Infantilism


INFANTALISM. You may have never heard of this before but it’s a danger for many Christians – Here’s what it is:

The inability of a Christian to spiritually feed oneself, resulting in an unhealthy dependence on supplemental nourishment from pre-digested food (sermons, books, study guides, etc.).

Instead of becoming Self-Feeders, lots of Christians become dependent on good Bible teachers to feed them. Now when you are a spiritual infant, that’s great. But you don’t want to stay an infant. You don’t want to keep eating pre-digested meals. You don’t want to become dependent on pastors and commentaries to study the Bible for you and tell you what it means. You need to learn to feed yourself.

Pastor Willie O’Burke, a church planter in Greeley, Colorado, refers to those believers who want to come and sit in their pew and be fed gourmet spiritual meals every Sunday as “pew leeches.” They are just taking up space. They are not making any contribution to the Body. They come to church to be fed, and they are quick to complain if they feel that they are not getting enough pre-digested spiritual food to eat.

Pew leeches will never become growing, healthy Christians because they don’t learn to study God’s Word for themselves. Many churches are failing to teach believers how to feed themselves. Instead, they are teaching them to grow fat on a diet of pre-digested spiritual sermons which leave them spiritually weak and dependent. “We are never doing people in the church a favor by encouraging them to come and just listen and take notes if we want them to grow.”

Imagine if you are out to dinner tonight at Outback Steak House with your family and you see my wife and me and my daughter eating there too. Suppose as you look over, you see that I have ordered a nice big juicy steak and my wife is cutting it up into little pieces for me. She then takes my fork and picks up a piece of meat and places it in my mouth. If you were to observe this from your table, you would not think that was cute. You would think that there was something wrong with me. If my wife is feeding me like an infant, you would think that I had maturity problems. If you looked at my outward appearance, you would think that I was physically mature, but when my wife feeds me, you realize that I am not.

Wayne Cordeiro, founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii, is devoted to training believers to spend daily time with God in His Word. He emphasizes the importance of being mentored daily by the Holy Spirit through the Word. By the use of analogy, he pictures himself wanting to learn to play the guitar and contrasts the results from a group class once each week at a community college versus personal mentoring by Jazz great, Joe Pass, for one hour each day. After one year, anyone would be able to recognize that he did not learn to play at a community college. He learned from the master.

Applying this concept to your spiritual development, it is obvious that there is a huge difference between learning the Bible once a week in a group class (church service) or the Holy Spirit mentoring through the Word for one hour each day. At the Exponential Conference in 2007, Wayne affirmed, “The best things we’ve ever done for our church is to teach people to feed themselves.”

Mark Atteberry asks the question “With all the new Bible translations, software packages, study aids, teaching conferences, and wonderful Christian books that are available nowadays, how is it possible that a conscientious Christian could be malnourished? Unless he’s sitting around waiting to be spoon-fed. My advice to any starving Christian is to pick up your fork and eat!” (The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do, p 88)

Wolfgang Simson believes that the way to keep disciples immature is through teaching. “The teacher’s job is to teach them how to teach, and not endlessly do it for them. This, in fact, is a way of artificially keeping people in perpetual immaturity, prolonging their baby status in the name of great and wonderful discipleship teaching.” (Houses That Change the World, p 105)

We need to be students of the Word of God and study it for ourselves. Don’t let your pastor or some pastor on the radio or anyone else do that for you. Learn to study it for yourself. Be like the Bereans in Acts 17. Luke describes the Jews in Berea, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (v 11). They didn’t just accept Paul’s teaching, they checked the Scriptures for themselves. They didn’t just eat what Paul taught, but they taught themselves from God’s Word.

Here’s what Paul tells Timothy in 2 Tim 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

1. Be Diligent! – Do your best! Focus. Give it your full effort. Pursue it. Make it your priority. Don’t put it off – don’t delay it. Be diligent to do your best in your pursuit of being an approved worker. Take effort.

