Felicity O’Brien, March 2011. All rights reserved. PDF
I want to talk to you about growing as a Christian, and the stages from infancy to maturity.
We have kept pet rabbits for some months. Now you may think that it’s easy to breed rabbits, because they breed like, well, rabbits. But it’s not quite so straightforward. They need certain conditions to breed – first, the parents need to be mature enough to have babies. This is like Christians needing to understand their faith enough to pass it on. Well, when we first hear about Christianity, there are usually lots of mature Christians to start us off.
But what then? Just as the rabbit kitten needs milk, so new Christians need simple truths that they can easily understand. The gospel message, broken up into small chunks, and in easy to understand language, not great long theological words derived from the greek!
Well, baby Christian has been on milk for a while, and baby rabbit has too . The next step for the rabbit is a special predigested baby food produced by the mother. This is very important, because not only does it contain nutrients, but also the tools to equip the kitten for further growth in the form of bacteria to line its gut. As new Christians move from milk to first solids, they need more than just nutrition, they also need the tools to set them up for the future. These can come in the forms of habits, such as daily bible reading and prayer. They can come as relationships – with a small group where growth can be fostered, and in belonging to the wider church community, where we can all worship together at the services. Without these habits the growth slows down.
What would happen if this step is not properly done? A new Christian who has no discipline, no relationships, no resources, may well starve and fall away. If a rabbit kit cannot be reared by it mother at this stage, it usually dies. It gets infections in the digestive tract, because there are no protective bacteria to fight them. In the same way, our new Christian can be open to attacks from the enemy – there are no resources to fight the battle.
Well, the baby food stage is passed successfully, what comes next? With the rabbits, they start to eat solid food. They are running about outside the burrow, nibbling whatever comes to hand. They are about three weeks old at this point, and will still go to mum for a suckle. A new Christian will be onto solid food – perhaps more meaty chunks of scripture, perhaps discussion groups where some of the tanglier topics are discussed, but coming back occasionally to the first and greatest truths, such as John 3 16 – For God so loved the world that He gave us his only-begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.– These truths always stay with us, part of us, even when they are not new any more.
The next stage with the rabbits is where the comparison is not so neat – mum rabbit has another litter when the older ones are about a month old. She rejects her first litter, and doesn’t want them to suckle any more. She will still groom them, but if they try to feed she will chase them away quite aggressively. I don’t think our parents in Christ will chase us away if we go back for comfort, but perhaps maturing Christians need to be aware that there may be new babies coming on whose needs can be met by those who helped us. That’s when the older Christians can become like big brothers and sisters, helping to grow the new ones, but taking responsibility ourselves for our feeding.
I have been a member of quite a few churches, and it seems to me that this natural progression from milk –fed Christians to independent maturity is not always followed. Some churches are keen to get you in the door, and saved, but then leave you sitting there without any further input. Other churches assume you are already on the baby-food stage, and leave out basic stuff, but keep you at Sunday school level, without moving forward, or contemplating the more difficult topics, such as living a Christian life in today’s secular –flavoured world. Other churches give you so much meat from the pulpit that you can’t digest it, because there are no tools to understand. But I think the main danger is when there is no breadth, everyone is given the same diet. Fortunately, a church with good oversight and good discipleship programmes will meet the people where they are, and provide the next step, and the tools to take that step.
That must be our goal in church – growing more and more like Christ, helping each other, and continually seeking to grow in our faith, our spirituality and our understanding, but mostly in our love. It is as our relationships with each other grow that Christian maturity is nurtured – doing everything with love.
I put this to you – where are you on your journey? Are you still where you were five years ago? Five months ago? Five days ago?
Next time you see a picture of an Easter bunny, think about how the rabbit grows, and Let the Holy Spirit guide you into a new place.