by Erin Bird
Missed one or both of the previous entries in this series? Quickly catch up here on the blog to gain context for the following post.
One day, many years ago, I was leading the first session of premarital counseling with a couple. Because this was our first time together, I was asking the series of questions I asked every couple to get to know them. This was to figure out what we might most need to discuss over the next 6-8 weeks to help them have the best marriage they possibly could.
When I came to the “spiritual” questions, I learned both had a clear “testimony” of putting their faith in Christ. But through the very next question, I learned the bride attended a weekly worship service almost every single Sunday, but the groom only made it once every 6-8 weeks. When I followed up on this, the guy said, “Well, I come for her, but church isn’t really for me. My church is being out in a 10×10 blind hunting ducks.”
As this groom answered my faith-related questions, I realized he was a spiritual infant. How did I recognize this? His responses to my questions confirmed the two words that identify someone as a spiritual infant.
Two Words: Ignorance & Dependence
The first word that identifies someone as a spiritual infant is the word ignorance. Just as an infant doesn’t know how to talk, walk, or feed themselves, a spiritual infant is “born again” (John 3:3) but doesn’t know much about the Bible, how the Gospel affects daily living, theology, or how to even “feed” themselves spiritually.
Because this groom was ignorant about much of the Christian faith, it was clear he was also living out the second word: dependence. This very intelligent and likable guy was depending upon his future bride to lead them in prayer or to explain certain things about faith. And when he did come on Sundays, he depended on the pastor to put the Scripture on the screen for he didn’t know how to find it in the Bible himself.
Now, I realize, these two words (ignorance and dependence) seem offensive. As Americans, we don’t like to be dependent upon anyone else, nor do we want to be seen as ignorant. So out of embarrassment, many spiritual infants avoid other Christians or do what they can to keep their spiritual maturity a secret.
Unfortunately, many spiritual infants are “encouraged” to stay undercover because some churches give off anti-spiritual-infant vibes. Spiritual infants don’t speak Christianese, they don’t know “doctrine” (like the groom in my story), and they sometimes aren’t as reliable as someone more “mature,” so unfortunately some churches just don’t want to interact with or invest in them.
This saddens me because I LOVE spiritual infants! I find joy in watching spiritual infants grow to become spiritual children. This helps you understand why I put a “cheat sheet” on the screen every Sunday to find books of the Bible as we open to the Scripture passage. It is why I encourage people every week to bring a Bible to our Gatherings. It is why there isn’t an entrance exam to join a Growth Group. We love spiritual infants at Riverwood and want to do whatever we can to help them grow to the next stage.
In order for you to grow to your next stage, you have to be honest with yourself and your current stage. So let me ask you: are you a spiritual infant? And please hear me: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A SPIRITUAL INFANT! We all begin spiritual life in Jesus as spiritual infants. My desire for you is to simply grow spiritually and not be stuck in spiritual infancy.
So be honest with yourself. Read through the following statements, for they are common thoughts many spiritual infants have. If you recognize some of these thoughts in yourself, then pay particular close attention to the recommendations which follow.
A Few Common Spiritual Infant Thoughts
- If I pray and read my Bible, will I be good enough for God?
- I don’t really have time for church or a Bible study.
- I love Jesus, but my church is being out in nature.
- I’m a good person, definitely better than some others I know.
- Good people get good things because Karma is real.
- Does God let dead people come back and give us messages?
- When someone dies, they become an angel.
- I think we’ll be surprised when we get to heaven, because Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Muslims and Buddhists will be there.
- I don’t really know much about the Bible or theology. I’m just not smart like that.
If any of that feels familiar in your own thinking, then perhaps you are currently a spiritual infant. So what should you do?
Next Steps for Spiritual Infants
Step 1: Find a “parent.”
Just like an infant needs a parent to care for it, a spiritual infant needs more mature believers to care for them. This is why God created the church!
So get into a Growth Group or ask someone who is further along in their faith to meet with you one-on-one. And then, as you meet with this spiritual young adult or parent, seek to begin imitating them. Watch how they interact with others. Learn how they are growing in their faith. After all, the Apostle Paul told some of his readers to imitate him to help them grow out of spiritual infancy. (1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:6)
Step 2: Engage in Spiritual Disciplines.
Another key to move from spiritual infancy to spiritual childhood is to become a self-feeder. Begin to daily get into the Scriptures to learn more the heart of God. You can do this by using a Bible Reading plan (the YouVersion app has some built in plans, or download one from the Riverwood website) or listen to the Scriptures while driving in the car. Also, spend time talking with God in prayer. Use something like the Echo app or the One Minute Pause app (or even just a watch alarm!) to help you take time to pray.
Let me say it again: if you recognize some spiritual infant thoughts within yourself, do not be embarrassed by that! As I said last week, God loves you exactly where you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way. So I encourage you to let this longer-than-normal post be part of what He uses to help you begin the journey of going deeper, finding joy in the depths of growing into Christlikeness by maturing through the spiritual development stages.