We are all busy – and each one of us must discipline ourselves to continually be feeding on God’s Word. Like the wise man who built his house on the solid rock, this demands work. It isn’t easy. And that’s why so many Christians neglect the study of God’s Word.

R. C. Sproul recognizes this so well – He says, “Here then is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.”
We choose to neglect the intake of God’s Word because we are unwilling to put forth the effort. Paul says, “Be diligent….” Do your best! Give it your best effort.

2. Rightly Handle the Word! – Be precise! Be accurate. Don’t guess what it means. Study it.

Let me give you the three principles I learned for accurately studying the Bible –

1. Context
2. Context
3. Context

Study the passage in its original context. Ask, “What did it mean to its original hearers? How would they have understood this passage? What was the historical background? What was the cultural setting?”

Be a student involves asking questions as you read! That’s the difference between really studying the passage and just reading the passage.

What questions should you ask? Start with some really basic questions.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

Here’s a basic principle as you study the Bible and ask questions as you read “If the plain sense makes common sense – seek no other sense, for it will be nonsense.” – Dr. Curtis Mitchell

You can also ask these C.A.S.E. questions. Is there…

  • a Command to obey?
  • an Attitude to adopt?
  • a Sin to avoid?
  • an Example to follow?

If you ask these questions as you study God’s Word in context, you will discover the truth of the passage. Then you can work to apply it to your life.

When I was in college I learned 5 ways to really get a grip on God’s Word. If you want to be approved by God – grasp the Word of God and live it out in your life.

Here are 5 ways to GRASP GOD’S WORD:

  1. Hear it regularly.
  2. Read it daily.
  3. Memorize it accurately.
  4. Meditate on it fully.
  5. Study it thoroughly.

How can we do this? We need to be diligent. We need to give it our best effort.

HEAR

+ Attend church weekly where you can hear it being taught. Come prepared to hear what God wants to teach you. Prepare your heart to hear from God.
+ Listen to God’s Word on your iPod.

READ

+ A USA Today poll showed only 11% of Americans read the Bible every day. More than half read it less than once a month or never at all. When Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4), He certainly intended for us to read every word.

MEMORIZE

+ Find verses that apply to the issues you are facing and right them down and memorize them. When you store God’s Word in your mind, it is available for the Holy Spirit to take and bring it to your attention when you need it most.

+ You can remember 100% of the verses that you memorize.

MEDITATE

+ Ps 1:1-2, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.”

+ To “meditate” is the picture of a cow chewing its cud, digesting the food over and over and over again.

+ When you meditate, you think about what it says and what it means over and over and over again.

STUDY

+ Ask questions as you read and find the answers to the questions.

+ Look at cross-references to clarify the meaning.

+ Discover how the verses tie together with the theme or purpose of the entire chapter, and then the entire book.

HEAR – READ – MEMORIZE – MEDITATE – STUDY God’s Word!

You don’t have to be infantile in your spiritual life. Be a student of the Bible. Saturate yourself with the Bible.

Become a Self-Feeder!

(Infantilism is one of the dangers to Missional Christianity that I wrote about in my doctoral dissertation; other obstacles include Extractionalism, Attractionalism, Clericalism, Mega-ism, and Consumerism).

Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
2 replies
  1. Douglas
    Douglas says:

    Dave – A big Amen! This is a vital subject…I remember "the hand" illustration being a big part of my early training as a believer. How can we "repackage" this information so that young believers are challenged to feed on the Word? I think that another aspect of this also needs to be "doing the Word" – Jesus says that it is his "food" to do the will of the Father. Part of self-feed has to be teaching it to others and immediately making a personal application. Great post! Doug McClintic

  2. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Thanks Doug! I agree that we need to pass this on to the next generation. I've been using New Life's S.O.A.P. model with college students and others and they are doing it. Check out http://www.lifejournal.cc for information.

    Also – "doing the Word" is all about obedience. We need to stop asking only the question: "What do I need to know?" and also start asking: "What do I need to obey?"

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