One of the gifts of significance received on Christmas day was a package of Thomas the Tank Engine underwear. Aaron has been working on potty training recently, and certain grandparents decided that the little boy who loves trains should have this particular set. Aaron was quite excited, and so the next day we put them on him. Now, in all honesty I expected to maybe last an hour before it became clear that we were not ready for these yet, but Aaron surprised me (as he so often does) and stayed in them all day except for during his nap. If we can just get past him calling them his “kikis” (what Mercy calls her underwear which is cute for a girl but not so much for our little man) we will be in great shape!
I was again reminded of how hard it can be to mature; to move from one stage of development to the next; to grow. As unappealing as diapers are, really, it must be said that they are quite convenient; they allow for greater flexibility for parents (no stopping to find potties during road trips); they require less frequent attention than do potty-training almost two-year-olds. There is a pretty big part of me that is tempted to override Aaron’s enthusiasm with my own pragmatism and needs, especially as we are in the midst of our travels, but I know that not only does that ignore something important about about who my son is right now, it could also cause him to lose interest and delay potty-training altogether.
It is good for me to be reminded of how good and natural growth and maturation can be high maintenance; it can require a lot of investment for a short period of time; it can be inconvenient, difficult, frustrating, and messy. And like helping my kids learn to switch from sippy cups to regular glasses at the table, I can find myself resenting the spills. In the church it is easy to do the same. After the fifth clean-up in a day it can feel awfully appealing to pull someone back from their growth edge and just let them use their sippy cups again or put away the Thomas kikis for a while. But I also know that spiritual development is a lot like what I see happening in my kids’ growth, and if a person’s initiative, enthusiasm and desire for becoming what they are not yet is stifled for long enough, they may stop wanting to grow altogether.
I am reminded of pastors I have known who have been willing to give leadership to those “not quite” ready; those with gifts and desires to serve in certain capacities within the body. These pastors ave relinquished control and convenience, have been willing to live with accidents and messes, and have invested a great deal of time and energy in these individuals. I have seen pastors do this in the areas of youth ministry and worship, and I have seen other church members criticize this. Some people don’t want a worship service that has room for “flaws”. And why let so-and-so do try their hand at leading worship when there is someone else who can execute it more smoothly? Yet it is in those moments of imprecision and even error that so much that is necessary is learned. I think of those who gave me their pulpits as a very young and inexperienced preacher, and I recognize how it was those experiences that caused me to grow and mature as a preacher more than any of my seminary training did.
As ministers, we love to control things too much of the time, and congregations can be too prone to criticism and have demands or expectations that reserve too much of the church’s mission to those already arrived at certain stages of growth. This is one of the reasons I love church-planting initiatives: mature leaders are sent out from mature bodies to start new congregations, and leadership is opened up to newer members within the sending body. I have seen enough times how this one factor leads to vitality and prevents a stagnation that we can too easily accept and find comfortable.