Goals! Everyone talks about them. We all need them. But I’m convinced a mere goal is never enough. We need to move beyond simply setting a goal to having a vision of what life will be like once we have attained that goal. If all we have is a goal, then it seems like the end result is just achieving a goal for achieving a goal’s sake, we won’t stick with it. At least, I never do. So, whether we are talking about our physical, mental, financial, or even spiritual lives, we need to move beyond goals and envision what life will be like having achieved that goal.
Growing Up: Part 5 (The Elder Stage)
I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). In the past few Mondays, as we looked at God’s way for our individual lives, I’ve been sharing some of what I learned from this book. I’ve already looked at the infant stage, the child stage, the adult stage and the parent stage of maturity. Today, let’s look at the elder stage (beginning when the youngest child has become an adult).
The Elder Stage
While we always continue to mature, this is the highest level of maturity shared by the authors of The Life Model. We need to remember that just because someone’s children have become adults, doesn’t mean they automatically enter this elder stage of maturity. Sadly, some may have biologically raised children to adulthood but still be children themselves. This is simply the authors’ marker for when this stage can begin.
True elders are comfortable in their own skin. They act like themselves in the midst of difficulty. They don’t check the winds of change, putting their finger to the air, to see how they need to act and react. They have become comfortable with who God has made them to be, with their actions, their reactions, their responses. They are also comfortable helping their community grow based on its God-given identity, not trying to force on the community what the elder wants it to be. They see the value and potential in all others, helping them accomplish their reach their potential and goals. Elders are able to look past the flaws and facades of others to see what God has designed them to be.
Elders do not simply parent their own children, they work to parent the community. “They can handle criticism and rejection, speak the truth even when it is not easy or popular, serve without being appreciated, encourage needed growth and change, delight in younger people’s skill and power, and place what is best for the community over personal fairness and preference” (p. 23).
Finally, true elders recognize that those with struggling biological families need a spiritual family. They need a spiritual family to help them heal, grow, and thrive. These elders are willing to give the nurture and care needed in these situations treating these “spiritual adoptees” with the same care they would their own biological children.
Maturity Tasks of the Elder
According to the authors, there are four tasks for the elders to accomplish as they continue to grow within the community.
- Elders establish an accurate community identity and act like themselves in the midst of difficulty.
- Elders prize each community member, and enjoy the true self in each individual.
- Elders parent and mature the community.
- Elders give life to those without a family through spiritual adoption (p. 33).
The elders accomplish these tasks as the community responds in the following ways, respectively.
- The community recognizes elders within the community.
- The community provides opportunities for elders to be involved with those in all of the other maturity stages.
- The community creates a structure to help the elders do their job, which allows people at every stage of maturity to interact properly with those in other stages, and listen to the wisdom of maturity.
- The community places a high value on being a spiritual family to those with no family (p. 33).
When Elders Fail
If elders fail to accomplish these maturity tasks, the community suffers. There is disorder. There is meaninglessness. There is lack of direction for the community. The community will begin to disintegrate at every level. When elders fail to prize and value each member of the community, life-giving interactions diminish. At-risk, hurting, and struggling people fail to heal and survive. Interdependence within the community is stunted, and thus, the community’s growth is stunted. When true elders don’t lead, parenting the community properly, unqualified people do, resulting in immaturity across the community. When true elders do not parent and adopt those whose biological families are not sufficient, poverty, violence, crisis, crime, and mental disorders increase. Obviously, when those whose biological parents aren’t bringing them to maturity have no one who mentors them, they simply won’t mature.
Seeing the sad prospect of a community without qualified and true elders helps us understand the sad statement made by the authors: “Sadly, most in our culture never make it to this level of maturity. This is unfortunate because the success of any country, community, school or church body will have a direct correlation to the presence of true elders who are guiding and advising” (p. 23). In other words, when elders fail to fulfill their tasks, the community fails to grow to maturity as a whole.
The Spiritual Application
I think the spiritual application at this level is abundantly clear. Churches need elders. Without true and qualified elders, churches cannot mature and grow. Without men who will parent and grow the brethren within the congregation, the congregation will be stunted. Look at churches across the nation. What is the real problem going on within so many? Do they not have elders because they are small? Or are they small because they don’t have true elders?
