REdefining Maturity (Part 1)

This is an article I did for K! magazine a few years ago. K! is a great magazine Ryan Frank and his team do an outstanding job of finding new voices. I also am a huge fan of the layout of the magazine love the artwork. If you are not getting K! magazine and are involved in ministering to kids you need to subscribe now.

Keeping your faith fresh.

I’m no green thumb but my wife by her own admission is even worse. Over the past ten years of married life she has successfully killed every houseplant we’ve brought into our home. She over waters, under waters, gives them her leftover espresso, she don’t give the plant enough sunlight, she give them too many nutrients, or generally just neglects the potted shrine in the corner of our living room. In our time-pressed (and often forgetful) 21st century context she (and I) often just forget to care for our little green friends. The result: they just don’t grow. At best they’re a weak, anemic sick thing that hides behind the couch; at worst they’re dead, but remain there as part of the living room environment.

In my interactions with kids’ pastors, workers and volunteers over the past ten years, I’ve noticed at times a striking parallel between the plant life in my home and ministry. It’s all too often true that in the midst of our time-pressed, budget-strapped, need-more-volunteers culture we sacrifice, even neglect, the very thing that fuels our ministry. I’d even go as far as to say that beyond all our creative programing, it is this one thing that is absolutely vital in the transformation of our kids.  Simply put, it is our spiritual growth – our intimacy with Christ – that truly impacts our kids.  Whether it be in our homes or ministries, kids will engage first with our passions long before they are impacted by our principles, programs or our creativity. A healthy, vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus is the greatest gift we can give our kids, and yet so often it’s the thing we forsake.

As I’ve delved through what it means to mature spiritually, it struck me that perhaps we’ve been honing in on the wrong target in our westernized version of Christianity. For too long we’ve defined spiritual maturity as being about all the spiritual stuff we know. Quite frankly, when I read the Bible and see how Jesus lives it out with his disciples, life as Jesus intended seems much more about what we’re becoming and then acting upon what we know. Is it possible that our erroneous definition of spiritual maturity has led to a kind of shallow, self-focused Christianity that’s always looking to be fed more stuff and find the perfect church or ministries for our families? What if spiritual maturity was about living out, in real and dynamic ways, what we read about in Scripture? Imagine what we might become.

I find the author of Hebrew’s reference to maturing Christians in chapter 5 in which he pointed to the fact that in the context of their everyday lives they were practicing the truths of Scripture. They weren’t being fed bottled milk; they had learned what it meant to feed themselves, and then live out that truth. Perhaps this is the greatest gift we can give the kids under our care and ministry – a real life example that growing in Christ, indeed our spiritual formation, isn’t a plate full of facts and knowledge but a dynamic relationship with Jesus that transforms and finds expression in the relationships and world around us.

If I was to define maturity in just a few words that would fundamentally change the face of Children’s ministry and the church as a whole, it would be the ability to feed yourself. That’s it. No big words just feed yourself.  Being able to fill your own spiritual tank is a great example of intangible leadership.

Being a self-feeder is a must for any growing healthy Christian.  It is even more essential for those involved in leading kids. We are often in that position of giving out and pouring into kids and families. Without learning this principle we will dry up and burn out. It’s imperative that we not neglect our own spiritual growth. So what does it look like “to fill your own tank”?

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