the weblog of Alan Knox

Is the church Kid Nation?

Posted by on Oct 2, 2007 in blog links, discipleship | 12 comments

Out of Ur has published a good article by Gordon McDonald called “So Many Christian Infants“. He laments the apparent lack of mature followers of Jesus Christ. What does he mean by mature?

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…

A definition of a mature Christian is lacking. Best to say that you know a mature Christian when you see one. They’re in the New Testament. Barnabas is one. Aquila and Priscilla are others. Onesiphorous impresses me. And so is the mother of Rufus of whom Paul said, “she has been a mother to me.” That’s a short list.

The marks of maturity? Self-sustaining in spiritual devotions. Wise in human relationships. Humble and serving. Comfortable and functional in the everyday world where people of faith can be in short supply. Substantial in conversation; prudent in acquisition; respectful in conflict; faithful in commitments.

Gordon suggests that Paul had the same problem in 1 Corinthians. Thus, Paul wrote, “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.” (1 Cor 3:1)

Is he correct? Are today’s followers of Jesus Christ satisfied with being infants? Is there a difference between being “churchly” and being mature? Do you know mature believers, as Gordon McDonald describes them?

(Click this link if you are not familiar with Kid Nation.)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-2-2007

    Hi Alan,

    I think it’s true that the modern day church (at least in America) is full of a lot of children. I have two suggestions as to why this is true, although of course these would be two reasons of many. However, they are my main two observances, and they are two extremes. I will simply be generalizing here.

    The two reasons are that “churches” have either made things too cushy or they have made things too hard – and either way they have missed Christ, which makes it impossible for people to mature in Christ.

    In the former case – you can come to our church and sit in our nice, comfortable chairs or pews, we’ll sing some nice songs and we’ll preach a nice rah rah cheerleading sermon. Then we’ll dismiss you in time to get to the restaurants earlier than the church down the street. Don’t forget the potluck after next week’s service! You’ll find sign up sheets for the softball team on your way out!

    In the latter case – you make sure you’re here every single time the doors are open and we’ll make sure you hear the WORD OF GAAWD – and you’d better darned well start living by it or else!! We’ve got a list of things for you to do… read your Bible, pray, witness, serve in the church, etc, etc, and prove to God that you are acceptable to Him.

    Again… I’m talking about two extremes and I’m generalizing, but the point is that neither case is good soil for actually growing in Christ. And I believe we have a lot of both extremes here in America.

    We don’t really have time for each other. We don’t really have a desire to look deep into the Word and into our hearts and see what the Spirit is saying to us individually or corporately. We want quick, simple fixes – which can be found in both rah rah speeches and in lists of commands or rules to try and follow. Both of those ways can seem spiritual, in that the cheer leading sermon has a lot of talk of God’s love for us and the legalistic sermon has a lot of talk about action for God. But both miss the Spirit, who is rich and deep and full and penetrating. He penetrates, I believe, far below the surface of motivational speeches and commands, and brings us to maturity by being actively, continuously involved with us.

  2. 10-2-2007

    I was just pondering (and wrote about my questions) sound doctrine and what it really means. I think we often think of mature Christian as one who has mastered sound doctrine, meaning that they are someone who knows a whole lot of serious “theology.” But, like I’m starting to think of doctrine, maturity for a Christian isn’t factual or theoretical knowledge – it is practical living. Good stuff!!!!

  3. 10-2-2007

    Actually, I know a pretty good bunch at our church. We call them elders.

  4. 10-2-2007


    I think you have pointed out two reasons that there is a lack of mature believers in the American church.


    Yes, substituting knowledge of theology for a relationship with God is also a reason for immaturity.


    Yes, I know some mature believers as well. It seems, though, that mature and maturing believers seem to be rare.


  5. 10-3-2007

    Mature Christians are those who have been transformed by the Spirit of God, whose life purpose is centered around God’s will. Who are walking by faith and living outside themselves -laying down their lives for God and others. Who sare full of the grace of God and passing that transforming grace onto others. It seems to me that if we limit it to the things listed here we come up with a definition of a mature Christian based on a natural definition of moral goodness.

    Eph3:16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
    20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

  6. 10-3-2007

    Mature believers have always been rare. Read a little history. This is not a problem that is unique to our time, culture and situation.

    The difference here in America is that we have lots of believers. Where there is persecution, the believers are mature, because there is no possibility of remaining immature and maintaining a faithful belief. The persecution weeds out the immature and the lukewarm. We should praise God that He is slow to anger and rich in mercy, allowing us to be drawn into mature relationship with Him.

