If you ever overheard a girl talking about what she wants in a man, you probably have heard one thing above all others. She says she wants a man and not a boy. To which in my single years I would respond, how can you call an alligator a lizard?
This thing of maturity long has been an ambiguous and difficult term to nail down. What exactly does maturity mean, and how do you know when you see ‘maturity’?
Let’s take a look back to see when we might have said we were no longer a new Christian.
The concept of a new Christian has haunted me recently as my Thai friends refer to being a new Christian for two or three years. One of my friends helping us with the church plant wanted us to meet his good friend and a professor at the university we reach out to. In the words of our friend, “he is a new Christian who has only known God for two years.”
Another similar example sprung to mind during Thai class when our Thai teacher shared a story of when she was new Christian, only about three years. Her story gave insight into how Thai people see Jesus. She was so angry at Jesus for being mean. As a gentle and kind hearted Thai, she couldn’t understand why Jesus was so mean and destroyed that fig tree (Mark 11:12-14)
I gained insight for how we see Jesus through our cultural lens and often miss the bigger picture as we get stuck on who Jesus is or is not. Now she went on to explain that her pastor explained that Jesus was not mean, but fig trees were common in his country. Moreover, he was showing his disciples that if they do not bear fruit, they are worthless.
Coming back to the idea of maturity, I am struck by the fact Americans are never prone to say they are a baby Christian or new Christian after two or three years. After a few years, we are often seen as potential leaders or council members at our church. We become influential as we are seen as mature.
In Thailand, and much of the world, the idea of maturity differs drastically. The idea of being mature in one’s faith comes back to the Thai understanding of coming to faith. As seen above, the young Christian who teaches at university has known God only two years. You see, when a Thai person comes to faith, they say I know God.
This understanding coupled with the collectivist culture concept of a shared history helps me understand maturity in a whole new light. Let me explain. Shared history is the idea that you are not a part of the community until you have walked together through many seasons and situations. When you begin to have a set of shared experiences and memories that you can hold onto together, you then are welcomed into the community as an insider.
With this in mind, a Thai person will not say they are a mature Christian until they have shared many experiences with God. They want a shared history as they journey in faith together with their God.
In this context, here is a verse that deals with maturity that might now hold deeper meaning to us. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 ESV). Perfect and complete carry the same connotation as mature, so other translations use mature in this verse.
Now we cannot apply cultural definitions of maturity into different contexts. Just as it might be dangerous for us to impose understandings of maturity from our American context into the church we plant in Bangkok, we cannot expect Americans to slow down their understanding of maturity. However, it makes me wonder, what is the right pace for calling someone mature?
When do you think someone in your context is no longer a baby Christian?