I can’t help but think of Ezekiel 34:2-10. God was bringing judgment upon Judah because her shepherds weren’t shepherding. The flock had disintegrated and was scattered across the mountains. This was written within the context of the Babylonian captivity. Babylon was destroying Judah and it was because there weren’t true elders guiding that nation. I find Ezekiel 34:10 very interesting. God was delivering Judah up to captivity, but He called it a deliverance from these awful shepherds who had dealt so poorly with Judah.
God has given qualifications for elders within His communities (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Without getting in depth with these qualifications, I think we can all see that the essence of these lists says God wants mature Christians to be elders within His churches. If we want more true shepherds in our congregations, then more of us have to work on spiritual maturity. We have to start by first being disciples, surrendering our lives to God. We have to begin with personal growth. If no one matures, then there will be no elders and eventually there will be no churches. Oh, sure there will be groups that call themselves churches, but they will not be what God wants. Eventually, as He did with the seven churches of Asia, He will judge the churches and remove their lampstand.
Concluding the Series
I spoke with one friend who said he was reading this series, but then got depressed and had to quit. I can completely understand that. As I read The Life Model, I became quite discouraged. As I’ve thought more about maturing, I see more clearly how far I have to grow. That can seem overwhelming. However, I’ve begun to emotionally grasp another concept that is helping me. Time is not my enemy. Time is my friend. I don’t have to be at the elder level of maturity by the weekend. I just need to grow some more between now and then. I can grow a little today. Then tomorrow, I’ll grow a little more. And the next day. And the next. In God’s good time, if I continue to grow in Him, He’ll mature me.
Let’s keep growing together.
Growing Up: Part 4 (The Parent Stage)
I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). In the past few Mondays, as we looked at God’s way for our individual lives, I’ve been sharing some of what I learned from this book. I’ve already looked at the infant stage, the child stage and the adult stage of maturity. Today, let’s look at the parent stage (birth of 1st child until youngest child is an adult).
The Parent Stage
This is where I begin to really get a bit worried about me. The Life Model begins this section by saying, “Biologically being a parent does not automatically put you at the parent stage of maturity. In fact, many parents are not at this level. You know that you are at the parent stage, however, when you can sacrificially care for your children without resenting the sacrifice or expecting to receive anything for your efforts. You may feel exhausted or overwhelmed at times, but you still will be able to appreciate, not begrudge, your sacrifice” (p. 22).
This presents a problem for many in our society. We often have an entitlement mindset. We are entitled to our fun, our recreation, our plans, our goals. Having children shouldn’t get in the way of any of that. This becomes even more apparent since more and more people are becoming parents biologically because they thought they were entitled to the pleasures of sex without being impacted by its natural consequences. Too many of us parents think we are entitled to keep doing everything we were doing when we were simply independent adults (biologically) and should never be asked to sacrifice anything, neither time, money, effort, recreation, social activities, or goals.
Having said all of that, I love these two sentences in the book: “Parenting does involve sacrifice, but it is not about giving up who you are. It is about becoming who you are!” (p. 22).
4 Tasks for Parents
There are four tasks parents must learn to accomplish if they will grow to the elder stage of maturity.
- Parents must learn to protect, serve, and enjoy their families.
- Parents must learn to take care of their children without expecting to be taken care of by the children in return.
- Parents must learn to allow and provide spiritual parents and siblings for their children.
- Parents must learn how to bring their children through difficult times and return them to joy from other emotions (p. 32).
Maturing parents will quickly learn that accomplishing these tasks requires support from a community and guidance from other parents who have already matured and walked this path ahead of us. We alone cannot provide all that our children will need as they mature into adults. If we are wise we will bring other people into our children’s lives to help as spiritual parents and siblings. We’ll rely on shepherds in the church. We’ll rely on other mature safe parents. We’ll rely on extended family. We’ll rely on others who can, along with us, help our children mature and grow.
The essence of parenting is striving to represent God to our families. We need to learn to act as God acts. Love as God loves. Teach as God teaches. Discipline as God disciplines. Help as God helps. When we can accomplish this, we are ready to move into the final stage of maturity.
We accomplish these tasks as the community and extended family provide the following four supports:
- The community gives both parents the opportunity to sacrificially contribute to their family.
- The community promotes devoted parenting.
- The community encourages relationships between children and extended spiritual family members.
