Have you ever tried to tell a 3 year old that they are a baby? Almost without exception they will quickly correct you—“I’m a big boy/girl.” Why, our oldest son was “a big man” from the age of 3. Although they are certainly not infants anymore they are still babies, whether they recognize it or not. This is one of the characteristics of babies—they never see their own deficiencies or babyhood (if there is such a word).
Spiritual babies (immature Christians) are no different. In the beginning they recognize that they are babies in Christ, but it isn’t long until they learn just enough to think of themselves as spiritually mature. We all recognize that the brand new Christian is vulnerable and needs friends who are Christians to counteract the pull of the world and their old friends. This is a dangerous time in their spiritual life, but the next stage is only slightly less dangerous. If they are not careful they enter the stage where they know just enough to become arrogant and often self-righteous. They don’t need to study the Bible or listen to older, more mature Christians as much (at least in their own mind) anymore and if they continue in this stage they never mature. The words of Hosea become true of them also; they are “a cake not turned”—burned on one side and raw on the other.
Working with these babies (whether they’ve gotten stuck in this stage or whether they’re only passing through on their way to maturity) requires a great deal of patience. Instead of just telling them what to do we need to both tell them and do it ourselves. As our children model what they see their parents do, so babes in Christ will model what they see older Christians do. In fact, that is often a big part of the problem—Christians with more time in the faith aren’t doing what they expect newer ones to do, so when they tell them what Christians should do they don’t listen. The older Christians aren’t doing it, so why should they?
This is where consistently doing what is right can have a great effect. Most of our first year in St. Croix we would drive the 45 minutes to where the church was meeting for Wed. night Bible class and one other member would show up, eventually. But over time more and more started coming and 7 years later every member would come for every service. Of course there was teaching about the importance of attendance, which is necessary, but a consistent example is at least as important.
Those of us who are in fact spiritually mature must patiently teach and set the example for those who aren’t yet there. It’s much easier, as well as natural, to “let them have it” about attendance, Bible study, or whatever and this may even produce results for a short time. But until the heart (or understanding) is changed, there will be no permanent improvement. Often we must swallow our own pride and anger and continue to be consistent in our actions. You will probably have to do it alone for at least awhile, but keep quietly and loving pushing them to grow—some will and some won’t.
There are those who won’t grow, perhaps because of their character or perhaps because of mistakes of others. Notice in 1 Tim. 3, in the qualifications of an elder, why a novice should be selected—so he doesn’t become puffed up and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Obviously, if someone who doesn’t know the Bible well is an elder, it will be easy for him (and the church) to go astray, but that’s not the reason the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write here. I have known a number of spiritual babies who have been put into leadership positions in the church and have ruined not only that church but every other church they become members of. Since they have been “leaders” they don’t see their need to study or grow in any way and “once a leader, always a leader” so they feel free to give their advice (usually as laws) to anyone who will listen. It is so tempting to humiliate them publicly by showing how ignorant they are, but such is usually counterproductive—they are not humble, only embarrassed and you have made an enemy for life. Frequently they will stir up trouble and may even divide the church. Better still, in my opinion, to try and work with them, not only teaching them, but showing them, what should be done. Don’t be surprised though if they fall away or start their own church.
It’s not easy working with babies—they aren’t always reasonable and worst of all, don’t even realize their immaturity. Just remember that we have all been immature at one time and good brethren loved us and taught us and showed us in spite of our babyhood.