God created us to grow to adulthood – spirit, soul and body. Scripture calls us to do just that. The role of leaders, like the role of parents, is to encourage and affirm this process, not to ensure that everyone except the leaders remains perpetually one-down. Paul modeled the type of fathering that raises up adults – and releases people into adulthood.
He wrote to the believers in Corinth, still young in the Lord:
I’m writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up (1 Cor. 4:14–15 MSG).
Paul instructed the Ephesian leaders:
Train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all … fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up (Eph. 4:12–15 MSG).
Paul told the Colossian church:
We teach … so that we can bring each person to maturity (Col. 1:28 MSG).
Sadly, our church culture does just the opposite of what Paul modeled – while convincing ourselves we’re doing it the biblical way. We may point to all the sermons, programs and conferences whereby the wise train the immature to grow up – to own their responsibility to hear God and to act on what he says. Yet the system we’ve created perpetuates spiritual infancy indefinitely, and often severely punishes those who try to mature.
In a nutshell, our system enforces one-up/one-down relationships as the norm among Christian adults. “Clergy” are one-up to “laity.” Men are one-up to women. Whites are one-up to everyone else. The one-down are taught that they must always seek wisdom and permission from the one-up. Only the one-up are adult enough to hear God clearly on the truly important stuff.
Thus, in the name of biblical submission, whole groups of adults agree to being treated like perennial babes.
Adapted from chapter 12, What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé, © 2013 Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.
Posts in The ‘Adulthood’ Dilemma series