This week I began reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Practice Ressurection. It’s an insightful work on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,inviting me to ponder anew some familiar concepts.
“This kingdom life is a life of entering more and more into a world of gifts, and then, as we are able, using them in a working relationship with our Lord.” 1
Peterson goes on to talk about how we understand the concept of gift easily enough. After all, we neither make ourselves nor birth ourselves and so life itself begins as a gift. Immediately we begin receiving gifts–food, shelter, clothing, nurture, education, training, etc. Everything we have is a gift when we are a very young child.
“We have been given much. Now we begin exercising these gifts in community.” 2
Growing up… From early childhood we begin to learn to do for ourselves. We learn through the gift of training to dress ourselves and feed ourselves. We learn through the gift of education how to apply basic skills like reading and math as we mature into adolescence. During adolescence (rightly described by Peterson as “awkward and often turbulent”) we learn how those gifts we’ve been given translate into adult responsibilities. Life leads us into into making decisions–some wise and some not so much–but all part of growing up.
Let’s apply this concept to the maturation process of the Christian believer. There are the “baby” Christians who are just discovering the wonder of a life lived in and under grace–that wonderful gift that sets us free to accept all the other gifts bestowed by the Spirit. Sadly, there are some who never mature past this point. They fill the pew on Sunday only for what they can receive.
Then there are the mature believers who have heard and answered Christ’s call to a life lived for Him. They share freely the gifts the Spirit provides, serving others in their day in and day out lives. They come to worship not for what they can receive–though they do, indeed, receive much–but to offer themselves to Christ in a loving and working relationship.
But what about the adolescents? The ones who are navigating that awkward stage between being a baby Christian (primarily receiving) and becoming a mature believer (primarily giving)? Attempting to discern their call through exploring the Spirit-gifts, checking out various ministries, trying on different serving opportunities can be confusing and frustrating and…turbulent! These are the ones that require the most from me as an equipping leader. Having parented three adolescents, I know first-hand that this stage requires guidance and structure, not to mention patience.
If you are an equipping leader who frequently “parents adolescent Christians,” having structures and processes in place will be an encouragement to the people you serve. It will help you help them navigate this stage safely and securely. Providing a gifts discovery tool, a structure for exploring serving opportunities that doesn’t require a lifetime commitment, and being available to debrief the process with them are three things you can offer to help them grow up into the fullness of Christ.