My daughter is fast approaching that wonderful time in the journey of life; this weekend, we bought her a potty. This really doesn’t seem like “church” talk or the subject matter for a “spiritual reflection” or whatever you want to call a pastoral blog post. But it got me thinking about a lot of things. Mainly, it brought to an analogy used in three different New Testament authors, Paul, Peter and the author of Hebrews.
From Paul (1 Corinthians 3:1-2);
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
From Peter (1 Peter 2:1-3);
1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
And from the anonymous author (Hebrews 5:11-14);
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
These three passages all say basically the same thing- there is a maturation process when it comes to faith. One of the weaknesses of evangelicalism (in my opinion) is the poor understanding of this process. We sometimes assume that we “win souls” and conversion is the victory. But there is so much more to be done in the life of a new convert. In fact, new converts are very likely to struggle. The basic functions need to be sorted out. There is a process of spiritual potty training. Almost two years after being born, my daughter is still not quite ready to begin what is so basic for an adult.
One conversation I had recently gives this idea a new dimension. One pastor in town of a missional, contemporary, cutting edge church articulated the struggle of having a congregation comprised mainly of “baby” christians- those new to discipleship. The ministry of that church is challenging in that there is much passion, enthusiasm and ideas, but a lack of maturity, stability and know how. We never want to stifle that passion as many churches have, carving out christians who have the scriptures cover to cover, but have not developed the skills to apply it. Learning by doing is perhaps a better approach. Instead of instructing a toddler on the concepts of the potty, it’s typically better for them to learn by trying it out. Jesus sent out his disciples on missions early on (see Luke 10), and they learned by walking with Jesus, seeing how it was done, and doing it.
I think we need a new understanding of discipleship, and renewed sense of growing up as Christians- a new emphasis on mentoring. Being a christian is not a static ontological existence, but a process, a life, a journey. We actually have to do stuff (not just fill our heads with stuff) to be disciples, and we have to start with the most basic functions; learning first to eat, walk, talk and even to use the potty, before we move on the more complex tasks.
“Here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” John Henry Newman (1801-1890).