Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
– Philippians 2:12-13 ESV
We’re living in an interesting age in the Body of Christ. I can’t say it’s a unique age because there’s truly nothing new under the sun. The generations that have gone before us dealt with some variation of what we’re now contending with. But how we’re dealing with the crises of our day will determine a lot about how the generations that come after us will fair.
For a while now, I’ve been thinking about the Christian who doesn’t want to adult in their Christianity.
When we get saved – regardless of our biological age or life maturity – we are like babies being born into a new world. There is much for us to learn and grow into. In an ideal setting, God places you into a spiritual family (church) who will journey with you. While there may be need to transition to a different family after a duration of seasons, no Christian is supposed to walk alone. For all the imperfections there are, church exists with good reason.
As with a baby being raised, there are changes in how you’re handled that need to happen over time. Otherwise your growth will be stunted and your overall well-being jeopardized. As you start to gain mobility in the things of the spirit, you’re entrusted with the little that you have capacity for with a lot of grace extended for the messy process that is learning. Much like one would give a toddler who’s reached a given development marker a plastic spoon as they’re learning to feed themselves but do so knowing there will be spills and that’s okay. Even if they try to reach for your metal fork you’re not going to give it to them because they don’t have capacity to handle it and it would cause them harm.
With time, the spiritual toddler who could barely express themselves begins to learn how to speak and starts to find their voice in the things of the spirit. But they are continually learning how to process their thoughts and emotions and filter what to say and not say and how to say it. They are being chastised when they step out of line in both their words and actions. The measure of their ability to hold certain responsibilities is still limited to their level of maturity.
The child grows into a young adult who has provisional freedom that comes with much needed oversight. This is because they are transitioning from childhood into adulthood, which is a very precarious time. They are coming to terms with their spiritual identity with a level of understanding of themselves, God, the Church and the world that they didn’t have before. They are getting reality checks in how the world and the kingdom works and they are beginning to realize that those who have raised them spiritually aren’t perfect human beings; they have flaws and errors, they make mistakes and are on their own journey of learning, but this doesn’t take away from their role in the young adult’s life or the need to give them the honour, respect and love that is due to them.
Eventually the young adult becomes a fully-fledged adult who is required to be a responsible member of the kingdom. They now have more freedom and less restriction. But this is not for them to go crazy and do whatever they want however they want to. It’s for them to put into practice everything they have learned thus far. As they increase in maturity, so does the work they need to take on. Along the way they end up on the other side of the table, where they’re the ones changing the diapers of a new spiritual baby, just as someone did for them once upon a time. But even at this stage, they are still accountable to those who raised them. No matter how mature they get, they never outgrow the need to submit to the counsel of those God has placed in their life to help them stay accountable to Him and to their faith.
When it comes to bashing Christian leaders and their relationship with their flock, I have three strikes against me – I’m a believer, I’m a pastor’s wife and I’m in church leadership. I won’t dwell on the bashing and everything that comes with it as that’s not the focus of this post.
But because of those very strikes, I have seen for myself what happens on both sides of the table. I can acknowledge the views – right and wrong – I had of Christian leadership when I was just a believer in the pews. I can also now understand the reality that those in genuine Christian leadership are grappling with.
We have an alarming number of Christians who have refused to grow up. Even though the time and season they’re in requires them to actively be serving the kingdom of God, they want to remain in toddler mode with someone who regularly changes their diaper and makes excuses for their toddler ways. They want someone who will feed them, clothe them, and take care of their every spiritual whim without holding them accountable for a single thing. They want someone who will give them attention not admonish them for anything. If what you’re suggesting to them involves any inconvenience or discomfort on their part, you may as well shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. Oh, and how dare you rebuke them in any way – they’re either always right, didn’t know any better (even though this is the 10th time we’re dealing with the exact same thing they still won’t take responsibility for) or are unable to do better (insert every conceivable excuse on earth including the devil who is given credit for far too much).
Here’s the thing. There is a stage in a Christian’s life where all these things are plausible and even expected to some degree. But when you have an adult who wants to be treated like a toddler there’s a crisis at hand. The same holds true when you have toddlers who want to be treated like adults. We have a staggering number of both in the Body.
We were never meant to remain frozen in time as the people we were when we got saved. We’re supposed to grow in our salvation. This starts with acknowledging that we really don’t know that much and we need to allow those who’ve been at this much longer than we have to guide us. It means accepting that at some point, we have to take on the responsibilities and challenges of the church we’re in and the Body we’re part of. In between, we have to have the humility [right estimation of self] to take on what we have the ability to handle and give those whose leadership we’re submitted to permission to call us out on our speed of transaction – when we’re getting it right and getting it wrong.
“Well, at least they’re saved” isn’t doing us much good. Not with the way this world is going to hell in a hand basket. We need every mature believer who’s ready out in the front lines in church and in the various gates of society. Every time I hear/read someone asking where Christian leaders are, I want to jointly ask them where they are as believers.
The role of the Christian leader doesn’t negate the role of the believer in the pews. We have relegated spiritual responsibility to those who hold certain positions when it was supposed to be carried by all of us. The Body of Christ isn’t made of leaders only; it’s all of us. Yet as the harvest increases by the day, the labourers keep dwindling in number.
We are called to work out our salvation not to ensure our entry into “heaven” but so that God too may work in us that we may work for Him. There’s no part of this equation that doesn’t involve responsibility and work on our part. If this isn’t your cup of tea, you’re in the wrong faith.
Any Christian leader worth their salt is able to gauge where you are in your spiritual journey and walk with you accordingly. But they can only do so to the degree you are willing to listen to and trust what they have to say and take heed of the counsel you’re given.
None of us is gifted or mature enough to do without accountability. If anything, the more gifted and mature you become, the more you need the accountability lest you become yet another statistic taken down by pride.
Are you a Christian adult who wants to babied?
Are you a Christian toddler who’s demanding to be treated like an adult?
Here’s the kicker – as believers, we can simultaneously have areas of our lives where we’re adults and others where we’re toddlers in so far as our ability to navigate them with the required maturity. We’re all bias to self and that’s why having leaders we’re submitted to and spiritual family we’re running with comes in handy – they speak the truth to us in love and address our junk – especially that which we’re totally oblivious to.
For the sake of the world we’re in, the service needed in the kingdom and the sanity of your leaders, I urge you to take stock of your journey of faith.
Where do you need to take on more responsibility (and stop making excuses for why you can’t get things done!) and where do you need to accept your limitations of maturity and stop feeling entitled to and demanding for that which you have no capacity to handle right now?
Better yet, be courageous enough to ask the people you’re journeying with help you audit yourself; not just your friends but particularly those who hold a leadership/oversight role in your life.
Toss the junk. Embrace the work at hand.
Take a stand and become a believer that the Body of Christ will richly benefit to have.