Ephesians 11-16 NRSV
"The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love."
Just as a child is born and grows into a full-grown adult, a new believer must be allowed to go through the stages of growth. They cannot go from birth to adult without going through the stages of growth necessary to reach maturity. Many times we look at these verses and fixate on the first part, you know, the fun part. We wonder if we are an apostle, or an evangelist. We dream of being a dynamic pastor or teacher. We imagine ourselves to be vital to the equipping of the saints. In all this we tend to miss that we are to be at the mature stage of our growth. A new believer will not go from born again to apostle in a week. Yes, some will become zealous to share their new-found faith and will uncover their ministry gifting very quickly. There is no doubt about that! But, it is so important for believers to realize the process to maturity so that they can be spiritual parents to those who have just been birthed into the faith.
1 Peter 2:2 NRSV
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation - "
As babies, we seek nourishment and comfort from our mother. We cannot simply get up and get ourselves a snack, we rely on our parents to provide for this need. Being held close is not only a desire, but it is a necessity for proper growth. Studies upon studies show the importance of holding your baby. A little one crying to be held is not a manipulation tactic, it is a survival need that must be met. And most parents are more than willing to meet this need as they wrap their arms around their wee one, draw them close, and allow them to know that you are near.
This is a physical relationship that mimics a spiritual relationship between a believer and their Father. God is always standing near to reach his strong arms out and wrap them firmly around you. If a person has not had this modeled for them in their youth, then it is up to the church family to provide those loving, comforting arms. It is not enough to simply celebrate a new believer. We must bring them constant nourishment and tender comfort as they step into their brand new world.
As a child grows, they begin to become more and more mature. We can give more freedoms and more responsibilities. They become weened from milk and need meat. Spiritually, they move from needed near constant care to being able to search for and provide their own care. They become more independent, but never should become completely independent. Even the most mature in faith need to realize their need for the community of believers.
There are times when mature believers find themselves in need of spiritual milk again. They find themselves going through tough times and feel too weak to chew meat. It is beneficial for them to return to a state of spiritual infancy so that they can be nourished and gain strength. From my own experience, unless a body of believers is committed to walking closely with their fellow church members, people will slip through the cracks. This weakness is not a negative thing. It is natural in the course of life to experience highs and lows. A church that is committed to their members and their growth, who understands that sometimes growth is not a straight line, and who shows an abundance of love and mercy will find themselves with members who are strong, confident, and willing and able to take on the many gifts of ministry.
The mandate to no longer be like children is not a negative charge. It is simply encouraging us to be forward movers. It is telling us that in order for us to experience the fullness of our faith, we must continue toward maturity. In those times when mature believers need to spend some time back in the spiritual infancy stage, it is good to remember that it is only a pit stop. It is time to refuel, stretch your legs, check the map, and then be on our way again. It is not a place to stay long-term and if someone is in this stage too long, then they may need to rethink their spiritual community.
In conclusion, I want to mention that at the end of the Ephesians passage we read the words "in love". The spiritual body finds growth through the nourishing power of love, God's love. The church should be the tangible expression of his love. Love is action. The body of believers should be acting out the love of the Father. That is were growth happens, where maturity is achieved, in his love. Look around you. Do you see anyone who appears to be blown about by the wind? Then step in, wrap your arms around them, and help them to step into their maturity. This is equipping the saints. This is building up the body of Christ.
In Hebrew, this means "our dance". It is through our dance that healing in found. Come before the throne and dance for your King!