Monday, December 3, 2007

Four Levels of Maturity: Childhood, Part 1

Childhood Characteristics

The first day of school. First sleepover. First bicycle. Childhood is a time of firsts, of growth and learning, of exploration and milestones. Development is rapid, punctuated by one endless string of “Why? How come? What’s that?” And oh, let’s not forget, “Let me.”

No longer dependent wholly on adults, children taste their first freedoms. Granted, it’s usually under strict supervision, but nonetheless, children are eager to do all things themselves, whether dressing or reading a book or figuring out a puzzle.

Out of this desire for independence come many good traits: wide-eye wonder of even the simplest things, curiosity about everything, a tendency to imitate. That makes teaching them easy—they’re malleable, eager to learn, and willing listeners (most of the time).

From this we can see children learn through:

1) Imitation—their insistence to do it themselves.

2) Step-by-step instruction—not only must they do it themselves, but they must do it exactly the way the person they’re imitating does it.

3) Tangible consequence—no longer is it “don’t.” Now commands are accompanied by simple explanations: “Don’t touch the stove—you’ll burn your hand.”

Of course every trait has its downside. The questions are great until it’s about your authority (“But why must I clean my room?”). Curiosity is desirable until they want to do something that’ll harm them (hence “childproof” bottles). Mimicking is cute and funny until it’s a bad habit (“But Mommy/Daddy does that”). But overall, these characteristics are an advantage of this stage.

Childhood Christians

Just like we saw with infancy, childhood has its parallel in the spiritual journey. Christians young in the faith are just learning discernment, often seeing the world in definite right and wrong. But this first taste of freedom, just like in real children, only whets the appetite to know more. Their enthusiasm and wonder over the simplest truth can be quite refreshing to older Christians who sometimes take such truths as commonplace.

And like children, these young Christians tend to imitate quite strictly the role models in both action and theology. This is wonderful in many ways—it makes them teachable and malleable. But it can also be a danger, for no one except Jesus Christ is infallible. Ever heard a Christian say in defense, “But Pastor So-and-so says this is true”?

Because of all this, childhood Christians tend to be more rule-oriented. Evangelism is a step-by-step process. Life is restricted by lists, usually accompanied by simple explanations: “Attend church, Sunday school, Bible study regularly so you will grow.” That is only partially true—you can do all those things and never grow; you can grow extensively in personal Biblestudy.

However, this maturity level needs basic rules; understanding of how and when to apply the exceptions to the rules is lacking yet. Not that this is bad. It’s simply where this Christian is in his walk at this point. As long as he keeps growing, then the other aspects will soon follow.

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