Monday, October 15, 2007

Infant Christians; Infant Leaders

Aristotle argued that in order to flourish as a human being, you need to cultivate the virtues. He further argued that the best way to understand how the virtues work is to observe and imitate the virtuous. If you can’t find virtuous people in your life, you need to find them quickly.

Gordon MacDonald notes in his article, So Many Christian Infants, that we have a shocking lack of mature and wise believers running around in our world. He says:

Now mature, in my book does not mean the "churchly," those who have mastered the vocabulary and the litany of church life, who come alive only when the church doors open. Rather, I have in mind those who walk through all the corridors of the larger life—the market-place, the home and community, the playing fields—and do it in such a way that, sooner or later, it is concluded that Jesus' fingerprints are all over them.

I think he is exactly right. We should not confuse jargon-laden with wise and mature. Being a disciple is about following Christ through the real world, not acting at church.

One possible solution to spiritual infancy MacDonald offers is mentoring. The older, wiser Christians who have learned a bit about what it means to be alive in this culture as a faithful Christ-follower should deliberately model that wisdom and behavior to younger Christians. Aristotle might be proud of that option.

However, MacDonald notes what he thinks is a lack of willing and able mature Christians who can fill that role. Let me offer another set of possible mentors where I think we fall woefully short.

By very definition of the calling and office, pastors must be people who resist the rising tide of Christian infancy. They are the ones God has called to lead people through their relationships with Christ; through their struggles in seeing the world the way God wants us to see it; through their wanderings in and out of Scripture; through their stuttering attempts at prayer and devotion; through their journeys as souls infinitely precious to God.

More often than not, however, the modern-day pastor is expected to know just enough about how to visionize and market to be dangerous. They are expected to be dim shadows of their corporate counterparts, who read and reference more books by professional sports coaches than by the pillars of orthodox theology. To know what Phil Jackson says about leadership is more relevant than what Spurgeon said.

How can we follow in spiritual virtue a class of people who are no longer expected to be spiritually deep and virtuous? I teach drum lessons, and I often tell my beginning students to listen to and imitate good drummers on the radio. That trick works because on your average song good drummers play at about 50% of their real capacity. And because radio singles utilize only a fraction of a good drummer’s skills, they are able to play the song really, really well.

I love to listen to a pastor who is much deeper than a single sermon. I can usually tell whether there is a reservoir from which the pastor is drawing, or if they purchased a powerpoint sermon from the internet. One of those two sermons models for me what it means to be spiritually mature, and the other leaves me fat and happy as an infant feeding pre-chewed, spoon-fed food.