“This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.” -Martin Luther
The quote above is one of my favorites by Martin Luther and lately I’ve been thinking it’s an important one for the church today. I attended a mini-conference in April on adult education and one of the key points we discussed is that church leaders have allowed a terrible lie to persist in our churches, a lie that is undermining the health of our congregations.
That lie is what I’ll call the non-curious adult expert. What I mean by it is this: somehow most of us seem to get the idea that as Christian adults we should already know everything about our faith and aren’t much interested in going deeper with it. It’s assumed that everyone knows the major themes and characters in the Bible, can give a thumbnail sketch of Luther’s theology, and have a solid understanding of who they are in relation to God.
That is true for some, but when we assume it’s true for all, then we design classes that never touch on some of these broader themes, we create environments where questions aren’t asked because people feel they should already know the answers, and we discourage people from participating because they feel learning at church is only for kids. The lie contributes to widespread imposter syndrome in churches, which is the belief that “I don’t belong here because everyone else is an expert/knows what they’re doing/gets it and I’m going to be found out as a fraud.”
This is why this quote from Luther is so important for us today. It points to the fact that none of us are done learning or growing. Just as we would never think of a person as being fully matured or fully educated when they finish middle school, the same is true for our spiritual lives.
I have read the Bible front to back multiple times and spent four years getting a Master’s degree in this stuff and I am still surprised at the things that I learn and come to understand in new ways as I continue on the way to “what we shall be,” as Luther put it. As we’ve read lessons from Acts in the season of Easter this year, I’ve been reminded that the disciples themselves continue to learn and grow through the book, coming to deeper understandings of God.
The church has never been a collection of experts, but a group of God’s people learning and growing together. It should be thought of like a YMCA or gym membership; I don’t go to the Y because I have perfect health, but so that my health may continue to improve and though there may be people more fit than I am, we are all striving toward the same goal of greater health. In the church, we are all striving towards the same goal of growing in our relationship to God and helping others to do the same.
Our baptism is a life-long process, not a one-time event. So we need to strive to create a culture in which questions and curiosity are normal, where learning and growth is expected, and where we embrace our amateur status as we work out our faith for the long haul.
In God’s Amazing Grace,
(This article first appeared in my church's summer 2016 newsletter.)
“Don’t forget to bring encouragement. Yeah, we’re all just beginners.” -Bill Mallonee, “Bank”