I previously worked as a nanny, and I distinctly remember a time when the whole family was sick except for the youngest who was 3 at that point. With 2 sick kids and both parents ill, Charlie* didn’t think he was getting enough attention on this day (and he likes to be center stage), so the whole day he kept saying things like “I need milk” or “I need a book” hoping that everyone would stop and focus on him when he asked for these items. When this didn’t work to his liking, Charlie loudly proclaimed to everyone in the house “I have a fever! I have a fever!” because at least if he was sick people would shower him with attention.
Egocentristic. That’s the word my education professors in college used to describe children in the elementary/middle school age of development. Self-centered or selfish. They think the world revolves around them, their needs, and their desires.
While this describes physical children, it is also an apt term for spiritual children. However, spiritual children may be 8 years old or 58 years old, for some people remain spiritual Peter Pans and refuse to grow up. But instead of moving to Neverland, they reside in our churches. Our goal is to come alongside spiritual children and to help them develop spiritually.
In addition to being egocentristic, spiritual children…
- Rely on feelings as a guide (They often float from Christian event to event in order keep up the “conference high” sort of feelings.)
- Can be very legalistic
- Lack wisdom in how to apply what they are learning
- Tend to quote Christian preachers/writers more than Scripture
- Often do the right thing but with the wrong motives
- Lack congruency between what they say they believe and how they live (a.k.a. spiritual bobbleheads)
- Shop for churches/small groups (They are consumers rather than contributors in church.)
How can we help spiritual children?
- Pray for them.
- Continue to teach them how to feed themselves on the Word, and provide them with accountability to consistently study Scripture on their own.
- Help them to take what they know and to apply it to how they live. Share with them how this looks in your own life. What is God teaching you? How is what you’re learning changing your desires and your actions? Teach and model spiritual transformation. Challenge them.
- Teach them basic doctrines – the character of God, the reality of spiritual warfare, Heaven, Hell, who we are (doctrine of man), soteriology (doctrine of salvation), etc. Aid them in not just understanding these doctrines but in being able to communicate these doctrines clearly to others.
- Teach them to think for themselves. They may come to you with questions, but instead of just giving them the answer, ask them what they think and why. Equip them to know where to search for answers. Show them what resources you use. They should learn not to depend on you for everything.
- Assist them in identifying their spiritual gifts and how they can use them to edify the Body.
- Help them to learn how to deal with temptation, how to interpret Scripture accurately, howto deal with conflict in a Christlike manner, how to discern God’s will and make wise decisions, how to Scripturally live out their role in their family (spouse, parent, child, sibling, etc.), how to share the gospel, and how to find answers to difficult questions.
With the girls whom I disciple, one of the biggest thrusts that propel them out of spiritual childhood is when they start consistently studying Scripture on their own and when they allow what they are reading to transform them. The Spirit of God uses their time in the Word to renew their minds and to change their affections, and you see them at a point where they get a small taste of what God is really like and what following Him truly means. And, here, they come to a point of decision. Are they content with mediocre Christianity, or do they actually believe that they must lose their life in order to truly live? Until they are willing to follow Christ no matter the cost, spiritual children remain developmentally delayed, and all we can do is to continue to pray for them, to encourage them, and to challenge them.
In which areas of your life do you need to grow? How can you better invest in the spiritual children in your life?
*Names in this post have been changed.
The next post will address spiritual young adults.
Ashley Chesnut lives in Birmingham, Alabama, and works on the Local Disciple-Making Team at The The Church at Brook Hills. Having grown up in college ministry, Ashley has a passion for discipling college girls and for writing and teaching others about God’s Word. Check out more about discipleship and women’s ministry at the Brook Hills Women’s Blog.
Growing True Disciples – Barna