Kids and the Kingdom
It’s wonderful to be a father.
I always suspected as much, but there are some things in life you just have to experience in order to truly understand.
Sure, being a parent is hard work. You learn to die to your wants and to put your spouse and kid(s) ahead of yourself. You sleep less, you work more. But it’s all worth it when you see that smile, hear that laugh, and get that hug when you come home in the evening. It’s a supreme privilege to be a parent–to learn from my daughter and to be able to walk with her as she grows.
I could go on, of course, as every parent could. But what I really want to say today is this: being a father has made me realize that the Christian life is a lot like the birth and growth of a child. Let me explain.
Preparing for Birth
When couples announce the impending arrival of a child, there’s typically quite the celebration. Letting family and friends know the big news is tremendously exciting. Then, you get to figure out a clever way to tell your Facebook friends you’re pregnant. Gender reveal parties are a thing now too, so that’s fun. People throw you showers. Gifts show up in the mail. It’s quite the hullabaloo.
Of course, you and your spouse are also quite busy. There’s a room to be repurposed (and often repainted) and furniture to find. Small people require lots (and lots and lots) of clothing, so you acquire plenty of that. There are diapers, wipes, bottles, burp cloths, baby monitors, noisemakers, and a whole host of other things Babies R’ Us sells that you absolutely need in order for your kid to survive and thrive in the world.
You attend childbirth classes and go to a hospital or two. You visit a plethora of doctors and have a host of appointments (the best ones being where you actually get to see your beloved baby). A due date gets circled on the calendar. Eventually, you pack a birthing bag. One day, the birth pains begin and you drive (a little faster than absolutely necessary, truth be told) to that magic space in which your baby will be brought into the world.
And after all that fervent preparation and all that excitement, then your new life begins.
Life is a Journey
Preparation for your baby can be fun. And the actual day of birth is a wondrous time–a day you’re unlikely to ever forget. But the big day isn’t important for its own sake; it’s important because of what it brings about. The best part of parenthood is actually everything that comes after that day.
It’s taking your newborn home. Introducing them to all the important people in your life. Surviving until they sleep through the night. Helping them eat their first real food (as if baby food is something real). It’s watching them learn to crawl, then stand, then walk. The best part of parenthood isn’t the day your baby is born–it’s those moments when your child begins talking, calling your name when they need you, and growing into their personality.
Of course, parenthood isn’t all fun and games–there are plenty of sleepless nights, days of sickness, messes made, and painful lessons learned. But all of these steps and stages in life are part of the incredible process that is seeing your kid grow into the person that God created them to be.
Life is a journey–it begins with the incredible moment of birth, but it cannot ever be reduced to that moment.
Obsession with the First Part of the Journey?
It’s here that we must turn to the Christian life. Countless Christians throughout the ages have written about how following Jesus as a journey, a process. The author of Hebrews declared, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).
It makes sense to highlight portions of the journey of faith. Starting strong, reaching certain milestones, and finishing well–these are all moments worthy of celebration and remembrance. Sometimes, however, Christians have overemphasized particular moments of the faith journey. Some ancient Christians, for instance, were a bit too zealous in celebrating the end of life, particularly when lives ended in martyrdom.
Writing from my current context, it seems as if contemporary American evangelicals have overemphasized the moment of conversion in the Christian life. Now, conversion is a very important and special moment in one’s faith journey. It’s rightly something to be excited about. Conversion is, in many ways, like the birth of your child–a moment to anticipate, work toward, celebrate, and remember for a long time. But some Christian churches have made the moment of conversion the pinnacle of all of Christian existence.1
If we make conversion the sole emphasis of the Christian life–or, perhaps even worse, the sole driver of the life of the Christian church–we might end up with a lot of births. But we’ll also be left with a lot of baby Christians, feeding on milk rather than meat (Heb. 5:12-14). Focusing on the “birth” moment will also result in a distorted way of life in the here-and-now; rather than looking forward to the next milestone of growth and maturity, we’re constantly looking back, yearning for a time that wasn’t quite as great as we remember it being and missing out of the opportunities available to us today.
A Life of Growth
Rather than focusing so exclusively on the day of birth, our living out the Christian life should look more like the life of a child: a birth followed by tremendous growth.
In the same way that children grow and mature, so also Christians must mature into adult members of the kingdom. When we talk about the Christian life, we must recognize that we’re ultimately talking about much more than birth–we’re talking about the journey of life. It’s instructive that Jesus commands his followers to make disciples–complete with an outline of what that entails (Matt. 28:19-20)–rather than telling them to make converts.
The Christian Church cannot be an institution that is just focused on getting people to open up the front door, walk in, and “make a decision.” We must be a Church that is obsessed with getting people to come in off the street and enter the deepest and most holy places that God has prepared for us.
In short, we must be like kids–kids who are growing and going deeper and deeper into the Kingdom.
1 Scot McKnight does a masterful job explaining this reality–as well as the distortion of the Gospel that it brings–in The King Jesus Gospel.
Image courtesy of Yamanaka Tamaki.