There is an idol of youth in our culture. I don't mean we worship young people, but we have a preoccupation with youth; whether it's looking younger, feeling young again, or recapturing what we missed out on.
However, do we honestly want to go back to the school playground where we were so consumed by what others think? I remember when I was at school all the cool people had a Quicksilver backpack. My birthday came up and my sister said she would buy me one. I was so excited. I unwrapped that package so desperately because finally I would be accepted.
It was the wrong one.
How about spots? Puberty? Peer pressure? Culture seems to have a rose-tinted view of youth.
But what I think is probably the most difficult part of this obsession is that it means we equate maturity with being boring. Since when did maturity become a bad thing?
My husband will regularly have chocolate for breakfast and say that he's a grown up so there's no one to stop him. Although not necessarily the healthiest life choice, I do think that sometimes we forget how great it is being an adult! Being mature doesn't mean you are boring.
How about spiritual maturity? Do we pursue wisdom and experience from God? Do we seek maturity in our faith? And most of all, are we equipping our young people for a developed faith?
Hebrews 5 is a study on spiritual maturity. It begins with the calling of a high priest:
'EVERY HIGH PRIEST IS A MAN CHOSEN TO REPRESENT OTHER PEOPLE IN THEIR DEALINGS WITH GOD. HE PRESENTS THEIR GIFTS TO GOD AND OFFERS SACRIFICES FOR THEIR SINS.' (Heb 5:1)
There is something which strikes me in this passage. In the Old Testament, one man was chosen to represent others in their dealings with God. That was his responsibility; what about normal people? What were they responsible for in their own faith? At this point, there was a barrier of sin between us and God and only the High Priest could approach God.
Then comes Jesus, the ultimate High Priest who, in one sacrifice, removes the barrier between us and God. Now who has the responsibility in our dealings with God? Us.
We can approach God ourselves. Spiritual maturity is taking the responsibility for our own relationship with God. Through the easy times and the difficult.
Hebrews 5:12 mentions that when you have been believers for a while, you should be teaching others. But what are we supposed to teach them? We all know the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us to make disciples, and so we need to teach others not only what a disciple is, but also what it means to be one.
The words 'Disciple' and 'Discipline' come from the same root word. You can't be a disciple in its truest sense without discipline. A disciple follows their rabbi. And if we want to be disciplined disciples, we need to take our cues from Jesus, our rabbi. What does Jesus do? He spends time with his father. In the scriptures. In conversation with teachers.
I've had a conversation many times with young people who start to get to the upper age limit of a youth group, where they say that they just aren't getting out of the group what they used to. They need to start finding some spiritual feeding of their own.
Hebrews 5:12-14 talks about spiritual maturity with the image of being weaned from milk to solid food. What are we consuming? What we consume shines out of us. When it comes to feeding ourselves spiritually, it can be easy to go for fast food. A quick chat here or a church service there. Spiritual maturity comes with a varied diet.
These ants (pictured) have consumed one colour and display one colour. When we talk about raising radical disciples, they need to have discernment. Hebrews 5 finishes by saying that, "Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong."
In this internet age, it is very easy to access differing viewpoints and worldviews, some more helpful than others. My Dad was very annoyed with me a few weeks ago when I gave him a Scottish fiver to pay him for something. He said that people down south are not happy to accept 'unfamiliar banknotes' - they couldn't tell if it was fake or not. When people are trying to work out if something is a forgery, they spend their time focussing on what is true, so when they see a forgery, they can spot that it a mile off. If we spend our time as mature Christians, looking to Jesus, looking to the Way the Truth and the Life, then we can see what is not those things. If we really study scripture, then we can see what kinds of teaching is substantiated by the Bible and what isn't.
Spiritual milk is the same every time, familiar and safe. Easy to digest. But my goodness, don't you think those who stick to milk miss out? Weaning from milk to solid food might make a bit of a mess, but as we make spiritually mature disciples, we need to be permission givers to be creative. To make a mess.
We might not get the hang of maturity straight away, and it's important young people know that. Failure is a good teacher. In John 10:10, Jesus talks about coming that we might have life in all its fullness - I think he's talking about those times that aren't safe. Those times where we end up smearing the solid food all over our faces because we haven't quite mastered eating yet. After all, I don't think it's an accident that Jesus is called the Bread of Life.
As a culture, we are almost trained to avoid discomfort and pain from an early age; however we don't learn much from that. It's milk. Fullness of life to me recently has been knowing God's presence in a hospital room when we had been told to prepare for the worst. It's trusting in him when you can't see the next step or making the choice to follow him even when he tells you to move to Scotland, and you don't understand why until six months and another move later. I am not saying I've mastered this because I haven't, but I've never felt so alive as when I've got solid food all over me but some of it has gone where it was intended.
We pray, 'give us our daily bread'. Not our daily milk. Radical discipleship requires radical disciples. Spiritual maturity usually looks like getting it wrong before we get it right. And that is OK. A mature person dusts themselves off and starts again. Spiritual maturity is a process. It's weaning and not giving the baby a steak from the beginning.
And our God is a patient and loving God, cheering us on and just watching for those days we make breakthroughs.
So we need to teach our young people to:
- Firstly - Take responsibility for their own faith. To feel ok about asking questions and exploring.
- Secondly - Wean them from milk to solid food. Encourage them to find spiritual solid food through studying the Truth and taking faith-led risks.
- Lastly - Give them, and ourselves, permission to make a mess.
Becca Ambrose is Urban Saints' Impact Team Leader based in Edinburgh. Find out more about Becca here.
(This article was first shared as a TED-style talk at the March Urban Saints Team Gathering.)