From today I am officially on a writing sabbatical for three months. A 'sabbatical' is not a holiday, it's an opportunity to change gear, be refreshed and see things from a distance a little more clearly. My main writing project is a biography of my missionary parents who founded the Asian Christian fellowship in Wolverhampton in 1972 after 20 years service in India and Pakistan. This is going to be challenging - and exciting.
Some Sabbatical Fears
My greatest fear is not that my fellowship will discover they don't need me anymore! If that happens, no-one will be more delighted than I, for the role of a pastor is to equip the church to do its part.
My greatest sabbatical fear is that some of the weak Christians and the young Christians won't be there when I come back. There is something in every (true) shepherd that roots for the weakest and most vulnerable in the flock. This instinct is a pale reflection of the Good Shepherd's heart, which loves the weak enough to leave the healthy 99 behind and chase the 1 lost sheep.
How to care for the weak and young
So here are some tips for caring for weak and especially young Christians. Young Christians are like babies; spiritually they are weak and vulnerable. This earthly/spiritual parallel is a great help to understanding how the young in faith must be treated. Our data is the four Gospels, the way Jesus treated the Twelve:
(1) Love them don't burden them
When a baby comes into a family we surround the baby with love and affection. We shower a thousand kisses and smiles upon the child. We do not burden a baby with a list of dos and don'ts or a list of jobs to do! We surround them with love and leave the dishes and car-washing till they are older. This is how we must treat young Christians too. A young Christian will have 1000 errors in thought and 1000 errors in practise to sort out, and we, having been around the block a few times will easily notice these - and here is the rub - be tempted to correct them. We must resist that temptation with all our might remembering that sanctification was a long process with us and so it will be with them. Don't continually correct a baby Christian's doctrine or life. And don't burden them with service - not quite yet.
(2) Change for their sake, don't expect them to change for you
When a baby enters a family, everyone from parents to siblings change to accommodate the wonderful new life. So too must a home group change to accommodate the young believer, feeding them milk and patiently answering all their 'foolish' questions and putting up with all their wrong behaviour. If you read the Gospels you will find that Jesus corrects his baby disciples only when their sins are Big Time sins (prayerlessness "could you not pray with me?...", pride "what were your quarreling about?" and lack of faith "O you of little faith"). Smaller-fault corrections are absent from the Gospels.
(3) Example means more than you will ever know
A young Christian is all ears and eyes. They are absorbing everything in this new world. That's what a baby does as soon as it opens its eyes. And what a baby sees, a baby copies and knows. If a baby Christian is surrounded by bad examples, they will stunt his or her growth. If you older Christian come to church or home group when you feel like it, a baby Christian will soon pick up the message "these meetings don't matter at all" and they will turn out as erratic as you are. If they are taught some wacky "fifth importance" doctrine when they are a babe, that is what they will think is important in ten years time: and instead of concentrating on big truths, they will so easily waste time on genealogies and old wives tales. On the other hand if you walk in newness of life before them, they too will be encouraged to walk in newness of life.
(4) Babies die without food - quickly
Nothing is more important for a baby than pure milk - regularly. So if a baby Christian is not joining in with other believers and not being fed, soon they will soon grow cold. It doesn't take long. We who have built up faith-fat reserves over many years can go a little longer, but not a babe-in-Christ.
The supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in bringing new life is not in Scripture set in opposition to the care of young believers a local church needs to exercise. They go together, the latter is one means of the former.
Jesus warned in the strongest terms against those who would stumble a 'little one' - it would be better if they were dead, he said. This shows us the seriousness of caring for the weak and young in faith.
So walk softly in the fold, and especially beside the young in faith. Love them, overlook a million faults in doctrine and life, pray for them and set an example of love and patience: the sort of love and patience you have been personally been shown.
My fears relieved
At Manor Park Church we have a loving and caring network of home groups and home group leaders, not to mention good undershepherds. So I should not fear.....
May the Lord use them all to protect and love the weak and young.