There was a young woman I used to know. She was a new Christian who decided to be baptized as a 20-something, and then she abruptly left the church after hearing two older, seasoned members of the congregation say ugly things about another church member in the women’s bathroom. Yes, she was immature, perhaps, but she was a brand new Christian. She didn’t think Christians Were Like That.
Remember what Paul said?
And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
It’s a problem when new Christians expect their church – the spiritual community through which they’ve found their first holy community – to be mature in faith and the church they have joined is filled with immature Christians. There, I said it.
If we have ever:
- Denigrated a brother or sister in Christ in a public place, and especially in a church building and most especially in a congregational meeting,
- Gossiped in the presence of others, especially people in our church community,
- Been the least likely person to be confused with Jesus
. . . then we have been irresponsible to the new believers in our midst.
Increasingly we who consider a church community to be our spiritual home will find that – in our presence – are new believers who did not grow up in the church. They don’t inherently know that:
- Church people can be mean, catty, greedy, power-hungry, and occasionally ridiculous. And amazingly there is still grace.
- Just because people are in a spiritual community, we are still imperfect and fall short of the glory of God.
On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a fine thing for seasoned believers to show that all those years in Sunday School and Bible Studies and Worship Gatherings had matured them a bit. I read the mission study of a church recently that had asked their members this question:
How much have you grown in faith through this congregation in the past five years? A) very much; B) some; C) not much; D) Not at all.
Only 6% said they had grown “very much” and (wait for it) a whopping 80% said “not at all.” My heart sank. What have they been doing together?
On paper, they’ve been doing quite a bit: regular worship, choir retreats, mission trips, Vacation Bible School, Circle Meetings, pot luck dinners. But something was seriously missing.
Why do we want “new people” to join our congregations? To add to the coffers? To make it feel more crowded? To make new friends? Or to share life-changing faith with them?
These new believers and looking-for-hope people are watching us. What are they observing/hearing/finding in our church communities?