- The community supports parent by giving them encouragement, guidance, breaks, and opportunities to recharge (p. 32).
When Parents Don’t Mature
When parents don’t mature to protect, serve, enjoy their families, the family members are at risk, deprived, and feel worthless or unimportant. Further, this lack of care for the children often calls on the children to care for the parents. Some call this parentifying the children. Sadly, we commonly see these parentified children as mature beyond their years. However, in the long run it usually stunts their emotional maturity. It is a form of emotional abuse. Of course, it make maturity really difficult to accomplish because this troubled person is pretty sure they are mature and will hardly listen to any ideas to the contrary.
When parents won’t bring in trusted members of the community to help mature and develop their children, the children can become vulnerable to peer pressure, cults, and misfortune. Further, the parents themselves can get completely overwhelmed. It is not more mature to try to parent our children completely on our own. Both parents and children need to the support of the community around us. Further, if we don’t learn to bring our children back to joy, they can get lost in their sadness, depressed and despairing. The family units begin to disintegrate because there is no joy and peace to connect them with each other.
The Spiritual Application
Think about our church community. Are we providing what our parents need to mature themselves and help their children mature. I can’t help but think that the community that makes up the church is rarely trying to accomplish this. Instead, the community is relying on the organization of the church to do this. It is not really Christians helping Christians but a church organized plan. There may be mother’s day out programs, there may be extensive youth groups, there may be sermons preached, but are the members of the community really reaching out to have these interactive relationships with each other and provide the community that is really needed to help us all mature. It seems to me that the quick and easy solution so many churches are looking to is only carrying on the problem. Like the parentified child, we can hardly see how we are not really accomplishing the maturity that we want.
We don’t need church organized programs to accomplish this. What we need is Christians getting involved with each other. We need mature parents taking maturing parents under their wings. We need elders setting the example. We need shepherds guiding the sheep in the flock, not merely administering the business of the fold. We need personal sacrifice of time, money, effort, etc. Look at the community of the very first church in Acts 2-6. These people sacrificed for each other. They cared for each other. They didn’t establish church programs, youth groups, mothers-day-outs, nursery schools. The members took care of each other.
We need parents to be humble and lean on God by leaning on the brethren God has given them. We need children to not simply be age-segregated off into groups of age-based peers. We need the older to teach the younger. We need to introduce our children to questioning, learning, and mentoring by other mature Christians. Perhaps we need the same thing.
Of course, if we’re still not even at the adult level of maturity, we need to back up and grow or we’ll never be able to parent. Let’s be honest with ourselves about this growth and become responsible for our maturity.
Make sure you come back next week for the final installment of this look at maturity as presented in The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you
Growing Up: Part 3 (The Adult Stage)
I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). I’ve already looked at the infant stage and the child stage of maturity, today, we want to look at the adult stage (ages 13-birth of the first child).
The Adult Stage (13 to birth of first child)
The infant staged was marked by complete neediness. The infant neither knows what it needs or how to express its needs. Someone else has to provide for the baby’s needs. The infant moves into the childhood stage as he learns to take care of himself. The child learns how to express needs, wants and feelings. However, the only person the child is capable of caring for is self. “You will know when a person has graduated from the child level of maturity to the adult level because he will shift from a being a self-centered child to a both-centered adult. While a child needs to learn me-centered fairness (how do I make it fair for me), an adult learns we-centered fairness (how do I make it fair for us)” (pp. 21-22). If it seems that in any given relationship you have to give more, listen more, tolerate more to maintain the relationship then the other person is likely still in the child stage. By the same token, if you spend most of your relationships complaining about how everyone else doesn’t seem to give you what you need, perhaps you are seeing a need to work on maturity in your own life. That is especially the case if you are complaining about your kids not giving enough. Sadly, in too many cases we have children in adult bodies, expecting adults in children’s bodies to provide their needs for them. That is dysfunction at its height. Yet, many of us are blinded to it because of our own immaturity.
There are 6 personal tasks each person must accomplish in the adult stage of maturity to move on to the next level:
- The adult learns to care for self and others simultaneously in mutually satisfying relationships.
- The adult learns to remain stable in difficult situations, and learns how to return self and others to joy.
- The adult learns to bond with peers and develops a group identity.
