MTP 12: From “Spiritual Death” to Being “a Parent”, Part 3: “The Spiritual Child”

In their very helpful manual, the authors of Real Life Discipleship Training Manual, walk their readers through 5 stages of spiritual growth:

  1. Death
  2. Infant
  3. Child
  4. Young Adult
  5. Parent

A better understanding of these stages, is very helpful, not only as we look at our own lives, but as we walk alongside someone we want to introduce to Jesus Christ.

Before we begin, just a reminder that we should not mistake the following: knowledge of the Bible, years of attending church, actual age, degrees earned, and so on for spiritual maturity.  A person in church for sixty years, can still be a spiritual infant or child; a person converted just three years ago, may already be a “spiritual parent”.

The Apostle Paul was a spiritual parent to many, and we see how he exercised this fatherhood in several of his letters to the first churches and younger leaders: 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12, 1 Timothy 1:1-2, Philemon 1:8-11.  In almost every case, Paul uses the language of family to describe the journey of discipleship.  In fact, what we would expect from a natural parent, is also what Paul expects from a spiritual parent: Encouragement, comfort, exhortation, and recognition of a true son or daughter in the Faith.

While “Spiritual Infants” typically have a “just me and God is all I need” view of the Christian Faith, “Spiritual Children” have taken the step of joining a family – a local church.  And yet, Spiritual Children have the following three characteristics:

Self-Centered: In church, they will constantly draw attention to their needs.

Idealistic: They can be too black and white in their thinking, and may be too harsh about those who don’t seem as committed as them.  They can become legalistic, if they are not encouraged to grow in grace.

Alternate between boldness and timidity: One day, they’re too proud to listen to anyone.  The next day, they’re defeated and cast down.  Lots of ups and downs, week by week – even day by day – characterize a Spiritual Child.

What do we often hear Spiritual Children saying?:

“I don’t want my small group to grow – or, heaven forbid – split into two, so that it can grow more: I want it just to be me and my friends in Christ.”

“My small group just doesn’t meet my needs the way that it should.”

“I’m not being fed at my church, so I’m going to shop for another.”

“The pastor looked right at me, and didn’t even say Hello!”

What will help Spiritual Children take the next steps, and grow into a Spiritual Parent?

  • A living connection to a church family.
  • Clear direction about how to begin to feed themselves, spiritually.
  • Teaching that focuses on who they are in – and what is expected of them as followers of – Christ.
  • Teaching that focuses on developing relationships with other believers, and what appropriate expectations for those relationships look like.