    As you point out in your next post, the “mature” are never allowed to hate or belittle the “immature”. We are simply to be poured out as a drink offering. God never gives us the option of gloating about our “maturity”.

  7. 10-3-2007

    C Grace,

    I agree with what you are saying. I believe that the transforming work of the Spirit will produce mature believers who will exhibit certain characteristics, such as those listed here. I do not think his list is exhaustive. Nor do I think the activities themselves are the same as maturity, though.


    I think I am more concerned with the apparent apathy toward immaturity among believers. Is this universal geographically? No, I don’t think so, but it is common among believers that I know. Is it universal chronologically? I don’t know.


  8. 10-3-2007

    Once again, the mature are never apathetic. If they are, then they’re not mature.

    Note that even in your original post, the list of mature believers was short. Jesus may as well have said, “The immature you will always have with you.”

    Yes, we can lament the lack of maturity we see, but we must never let the lament turn into complaint, murmuring, and resignation. One of my mentors taught me to take each disciple where he is, and help him to the next step in maturity. That’s what I want to be like.

  9. 10-4-2007

    I agree that it’s not theology that brings maturity and I would also say that it’s not the mature lamenting or putting down the immature that develops maturity in the immature.

    As Romans 1:16 says, the gospel is indeed the power of God to salvation… but as Romans 1:17 goes on to say, the gospel reveals a righteousness that is not of man, but rather it’s God’s righteousness that is revealed in the gospel.

    Are we teaching this? Are we laying this foundation? Are we sharing this with the world and with new believers and even with “old” believers? Or do we only preach half the gospel, that the gospel is the power of God to salvation, but then it’s up to us to mature in righteousness by our own doing?

    I fully agree that the goal is mature disciples. But how does a branch become mature? How does a branch bear fruit? Is it through cheerleading (pumping up the branch through motivational speeches)? Is it simply through telling the branch ‘how to live?’

    I think the church is far too focused on the goal of maturity, and on “methods” of how to get there. I do think that goal is wonderful and desirable! But I personally believe we’ve missed the mark as far as “how” to get there. I believe we’ve focused far too much on preaching principles for Christian living, and we’ve focused far too little on teaching the foundation of who we are in Christ.

    Christ died to give us Himself… to bring us close to God, which we could never do on our own… and to give us eternal life, which He Himself defines as knowing the Father and knowing the Son (John 17:3).

    Instead of teaching this, we bring people into the church and we immediately begin teaching them “how to live.” The motive is perhaps pure, but the end result isn’t really maturity!

    As I said earlier, I’m only talking about what I’ve actually observed in the church personally. But these observations have truly led me to believing that this is why there is so much apathy towards maturing.

    It’s fine and dandy to preach “be a doer of the Word and not a hearer only,” but to actually get to that place takes the patient laying of a foundation that has far more to do with knowing a Person than it has to do with doing the right things!

  10. 10-4-2007

    David and Joel,

    Thank you for continuing this discussion. I’m glad that we have this forum where we can learn from one another.


  11. 10-5-2007

    Well, thank you Alan for providing the forum. :) I realize that I’m pretty passionate about this, perhaps to a fault sometimes, but I’ve been with and talked with so many Christians who either struggle with the pressure to perform in order to grow or who realize they just can’t do all the things they’re ‘supposed’ to do, so they either simply drop out or join in with the social club aspect of church, without really getting to know God. I see a whole lot of sermons, programs, outreaches, etc, that attempt to get people to “do” the things of the Christian life, but one big thing is missing when it comes to actually growing in Christ… and that is actually knowing Christ.

    I don’t mean to complain, but rather to seek a solution to the problem of immaturity in the church. Luke 2:40,52 – “the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him… And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Acts 10:38 – “…God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” I don’t believe that Jesus simply got up every morning and set out to try to perform some biblical principles. I’d go so far as to say that the way He fulfilled the Law and was fully obedient to His Father, has everything to do with the substance of those verses. The grace of God was upon Him, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, and from baby to boy to man He got to know His Father as they abided in each other. The Father-Son relationship is, I think, a great model for Christ and His Bride.

    But we get people into the church and we just set a bunch of biblical rules and principles in front of them, and expect that if they’ll just follow it all, they’ll grow. It’s back to that thing about 11 chapters of Romans before chapter 12. I truly think that if the church wants mature disciples, we have to stop leapfrogging over the foundation before we attempt to build the building.

  12. 10-5-2007


    I agree. While performance may indicate maturity or a lack of maturity, activities do not create maturity. Maturity only comes through abiding with Jesus Christ, submitting to the presence of the Spirit in our lives.