- The adult learns to take responsibility for how personal actions affect others, including protecting others from self.
- The adult learns to contribute to the community; learns how to articulate “who we are” as part of belonging to the community.
- The adult learns to express the characteristics of his or hear heart in a deepening personal style (p. 31).
The adult accomplishes these tasks as his or her family and community accomplishes the following tasks respectively:
- The family and community provides opportunities for the adult to participate in group life.
- The family and community affirms that the adult will make it through difficult times.
- The family and community provides positive environment where peers can bond.
- The family and community teaches adults that their behaviors impact others and impact history.
- The family and community provides opportunities to be involved in important community tasks.
- The family and community holds the adult accountable while still accepting and affirming the aspects of his or her true self (p. 31).
As you can see, adulthood is the time when we learn how to relate well to others. Adulthood is when we learn how to care for others as well as ourselves. As infants, we were dependent. As children, we learn independence. As adults, we learn interdependence.
As a community or a family, we must learn to provide the opportunities for the adult to practice interdependence. I think this is a struggle for most North American communities because we prize independence so much. We think we are promoting maturity, when actually we are locking people into immaturity.
Stuck in Adulthood
If we do not learn these lessons of maturity, there are some pretty significant dysfunctions that develop in our lives. If we cannot accomplish the task of caring for others along with self, we remain self-centered. Other people will always be dissatisfied with us, they will be frustrated with us. Our relationships will never deepen. We’ll never be able to have truly mutually deep relationships. What an impact not learning these lessons will have in marriage. Do you think perhaps this is the reason the divorce rate is so high these days?
If we never learn to hang on to stability and return to joy despite what we face, we’ll learn instead to conform to peer pressures. We’ll rely on negative and destructive group activities. Is it any wonder that gangs become popular for young adults. They aren’t learning to have personal stability or to find stability from God, so they get involved in groups that seem to provide some kind of stability and identity. Of course, the other potential problem is not bonding with any group and becoming a loner, isolating, having a huge sense of self-importance. We’ll think we can handle everything on our own and cause damage in all our relationships.
If we cannot learn to take personal responsibility for our own actions and how our actions impact others, we can become controlling, manipulative, blaming, harmful. We crash through life without concern for who is in our path. This includes damage inflicted on spouses and even children, not to mention co-workers, neighbors, fellow church members. All we can think about is ourselves and what we aren’t getting. We will never stop to think what others are facing and how our actions impact them. We only think about how they impact us and we become users and manipulators.
If we cannot learn to contribute to the community, we become a drain on the community. There doesn’t seem to be much in between ground here. We are either uplifting or we are down-dragging. We are either adding life to our family and community or we are sucking life out of it.
Finally, if we cannot learn to express who we are and the God-given characteristics of our heart, we’ll never have the self-confidence to live the way God has designed us. Instead, we’ll constantly be trying to fill roles that others have developed for us. We’ll spin our wheels trying to prove ourselves to the world, to our peers, to the “judges” of our community. We will constantly hang on the approval of others and even become willing to sell out on our values to get it (p. 31).
If you are like me, you may have thought just getting to adulthood is good enough, learning the childhood lessons ought to be fine. However, if we wish to have personal fulfillment and be beneficial to our families and communities (neighborhood, church, work) we need to keep working on maturing.
The Spiritual Application For Individuals
We’re not done growing. We’ve learned what we need as Christians. We’ve learned how to express our needs. We’ve learned how we fit in the big picture of Christianity, our congregation, our community. We’ve even learned to take care of ourselves. But God didn’t save us through Jesus so we could take care of ourselves. God saved us so we could be a blessing to others. God saved us so we can learn to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
This is where our faith really gets tested. During infancy and childhood, we may think there aren’t any problems out there in the Christian world. We may develop idealistic notions that as long as we do what is right, everything will just work out. But that is not how it works. Satan attacks. Others falter. Personalities clash. Immaturity causes dysfunction. We continue to struggle with issues we think should have been overcome early on. We can become disillusioned with Christ and His church and even our own growth. We need to learn that daily problems doesn’t mean something is wrong. It just means we are growing. We are in a process. Things will work out. That is the promise God is explaining in Romans 8:28-30. We need to learn confidence in God that He is working on our behalf. That will help us have stability and continued growth.
