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.


Rdbachman said...

Great thoughts! The importance of personal depth and spirituality cannot be emphasized too strongly. The one on whom the anointing truly rests is not the one who has the most charisma, but the most depth. It is easy to mistake well-trained, strong personalities for a person walking in the fullness of the Spirit.

I often feel that our training in vocational ministry has been honed to a degree that it is possible for a person to function in a ministerial role without possessing an actual calling from God. A person can attend any university, obtain a degree in any field, find a job that matches their degree, and then find out that a different field would have been more desirable. This scenario should not be true of the minister.

However, rather than conclude that there should be fewer called, I believe that more people should seek a calling. “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (I Tim. 3:1). This desire requires discipline, but it is well worth the cost.

Phil Steiger said...

I think that is such an important point: we might have professionalized the ministry to a point where all we need are some tools modeled after corporate techniques. David Wells makes that point in his books, Losing our Virtue and No Place for Truth.

Surely there is something deeper to the ministerial call than being an ecclesiastical manager.

The Gyrovague said...

I have just graduated with my Theology degree with intentions of ministry, but I agree with the above points, I lack the depth right now. I can discuss finer points of many different doctrines and views, but I do not have that inner resevoir of wisdom and grace.

The answer of course is to spend more time in the word and reading the word not with the mentality that I am going to "get something" out of it, but as an act of worship towards our creator. I think many pastors have the first mentality because they have pressure to get'er done before Sunday and to have all the p's and q's in order.

Phil Steiger said...


I think you are absolutely right that "getting something done" is an incredible pressure for pastors. Of course, there are always things that need to be done, but our ministry begins in the way you mentioned--relationship with and worship of God.

BTW-where did you graduate from? Did you like it?

The Gyrovague said...

Summit Bible College. I did it on line. They are in Bakersfield, CA.

I liked it, it was rigorous, but lacked some things such as Biblical Languages. I am learning such things on the fly. I could not find one here in Colorado Springs that could work with my schedule AND give me an accredited degree. I almost went to Charis but I really wanted to have a degree under my belt, not just some bible classes.

OPM said...

So many Christians claiming to be "radical" -- and yet, "radical" (at least in America) has come to mean attending church on a regular basis. That's not "radical" that's elementary. I wonder what a "radical" or should I just say "Biblical" (or "Biblically mature")Christian would look like (esp. here in America)?

These are not meant to be inflamatory comments -- but questions I've been pondering in my own spirit of late.

The phrase "everyday Jesus" keeps coming to mind...

Where would Jesus take us if we let Him?

Tracy said...

Thanks for this post.

It is especially relevant to me in light of an experience of mine.

The experience was a church where I was involved for 6 years. The senior pastor was a good guy but he definitely fit your description of working to have "vision" and to basically market the church, but his sermons always felt bereft.

I'd originally became involved in that church because it was very close to my home, was of a denomination whose doctrine I concurred with and had an excellent children's program. At that time I had 3 sons at home so I began to participate with my sons and volunteer through the years in various capacities with children's ministries. Each Sunday as I sat through the sermon I tried really hard to glean something from it and of course I always could find something of value. But I never felt there was any depth. I stayed there until I moved from the area because I believed it's where God wanted me at that time. Fortunately I could turn on the radio each morning during my commute to work and there were a couple of preachers that I could partake of who I found to be of depth.

I think there are at least two issues going on here: 1)Study, relationship with God and depth leads to more depth, 2)The whole let's learn from the business world and have vision and market thing.

It's hard to put into words because I don't want to be judgmental. But the feeling is that when certain people speak it comes from a depth. You feel like that person has spent time in the presence of God, studying and meditating on God's word. That his study for his sermon goes way beyond just what is spoken in the sermon; that he has delighted in the word. That God has worked in his life personally as a result of both his relationship with God and his study. I think that gyrovogue makes a good point about the prevalent need in our culture to "get something done".

Due to my profession I have participated in marketing and God has blessed me in my career to be able to provide for my family. But even in my business affairs, it was always about God for me. It was always about praying and asking for His lead. I do read business books and appreciate the things I get from them, but don't feel that God's church needs to find our answers about how to build His local body from business. It may sound naive, but I believe that as we in the local body are obedient, God will build the church.

Phil Steiger said...


I think you are right about what it means to be "radical" as a Christian today. It is really easy to attend church from time to time and get along the rest of the time on the world's terms. To be radical is to look like, sound like, think like, emote like Christ.

And I think it will get harder and harder as time marches on in our culture to be that kind of Christian.

Phil Steiger said...


I think your story is not all that uncommon. Families find a decent local church, their kids get involved with the youth and children's ministry, and the parents end up gritting their teeth. A friend of mine once commented about the church their family was attending (for these kinds of reasons) by saying that a dog can chew on sticks for only so long.

Tracy said...

I read something today that reminded me of this discussion. This is a quote from A.W. Tozer:

"Whoever seeks God as a means toward desired ends will not find God. The mighty God, the maker of heaven and earth, wilt not be one of many treasures, not even the chief of all treasures. He will be all in all or He will be nothing. God will not be used. His mercy and grace are infinite and His patient understanding is beyond measure, but He will not aide men in their selfish striving after personal gain. He will not help men attain ends which, when attained, usurp the place He by every right should hold in their interest and affection."

I think there's the temptation to seek God, quick, to prepare a sermon, to build a church, to be successful - instead of seeking Him for His wonderful self and to be in relationship with Him. The climate and pressures of our culture just reinforce this quick-seek approach.

But I'm sure grateful that indeed the Lord's loving kindnesses never cease and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:20-30; esp verse 23)- because I'm in constant need of His grace.