I can’t think of any healthy organisation or entity where the precedent to remain in perpetual infancy is greater than within the church.
Corporations often have a strategy for their employees to improve and hone their skills. Schools require students to take the next step academically. Coaches expect their players to learn from their mistakes and improve. And parents who don’t encourage their kids to “grow up” will soon have social services or the police at their door. However, in the church, we seem to allow for people to remain in spiritual infancy and we don’t require people to mature. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why we continue to see church attendance decline among millennials. They want to be challenged, they want to be expected to mature, and they want to play, not spectate.
Here are 4 questions to determine if you are encouraging spiritual infancy.
1. Are there things that only the paid clergy are allowed to do?
-teach, pray, baptise, sacraments
I may be stepping on some sacred cows on this one, but I fear many Protestants have forgotten what it means to be, protestant. Here’s a quick reminder:
- The Bible, not tradition, is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice
- Salvation is a free gift of God, bestowed on account of Jesus Christ and received by faith
- ALL Christians enjoy direct, priestly access to God through Christ, and need not an earthly mediator.
I’m not suggesting that all are called to be pastors/teachers. I do think that this is a limited office within the church for the equipping of the saints (Eph 4:11-12). But let’s be clear, they are to equip others to do ministry, not do the ministry by themselves.
2. How are people held accountable?
When growth doesn’t occur or someone is struggling learning a particular discipline, how are they encourage to mature?
3. Is there a permission barrier?
Who releases people for mission? Church professionals or Jesus?
What metrics do you use? This isn’t a lesson on the birds and the bees, but healthy families reproduce. Churches aren’t simply spiritual nurseries. Sadly, this is the case for many. This metric of growth is addition (how can we add more?), but churches must also be wedding halls where people are sent out to start new families and make spiritual babies. When people don’t grow up they can only run to a few to find the answers. This creates an automatic leadership lid. When people mature, new leaders are formed.
4. Is Sunday attendance or obedience celebrated?
I’m afraid there are some church leaders who are content with folks remaining in spiritual infancy as long as they keep a steady attendance. Of course, many would not say this to be the case, but if the primary concern is, “where was Johnny Sunday?” and not “how is Johnny increasingly growing as a disciple of Jesus?” then there’s some thinking to do. Hopefully, Johnny is connected to a disciple-making community outside of Sunday morning and they will be the first to offer pastoral care and concern. If it’s always the Pastor or Vicar, then groups will never take the ownership to shepherd people.