We need to learn to overcome isolation. That is going to mean sharing our secrets with other Christians (James 5:16). That’s going to mean spending time with our brethren even when the church hasn’t planned something. Did you notice that the very first Christians didn’t just meet in congregational assemblies, they also met from house to house (Acts 2:46). That wasn’t a church planned activity. Those were individual Christians opening their homes and developing relationships instead of isolating on their own.
We have to learn to contribute to the church community. This is so much more than learning to lead a public prayer or teach a Bible class. Look at the example of Tabitha in Acts 9:36-43. Here was a woman, probably single, perhaps a widow. Did she wait for the church to ask her to participate in some congregationally planned service activity? No. She saw a need and she filled it. She made garments for those in need. She didn’t do everything, but she did what she could. She didn’t serve everyone, but she served who she could. She didn’t wait to be asked. She just served. She contributed. What I can’t help but notice is that James, an apostle, was killed in Acts 12. The disciples mourned and buried him. Stephen, an evangelist and a deacon (I believe), was killed in Acts 7. The disciples mourned and buried him. Tabitha, who held no office and wasn’t seemingly a “major player” in the church, dies and the disciples call in Peter and say, “Something has to be done about this.” The others were laid to rest and Tabitha was brought back to keep on serving. Perhaps this tells us how important this part of our maturity really is.
Don’t give up. Keep on growing spiritually.
The Spiritual Application for Congregations
We might think if Christians grow through infancy and then make it through spiritual childhood, they’re good. We can leave them on their own to progress. Not so. Certainly, as adults, they are responsible for their maturity. However, as a church we need to help them mature. We need to provide the opportunities they need to progress in spiritual adulthood, or they’ll get locked into spiritual adolescence. Sadly, I think numerous churches suffer because they are filled with a lot of Christians who never get passed spiritual puberty. They’re locked in the awkward stage of gaining independence but not knowing how to deal with interpersonal relationships. They never learn how to be a productive part of the church family. They can answer the doctrinal questions right. They can challenge error. They can even sometimes think for themselves and see where we need to make changes. However, they don’t know how to express that. They don’t understand how their inappropriate expressions destroy relationships. We need to help with that.
What are we doing for the growing Christians to be part of the group life? Don’t just think in terms of the assemblies. Sadly, as I pointed out in the last stage, we often do great and having training classes on how to lead public prayers and give talks. But what about being really involved in the community of the congregation. What are we doing to help these growing Christians be a contributing factor in the lives of the other saints around them? Are we teaching them how to encourage others? What about hospital visits? Visiting the shut-ins? What about teaching them to contribute to the secular community? Sadly, most churches today are taking the easy road. Instead of teaching the growing Christians to provide contribution to the world around them, they just take up a weekly collection and then let the church contribute to the secular community. I don’t believe that is the church’s job. The church needs to teach growing Christians how to contribute to the society around them.
What are we doing to encourage growing Christians to develop community with other growing Christians? Do we do much more than our assemblies? The question is not of churches providing social time for the members. The point is for more mature Christians to take less mature Christians under their wings and bring them into relationships with others. The problem is all too often we don’t have the more mature Christians. We just have a bunch of adolescent Christians clamoring for someone else to do something and provide something for them. We don’t have to get involved in unscriptural activities for the local church in order to accomplish this. We simply have to step outside our “we’ve never done anything like that” box and creatively consider scriptural options to get growing Christians together.
Finally, what are we doing to help growing Christians really see how their unique gifts can benefit the congregation and benefit the kingdom? Too often we simply preach guilt building lessons that make people feel bad because they are doing some thing or the other. What if instead we spent that time to find what people are gifted for and encourage them in those areas? What if instead of sweeping with broad brushes and expecting everyone to be Stepford Christians, we learn to accept folks as individuals with quirks and struggles, but with gifts and talents and learn to help them capitalize on their strengths instead of feeling guilty for their weaknesses?
Do you think we and our brethren would grow if we took this approach? Do you think churches would grow if they took this approach?
Tell me what you think. Does this sound a like a legitimate step of maturity? How do you think we can unstick ourselves if we are stuck in this level? Do we need to be concerned about it at all?
