In a recent article, author Hanna Rosin claims that our culture is being so overprotective with children that we are hindering them from growing up.
She wrote, “One common concern of parents these days is that children grow up too fast. But sometimes it seems as if children don’t get the space to grow up at all.”
I’ve begun to wonder whether our Christian faith has not fallen into this trap: In what ways have we held people back in the maturing of faith by protecting them from following a Jesus who triumphantly entered Jerusalem, confronted injustice, submitted to the cross, and challenged his disciples to do the same?
I experienced this “overprotection” early on in my church going.
In high school, I joined my first youth group that really engaged my faith. It was captivating, and I rarely missed a worship service.
Then, three years later, I was too old for the youth group. I had to transition to “big church.”
In big church, I had to learn new songs, sit through sermons, think about my faith on my own terms, and join committees.
I met Jesus in youth group, but in “big church” I learned how to follow Jesus with my life. It was hard work to be a Christian.
Years later, when my wife and I were visiting churches the summer before moving to Georgia, we decided to attend a popular church known for its stadium seating and big productions.
It was entertaining, but it was also like being in youth group for adults.
The church protected us from following Jesus in many ways. We were sheltered from its internal politics (no committees to join). We didn’t have to negotiate a budget to fix leaking faucets. We didn’t have to commit to any missions or ministries. We were anonymous.
Our only responsibility was to be a spectator of a faith that included drinking lattes, managing our bank accounts, and going to the beach after Sunday service.
Writing for Christianity Today, three authors surmise that many Christians have been “inoculated” from discipleship and have become “nominal Christians.”
The reason? Christianity has become too safe.
Jesus told his disciples one time, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
When he said this, Jesus did not mean for us to protect us from the realities of cross-shaped discipleship.
It was Peter who encouraged his readers “to crave pure spiritual milk…to grow in the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2). These readers were persecuted Christians who did not have the luxury of coffee and pastries on Sunday mornings.
Several studies of late show that my generation is becoming more individualistic, and some communities of faith have perpetuated this notion.
The church itself has inadvertently fostered the condition by succumbing to individualism and consumerism. Under such pressures, church becomes primarily about what pleases people and meets their needs. Under such conditions, attendance and even membership do not lead to authentic discipleship—understood as a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus.
Author Russ Douthat, in an article entitled, “The Age of Individualism,” laments:
“In the increasing absence of local, personal forms of fellowship and solidarity…people were naturally drawn to mass movements, cults of personality, nationalistic fantasias. The advance of individualism thus eventually produced its own antithesis — conformism, submission and control.”
Apparently, my transition from youth group to “big church” was a necessary step in my maturation as a Christian.
It kept me from conforming to what has been dubbed “pop Christianity.” It helped me apply my faith to the larger concerns of life and community.
I think this is what happened during Holy Week so long ago. The Jews wanted lattes and liberation, and they wanted Jesus to lead the way.
They wanted an easy faith that included tanning on the beaches of Galilee free from the confines of the empire.
Jesus didn’t do that, however. He went straight to the cross.
When his followers realized that they, too, had to go to the cross, they abandoned him. They searched for the next shiny object instead.
That faith was too dangerous; and, by the end of the week, only a handful of disciples were left for Jesus to call his own.