I'm a fairly avid reader, not as avid as I used to be but still read a good 20-40 books a year. Overwhelmingly, these are Christian living and theology resources that I find through one channel or another. Most are good, well-written, right to the heart of the matter books, but I've noticed a trend over the past couple of years that concerns me a bit. Maybe a bit more than a bit.
Most of the Christian living books that are coming out these days are books for seekers.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, except that these are books that on their covers, promise meat and in their pages, deliver milk. I will pick up a book that starts well and talks about going deeper into the Word, talks about uncovering new ideas in Scripture, talks about new applications or taking the next steps, and then, inevitably, when I get into it, it's always the same - you should read the Bible. You should live in community. You should pray.
The very basics of the Christian faith. The very fundamentals. And I get that there's a need for this, but the problem is that there seem to be very few, if any, Christian authors willing to go beyond this any more. There are so few voices willing to actually go deeper. The ones that seem to offer the most promise will pose the deeper questions, but then, abruptly turn and say, "These are questions that can only be answered by reading the Bible, praying, and going to church." Many even say that's the best place to "start."
And it's not just our bookstores that are trending this direction. Our churches have been going this way for awhile. We're all focused on seekers, on getting new faces in the door, on introducing new hearts to Jesus, but what we lack is a way to encourage them to actually grow. We call them into discipleship, but we lack the resources to actually disciple them. We turn them over to their Bibles and our programs and hope that's enough to encourage essential growth, but the truth is that it's not.
I have been a Christian for twenty years. I have read the Bible. I have prayed. I have gone to church. I still do all of these things. What I'm looking for - in my church and in my books - is someone to help me go deeper. Someone to push me further. Someone to challenge my surface-level understandings and stir my heart to something more. What I'm looking for is someone who is willing and able to engage on a level that acknowledges that I've already been on this road for a long time, that I'm already doing the basics, that I've had enough milk and I'm looking for meat.
I know I'm not alone in this.
It's just frustrating that we have all of these resources that so correctly identify the questions, that ask the hard things, that recognize that being human is difficult and messy and that we need some fellow sojourners for the way, but then they all pull back and can only tell us where to start. They can only give us the same fundamental stuff we already had.
I'm wondering if we haven't led ourselves here, by being so seeker-sensitive. Over the past 10-20 years, we have so focused our ministry on the unchurched that we have developed the kind of churches that pursue perpetual seekers. That honestly can't go any deeper than this. And we have a whole generation of Christians whose faith has always had to go back to basics because of the demographics they were seeking, and they don't themselves know what discipleship is. All they've got is an entry point.
And listen, I'm not saying that being seeker-sensitive is bad. That's not the point. Of course, when Jesus tells us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, that starts with being able to call the unaffiliated and get them to follow. But follow what? If we never move beyond getting someone in the doors, what are we doing? If we can only lead someone to curiosity and not to soul-craving, what's the point? If we keep telling them that being in community is essential to their growth but we ourselves don't know how to grow and don't know how to grow them, we're essentially lying to new believers - telling them that growth is possible but offering absolutely no evidence to support our claim.
We tell ourselves that after twenty years, we should just be walking with others. We should be giving ourselves to those just starting out. That what's important at this stage is our ministry to others, but the truth is that we never outgrow the need for others to walk with us. And that means that what we need is a solid foundation of full-fledged discipleship, a way to grow into the something more that Jesus calls us to. We need some spiritual meat on our bones and on our shelves and in our churches if we ever want to truly move from lost to found, from seekers to disciples. We need mature voices to step up and speak to the mature, that we may grow together in meaningful ways and stop suckling on this same old milk.