Growing Up: Part 2 (The Child Stage)
I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). A few weeks ago, I discussed the first of their five stages of maturity. I promised to share the other four and then promptly got distracted by the change on my blog. Today, I want to get back to this series. I hope this will spark some great discussion about growing up and growing up in the Lord and growing up God’s way.
The Child Stage (4-12)
The infant stage was marked by a needy baby who simply cannot articulate those needs. The infant needs parents who will provide unconditional love and meet needs without being asked.
The child has progressed. The child has learned to say what he needs. The child begins to learn how to take care of herself. Please note very carefully, the child begins to learn how to take care of herself, not someone else. It is not the child’s job to caretake the parent. It is not the child’s job to caretake other children. The child is learning how to take care of herself.
When roles are reversed, that is the child is having to provide the emotional or physical needs of the parent or to act the parent to the other children, he may seem mature beyond his years. However, this child will often development emotional impairment that will become apparent in years to come.
During this stage, the child still needs to receive unconditional love. She should not have to earn love. She can earn rewards, but love must always be unconditional.
Progressing to the Next Level
The child has six tasks to accomplish to help him grow to the next level of maturity.
- The child can ask for what is needed and learns to say what he thinks or feels.
- The child learns what brings personal satisfaction.
- The child needs to develop enough persistence to do hard things.
- The child begins to develop personal resources and talents.
- The child knows self and takes responsibility to make self understandable to others.
- The child needs to learn how he fits into history and into the big picture of what life is all about.
The child learns to do this as the parents and community surrounding her fulfill their responsibilities to her.
- The parents must teach the child how to appropriately express needs, feelings, and thoughts.
- The parents must teach the child how to evaluate the consequences of her own behavior and to identify what satisfies her.
- The parents must challenge and encourage the child to do difficult things that she may not want to do.
- The parents must provide opportunities and resources to develop her unique talents and abilities.
- The parents must guide the child to discover the unique characteristics of her heart.
- The parents must educate the child about her family’s history and the history of the family of God (p. 30).
Getting Stuck as a Child
If the child doesn’t accomplish these tasks, he can get stuck at this level of maturity, no matter how biologically old he is. In other words, he could be 35 biologically, but still a child emotionally.
“‘Child adults’ who have adult bodies but are emotionally at the child level of maturity, will always appear ego-centric. Unlike ‘infant adults’ who cannot take care of themselves, ‘child adults’ can take care of themselves but they can only take care of themselves–and often that is at the expense of others” (p. 21).
“Child adults” will experience continual frustration because they do not know how to ask for their needs to be met. Therefore, their needs don’t get met. They can become passive-aggressive, trying to get others to meet their needs but not knowing how to get that done. Thus, they resort to manipulation. Because they don’t understand what provides real satisfaction, they are in a desperate hunt for it, chasing it in many unhealthy places, such as obsession or addiction to food, drugs, sex, money, power, etc. Because they have never learned the joy of sticking with a hard project to successful completion, they only know failure. They become stuck and undependable. They are in a constant search for a comfortable fantasy life that doesn’t really exist for anyone. Because they haven’t developed their own talents and resources, their lives are marked by unproductive activities, floating from entertainment to recreation to entertainment, accomplishing nothing of value to themselves or society. Because they haven’t developed their own healthy sense of self and personal identity, they will conform to outside influences that distort and misshape their identity and sense of self. Because they have never seen how they fit within history and the big picture of life, they feel disconnected from the family and history. They are unable to protect themselves from family lies or dysfunctions that are passed on (p. 30).
The Spiritual Application
Regrettably, in most churches, Christians are never really allowed to be children in Christ. It is as if they are to go from babes in Christ to mature adults, even having the “elder” level of maturity almost from the beginning. They aren’t allowed to be immature. They aren’t allowed to express what they think or feel. They have to very quickly learn to toe the line of the mature Christians’ thinking around them. Of course, this mindset usually demonstrates the “mature” Christians around them aren’t quite as mature as they think.
Also, regrettably, while churches often do a good job at helping a Christian child learn the right answers to the right questions, they rarely do a good job at helping a Christian child develop their own talents and resources in serving Christ. That is, unless their talent is song-leading or waiting on the Lord’s Supper table. We have all kinds of training for those low-level public tasks. But what about the real needs in a Christian community that deal with serving, helping, one-on-one encouragement, etc. Churches do very little training in these areas.
