The other day, I observed something I found heart-warming and amusing at the same time. I was driving along a road in the country and noticed a long line of cars approaching me. There was a long stretch of open road in front of the lead car, then a group of about 15 vehicles bumper-to-bumper following it.
This struck me as odd—not a situation I’d seen before. As I drew closer, I observed that the lead car had two occupants: a teenage girl driving, and an older woman beside her. Curious, as to why what looked like a funeral procession should be on the road before eight o’clock in the morning, I kept my eye on the front car.
As we passed each other, I noticed a sign on the door indicating that the car belonged to a driving school. Instantly, I understood what was happening. A driving instructor had taken her young student out of the city for a little practice on a rural road (likely for the first time) and her tentative approach to driving caused her to drive under the speed limit. This resulted in the line of cars that had formed behind her.
This instantly reminded me that in civilized society, we are called upon to make accommodations for the young and inexperienced. We don’t want to add pressure to what for them is a already stress-filled situation and so we cut them some slack, give them some space, practice a little patience, and don’t honk. Some of us can still remember the first time we were behind the wheel of a vehicle and the trepidation we experienced being on the road with other cars whizzing past.
This situation jogged my mind in a spiritual direction. I asked myself if we, in the church, are as prepared to practice patience with new Christians as we are with new drivers on the road? I have unfortunately witnessed situations where a new believer was a bit slow getting the hang of following Jesus. This was not out of rebellion, but due to three deficiencies.
- First was a lack of instruction (and who would be responsible for that?).
- Second was a lack of experience (and we know there’s only one way to become experienced).
- Third was the lack of practice (after all, there are only so many opportunities to serve in a local church).
Today, I’m thinking about the need to give people the space to develop the skills necessary as they mature in their Christian life. I’m also considering the importance of staying beside beginners as they learn the ropes, to put it in a seaman’s term. The teenager in the car had an instructor sitting right beside her. It occurred to me that, too often, we make broad assumptions about new Christians, especially those with little or no church background.
It’s as if we toss them the keys and say, “Go teach yourself to drive.”
New Christians are, by definition, spiritually alive, but life without learning can easily be a dead end. (I suppose many of us know older men in our assemblies who have never opened their mouths in a meeting.) It’s important for mature believers to come alongside younger believers to serve as “driving instructors” offering direction, suggestions, and tips as they are getting started.
If you’re younger, just settling in behind the wheel, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Develop a relationship with a mature person that you respect and trust and take advantage of his or her experience. If you’re an older believer and you see a younger Christian behaving in a way that doesn’t honour the Lord, build up His body, or help unbelievers move toward Him, step in. It costs you nothing to criticize, but criticism is of no benefit and often causes harm. Invest some time and energy in the one who needs your input.
Taking a cue from Paul’s comments to Timothy, I exhort the older believers as fathers and mothers and the younger as brothers and sisters to act toward newcomers to our fellowships with the same courtesy and grace we extend to beginners in other aspects of life. If we do that, in time we will all safely arrive at our destination—“attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.”