The difficulty comes when we inevitably have churches that have large proportions of people at different places. Where do we pitch the preaching? How do we engage in Bible study that everyone can engage with? How do we make sure that we are simple enough for the new folk to understand whilst having enough meat to chew on for the mature believers?
A story regarding the operational management of the London marathon emerged yesterday. The start time for the slower runners in the marathon was delayed but, even as they were running (keeping pace with the official pace-setter), organiser began opening roads and clearing up around them. The pacer, Liz Ayres, recounts being sprayed with chemicals by those riding vehicles closely to the runners. She also says the runners were repeatedly verbally abused by those who were keen to make them speed up. You can read the Guardian’s report here.
Now, I am sure you will be surprised to hear that I have never run a marathon. I know, I know – hard to believe. But it’s true. The less cheeky of you are no doubt, extremely politely, asking why not.
It’s not especially because they’re on Sundays (though, should I ever want to run one, that would represent a bit of a problem). I have never run one because I hate long distance running. I have never liked it and I’ve always been terrible at it. I wasn’t always as big, fat and lazy as I am now. I used to be very fit and healthy, playing lots of sports and all sorts. If I ran the London marathon I’d be at the back racing against people in giant chicken outfits and would probably hit ‘the wall’ a couple of times before I even reach the starting line! But even when I was super fit, I just couldn’t do that sort of running.
You will be equally surprised that, given my evident love of running, this post isn’t really about the London marathon. It’s not really about running at all. The story about the London marathon caught my eye because this is often how we handle folks in the church.
We welcome everybody in and tell everyone that we want them to come to know Christ (the starting line, if you will) and then to go on and grow up in him (the marathon itself). We often have a hierarchy of those we consider the elite runners (either those who are particularly mature or those who are especially useful) with the most needy, least mature people the spiritual equivalent of those running the marathon whilst dressed like an emu.
Now, of itself, there is nothing wrong with differentiating where folks are at. It makes little sense quizzing young believers on the merits of infralapsarianism or asking them to explain their particular views on Pauline realised eschatology. It is equally unhelpful to offer nothing but basic evangelistic messages to those who have come to believe it already and need to be built up in the faith they have acquired. We need to know where people are at in order to teach them effectively. So we run Christianity Explored for those who are looking to explore Christianity; we run systematic theology classes with those who have been exploring Christianity for quite some time and have long believed it.