Clearly, we need to work with Christian children to help them persevere in difficult things. Challenge them and encourage them to step up to the plate in spiritual tasks. Encourage them to study things that are deeper than what they’ve done in the past. Challenge them to serve in ways they haven’t yet. Provide guidance and support, but don’t do the work for them.
What about education in seeing themselves in the big picture of the history of the family of God? Certainly, many churches do a great job studying Acts over and over again, but what about placing each individual in the context of Christian history beginning with the Bible and leading up to today. I know I rarely think about that. In fact, before reading this, I would have said, “Who cares? It doesn’t matter what has happened throughout history. It only matters what they did in the Bible days.” I’m not suggesting the history of Christendom is some kind of authority for us. However, I can say that recently I was asked to present a lecture on some pre-reformation “heretical sects” (that is sects considered heretical by the Roman Catholic church). It was eye-opening about my own place in the continuing and unfolding drama of people throughout the ages striving to figure out how to surrender to God’s will. On a personal level, I have found great joy since reading this as I’ve made it a personal goal in my family to share our family history. For instance, it was great to learn and pass on to my children that our family name means “cross bearer” and that we have a family motto that means “The cross is my key to heaven.” What a great family legacy to pass on.
What If We’re the Ones Stuck
The scary thing is if we read this description and see ourselves. What if we are the “child adult”? As adults, we are responsible for our maturity. We can’t just sit back and bemoan the fact that our family and our community haven’t fulfilled their tasks in helping us grow. Instead, we need to find someone who is at the parent and elder stage of maturity and ask them to help us grow. Ephesians 4:11-14 says God provided certain people within His body to help us develop to manhood. We need to find some of these to help us. We need to openly and honestly tell them where we think we are and see if they are willing to mentor and shepherd us to maturity. But make sure the relationship is a healthy one. If the shepherd or mentor starts to heap unhealthy shame and guilt on you, feel free to end the mentoring part of the relationship and seek a different mentor.
Further, spend heaping amounts of time in Bible study and prayer. Allow God to mentor and shepherd you through His word. God loves you, God challenges you, God encourages you. Don’t allow the messages of shame and fright that others have used the Bible to pressure you with to shine through. Instead, allow God’s guidance, shepherding, and healthy discipline to guide you in His strait and narrow way to life.
Tell me what you think. Does this sound a like a legitimate step of maturity? How do you think we can unstick ourselves if we are stuck in this level? Do we need to be concerned about it at all?
Continue this series by learning about the adult stage.
Growing Up: Part 1 (The Infant Stage)
I recently read a very interesting book that provided an intriguing look at growing up, maturing (wait for it…wait for it… yes, here it is, an associate link: The Life Model: Living from the heart Jesus gave you). Their maturity progress is a mix of how we must grow just to get along in life, but also how we must grow in Jesus to be a maturing disciple. Over the next five Mondays, I want to simply share their five stages of maturity with you. I hope this will spark some great discussion about growing up and growing up in the Lord.
The biological ages provided are not saying once a person reaches that biological point they move on to the next maturity level. Rather, they simply point out the earliest point at which a person can move to the next maturity level. The fact is, someone may be 36 and still in the infant stage of maturity.
The stages are:
- Infant (0-3)
- Child (4-12)
- Adult (13-birth of first child)
- Parent (birth of first child-youngest child becomes an adult)
- Elder (beginning when youngest child becomes an adult)
The Infant Stage (0-3)
The baby stage. In fact, consider what being a baby is like and you see what this level of maturity is like. A baby cannot articulate her needs. A baby can simply scream when he needs or wants something. The parents must guess at his needs. Granted, good parents learn to guess well. They respond to the baby’s needs, nurturing it, feeding it, diapering it, holding it, comforting it.
This is exactly what an infant needs. She needs someone to provide this care-giving love. But more than that, she needs someone to provide these needs while seeing her as God sees her. That is, she needs to see joy on the faces of those who are caring for her. If he sees anger, hurt, fear, that is what he will learn to look for as he grows up. He’ll have a hard time maintaining a center of joy. He’ll have a hard time walking in and bearing the fruit of the Spirit, which is joy (Galatians 5:22).
The infant “needs to be the ‘sparkle in someone’s eye’ and to be with people that are ‘glad to be with them’ so that they live in joy and learn that joy is one’s normal state” (p. 20).
