I just spent 180 some odd dollars on back to school stuff for the kiddos. Among the items were a backpack, specialty tools for geometry, lots of pens & pencils, and assorted other things feel into various categories of needed or might need. One thing that struck me as odd or curious was the differences in specifics for the sixth grader and the junior in high school. Donovan needed certain items and certain amounts of them: 96 pencils, 4 packs of notebook paper, 1 set of page dividers, etc. Avery had a list of things, but the amounts were designated enough for the year or as required by school projects. In other words, there is some discretion for how much you need as you get older and as an older student, you know if you need forty sheets of loose-leaf paper a week or four.
I think there is something to be learned from this in the way we approach God. Much of our traditions and habits of worship—be it liturgy, music, preaching styles, teaching—are intended to act as training wheels of the faith. As we get older our spiritual balance gets better, we should be able to take the training wheels off and ride without them. What I mean by this is, when start your journey of faith, these training wheels are there to help you develop some basic ideas understanding about God and the Way of Jesus. Most of our practices that are communal are just that for the community—the entire community, first steps to final steps, no matter where they are in their journey. Mature practices, those of disciples that have been walking the path for years, sometimes decades are things that require deeper, more critical thinking about what we believe and our way of practicing those beliefs (remember, you don’t really believe until you put it into practice).
Many people, I would say unfortunately most, who have been members of churches for a long time, are still trying to use the training wheels. They are still focused on the parts of the journey intended for those taking their first steps and focused quite often in unhealthy ways. When challenged to move to the next stages in the journey, some become quite defensive even angry at the thought of being seen as immature while wanting to persist in the practices of the beginner. Others may say things like, “I’m just a simple Christian. I’m only able to do the basics.” We are called to learn the basics and simplicity can be a virtue but reveling in immaturity is not. Paul says to the Ephesians,
He [God] gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. — Ephesians 4:11-16
Maturity in the faith is goal. To use another metaphor, staying in the shallows and splashing around isn’t an option for the disciple past a certain point. We are called to dive into the deeps so that we can learn the riches in the depths and teach them to others while teaching them to dive deep as well. Otherwise, we all end up being children playing on the sand and never becoming what we were meant to be.