1 Cor. 3:2 “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready.”
It’s the season for graduations. People are graduating from high school, college, graduate school…even kindergarten, for heaven’s sake. All ages, all walks of life. I was at a seminary graduation yesterday to present our Bible Society award and there was a woman who brought the audience to their feet as she walked up to receive her Master of Divinity diploma. She was 75 years old if she was a day!
Of course students who graduate, even with Ph.D.’s, are not at the end of their learning. No one who has properly earned a diploma is under any illusion that they have mastered the knowledge of the world. Rare indeed would be the graduate at any level who could not still be stumped by a question in a subject they had just studied. But while graduates clearly don’t know everything, the school has determined that they know enough to be let loose on the world so that they can put that knowledge to work. Their diploma recognizes that level of learning.
All of that made me wonder why we don’t seem to “graduate” anybody in church. Paul seems to be as frustrated by this as anybody when he discovers that the people in Corinth are still in such a low stage of spiritual development that he can’t even give them “solid food.” Certainly our spiritual growth is a lifelong process, but if the Church is doing its job, we should, at regular intervals, be recognizing those who have grown enough to be deployed safely in God’s service in the world. They should graduate.
That would accomplish two things. First, it would remind us that some people have NOT grown enough to be deployed safely. The joy and enthusiasm of brand new Christians should never be mistaken for spiritual maturity, and often a deployment before “graduation,” has unpleasant consequences for both the deployed servant and those whom they are serving.
Second, the “graduation” of people in the pews could help us to get our missional priorities a bit straighter than they often are. Imagine a school where the day was fun, the food was great, the teachers were entertaining, and kids were so pleased to be there that nobody ever missed a day. But nobody ever graduated because the students couldn’t pass even the most basic tests. It might be a great child-care facility, but it would no longer be serving its purpose as a school. I think the basic mission of the Church could benefit from a focus on the “graduation rate” of its members.
Of course the concept raises our institutional fears. Suppose my church produces great milk but doesn’t really excel in solid food? If I graduate them from the milk, they might go elsewhere and take their pledge with them. Or, worse, our Ph.D. grads might be deployed outside the church entirely and no longer feel a need for our structured learning. Who would then be our Sunday School Superintendent? I knew a pastor who actively discouraged a parishioner from attending seminary because of the impact her leaving would have on the local congregation. I think Paul would have something to say about that.
Where are you in your journey of spiritual growth and learning? Are you making progress? Has your church graduated anyone recently? It might be time.
On earth they called you “rabbi” and “teacher,” Lord. Help us to truly learn so that we may be deployed in your service. Amen.
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