Progressing to the Next Level
Before progressing to the next level of maturity, the infant must accomplish 5 maturity tasks.
- Live in joy, expanding the capacity for joy and learn that joy is the normal state.
- Develop trust.
- Learn how to receive.
- Begin to organize self into a person through relationships.
- Learn how to return to joy from every unpleasant emotion.
These steps are accomplished as the family and community accomplishes the following 5 tasks respectively.
- Parents delight in the infant’s wonderful and unique existence.
- Parents build strong, loving, bonds with the infant–bonds of unconditional love.
- Give care that matches the infants needs, without the infant asking.
- Discover the true characteristics of the infant’s unique identity, through attention to the child’s behavior and character
- Provide enough safety and companionship during difficulties, so the infant can return to joy from any other emotion (p. 29).
Getting Stuck as a Baby
Have you ever seen someone you might call a big baby? That may be a very accurate description. The problem may really be that they never did progress beyond the infant stage of maturity.
If an infant is not provided the unconditional love, care, and nurturing, he will be wounded. He will get stuck in the infant stage. If he learns that he can’t trust others, he’ll always live in fear and distrust, wanting someone to take care of him but certain no one ever will. Do you think that might hinder his ability to rely on God?
If the parents and/or community around the child has not reached the parental stage of maturity, the child is going to be in trouble. The parents can’t give what they don’t have. If the parents are stuck in the infant stage or even the child stage, they will be seeking their own needs themselves and leaving the infant child to fend for herself. The parent, seeking his or her own needs, may “parentify” the infant, seeking their own happiness and comfort through the child. The roles become reversed and neither is fulfilled. It is the parents that are to provide the love and nurture to the child, not the other way around. Sadly, too many of us have kids because we are needy, not because we are prepared to care for a child.
“‘Adult infants’ who have not received in these important areas as babies, will always be needy as adults. They will not be able to take care of themselves emotionally nor will they be able to appropriately receive important things from others. Adult infants will not ask for what they need because they believe if others really cared for them, they would figure out what they needed. Adult infants cannot handle criticism even if it is valid and constructive, because they see any negative feedback as a personal attack. They are often possessive of relationships, territory, power and possessions. Unfortunately for all involved, they also use fear bonding to ensure others will stay bonded to them [Fear bonding is getting others to stay in a relationship by using negative pressures, making them fear something negative if they act as themselves or if they leave the relationship-ELC]. And while ‘high functioning’ adult infants can appear responsible in many areas, like handling personal finances, and being punctual and reliable, emotionally they are severely crippled making it difficult for them to have successful and enduring relationships” (pp. 20-21).
The Spiritual Application
Do you think new converts might be in a similar stage as a newborn infant? They are extremely needy, but they don’t even yet know how to express their needs. They need to be in a family with mature Christians who can anticipate their needs and provide them without them even asking. They need spiritual parents who will care for them, nurturing them, teaching them they can trust the brethren and they can trust God. I can’t begin to suggest for how many years this stage is normal.
However, I can suggest that perhaps more Christians need more mature brethren to demonstrate that the newborn in the faith are the sparkle of our eyes, that we are overjoyed to have them in our presence. What might smiles, hugs, and listening ears accomplish for these new Christians? New Christians need more mature Christians who build strong bonds of unconditional love (emphasize unconditional love–not love until they have a relapse into their favorite pre-baptism sin). Infants in Christ need more mature Christians who discover the babe’s unique identity and strengths. These things might go a longer way to producing spiritual maturity than simply dropping them in a New Converts class and attempting to fill their heads with all the right answers to all the right questions. Babes in Christ need relationships. They will develop their relationship with God as they develop their relationship with other Christians.
Of course, we can’t give what we don’t have. If the congregation has no one at a parent or elder level maturity, there is going to be a problem. The church will then be filled only with people seeking others to care for them or who can only take care of themselves. That is a hurting place to be.
Ephesians 4:13 says we need to develop to mature manhood. If we are stuck in the infant stage, we need to do some work. We need to find some “parents” who can help us get unstuck and move past our wounds and hurts. Be honest with yourself. If you see yourself in that “adult infant” paragraph, seek some mature person out to help you grow.
I hope we can start a discussion here. How do we get beyond infanthood if we are stuck there?