifying as some make it out to be. What if the church embraced the actual stages of spiritual growth instead of expecting converts to read the Bible for a year and then miraculously become spiritual giants?
I don’t have a complete pamphlet, or Chick Tract, with all the answers. But I do think this perspective is a legitimate part of the conversation of discipleship in the church.