Several years ago my father experienced a dramatic transformation. When I was 16, he was an idiot. When I was 40, the same guy was a genius. How did he become so wise? Must have been a miracle. Of course, I am joking. I was the one who had grown up. I was the idiot at 16 (and I’m still in recovery to this day!).
Even though “teen angst” is a complete fabrication of twentieth century psychologists, what we have come to know as adolescence is a normal stage of growth toward functional adulthood. There are qualities common to modern adolescence, and many of them are unpleasant. A wag once quipped that we know that Isaac was not a teenager when he went up Mount Moriah, because if he had been, Abraham would have killed him anyway . . . ram or no ram!
Adolescents tend to:
• know more than their parents about everything.
• be ungrateful.
• desire to make their own way, without help.
• reject parental values, only to embrace them again later in life.
• view their parents as out of it, not cool, unhip, hopelessly behind the times.
• view their sphere of life activity as all encompassing, as the most important thing in the universe.
Perhaps the comic version of Abraham had the right idea! The spiritual realm often reflects the natural. Individual believers and “restoration movements” frequently pass through what could be called “spiritual adolescence.” This is a time when people/things are not what they were, or they can no longer abide former affiliations, but they have not fully realized God’s intention for their migration to the new thing. It’s a delicate time, which requires much love and patience from all parties.
At the present hour, it seems to me that there’s a great deal of adolescent behavior occurring between individuals in the emergent church movement and the institutional church. It’s an attitudinal family squabble associated with overall kingdom growth toward maturity.
In any renewal or reformation movement that is authentically on the divine agenda, individuals in it tend to develop reactionary responses to their history—the “place” they just left. They tend to see very little value in anything associated with the former affiliation. They tend to view it in absolute terms of right and wrong: “They (the former affiliation) are so wrong!” Those who remain in the former association are often viewed with disdain as not being involved with the new thing God is doing. Those in the former association often feel betrayed by those who depart.
Usually, if God’s grace is active and responded to, individuals normally grow out of this phase, as the does the movement as a whole. The new thing eventually outgrows its adolescence, as the individual participants experience the progressive transformation to the image of Christ, becoming a blessing to all: those who depart as well as those who stay.
Eventually, the new movement begins to take on some of the same qualities and attributes of the old association. The new thing becomes domesticated. The fire of God in one generation becomes the flickering candle of the next. The adolescent oath: “I will never be like my parents,” comes home to roost–spiritually. Yesterday’s judges become themselves judged by today’s new generation of judges. The new guard eventually becomes the old guard and the reactionary cycle of carnality in the pursuit of a spiritual ideal repeats itself.
There is something inherently smug with saying things like: “This is what God is doing!” as if our miniscule mind could comprehend the full scope and significance of what God might be doing in the earth at a given moment. Why not just enjoy whatever season and place we happen to be in at the moment with the Lord, and forget the grandiose statements of how significant that moment and place is in God’s grand scheme of things, simply because it is our moment and place?
It’s legitimate for any of us to enjoy and be excited about whatever God might be doing individually in and through us. It’s not legitimate to project on others that they must participate in the same thing, at the same time, with the same intensity and passion as myself.
In God’s grace, we are each allowed our own seasons of adolescence. It often takes wisdom, patience, and love to embrace a natural adolescent. The more mature party in a relationship with an adolescent bears the responsibility of manifesting these qualities.
If individuals in the emergent church believe themselves to be more grown up in Christ, then let them demonstrate their superiority by excelling in love. If those in the institutional church believe themselves to be more mature than those who depart the institution, let them do likewise, rather than engage in adolescent debates with each other about the superiority of where our posteriors may be positioned on a Sunday morning. Let love be the testimonial witness of our spiritual acumen, not our meeting mechanics. It would seem the kingdom would experience increase if all parties excelled in love rather than cycles of spiritual sniping.
We can, and should, hold fast to our convictions and values, preaching and teaching them vigorously. Out of deeply held convictions regarding Truth and our participation in Him, we may not want to invest our lives’ energies within a certain framework or expression. We might feel very strongly about these things. I understand. I have my own strong convictions. That’s all fine. But in our interpersonal relationships, let’s stop adolescent indictments and reactionary responses to one another. Let’s leave behind adolescent behavior, attitudes, and judgments, and excel in love. Let us love and serve one another wherever we might be in the season and plan of God for our lives. Let us not assault one another with our “revelations” of this or that thing. Even an approach made with good intent will be viewed as a threat and rebuffed by those whose drawbridge is up, and whose battlements are armed. Love prevails. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not require being heard. Love waits for an invitation. Love does not demand access without consent. Access to the human soul without consent of the individual, is spiritual rape. We violate Jesus in one another when we do so, regardless of how vital we think our understanding on a given topic might be and how badly we believe it needs to be heard.
Just as each adolescent must ultimately live his or her own life, and the details of it cannot be prescribed for others to follow, let’s allow each other the freedom to take our own spiritual journey. There will always be someone “behind us” and someone “ahead of us” on the spectrum of kingdom life. If we look behind or to the side with a demeaning attitude toward someone whom we think “just doesn’t get it,” we can be assured that there’s someone further along than ourselves who is looking back at us with the same attitude. Sow mercy. Reap the same. In the process of growth to full spiritual adulthood, it’s ok to leave the cradle. It’s not ok to kick it on the way out, and to curse the hands that rocked it.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.