Is There an Adult in the Room?
Dr. Kris A. Jackson
Wherever “children” gather whether toddlers playing in a playground or politicians tackling civic issues in the boardroom, the question has to be asked, “Who is the adult in the room?” The question also applies to business, the home and the church. Someone must in charge, someone must act responsibly, wield authority, be the role model and make wise decisions that are final. Someone has to act the grown-up.
King Solomon mentioned two seasons of life of which he had personal experience and warned of the perils of both; first, “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child” (Ecclesiastes 10:16), and second, “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished” (Ecclesiastes 4:13). In discussing Christian maturity, and in this article ministerial maturity, most immediately think of the underdeveloped, the novice, but few consider their opposite, the old but childishly inflexible. The first peril comes from a lack of maturity and the second from a loss of integrity. There are leaders who have not developed fully enough to handle power, and others who have been in power so long that they havegone flat and become irrelevant. Maturity is balanced somewhere between those poles. As an agricultural metaphor we would say the one is unripe while the other is overripe.This tension is seen in all areas of ministry. Paul warned against placing a “novice” into a position of authority lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil (1 Timothy 3:6), but how is the arrogance and inflexibility of the older supposedly mature minister any less condemnable? The perishables we purchase have an expiration date. Fresh ideas, fresh faith and fresh fire are needed to revive dying institutions.
So the minister must examine whether he is functioning in mature eldership while never losing crisp and vibrant youthfulness. Of Ephraim it was said, “his hair is sprinkled with gray, but he does not notice” (Hosea 7:9 NIV). We need to be informed when we act childishly and foolishly but it would help if someone pointed out the gray hairs and graying attitudes as well.
We naturally assume that those functioning in the five fold office gifts of the church are fully matured and walk in integrity but multiplied blunders and abuses of power prove otherwise. The Levitical code drew age limits for laboring in the Tabernacle, “From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old” (Numbers 4:3). Thankfully, we have no such restrictions today, instead we interpret the precept as another example that irreverent youth should not be promoted and irrelevant age should not overstay its welcome. But as just mentioned, ministers both young and old can walk in seasoned maturity while maintaining a sharp cutting edge, even if the man of God is in hislate senior years.
First it would help to define the concept of Christian maturity.When Paul became a man he put away childish things. One adage says “boys will be boys” but experience teaches that forty-year old men will be boys too. Growing up is a process that is ultimately supposed to create grown-ups. Young John the Baptist “grew, and waxed strong in spirit” (Luke 1:80). Likewise young Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Both were the adults in the room as they fulfilled their prospective courses. Mature not only means “adult”, another synonym is “ripe”. When I was a boy in the open prairies of Nebraska we didn’t harvest the cornfields until the ears were fully developed, ready to pick and fit to eat. My father often spoke of the maturing of the crop. If Christianity has soured the stomachs of so many in this generation, could it be that we have promoted too many ministries that are still “green”? Television has made rock stars of young, talented but unproven ministers who are more entertainers than evangelists, and their premature promotion has left the Body of Christ confused as to the true flavor of ripened Christianity. Fruit should not be picked until it is matured, and the crop isn’t ripe until a mature eye judges it to be mature.
The purpose of the various ministry leanings, whether apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral or tutorial is to mature the saints, do the work of ministry and edify the body of Christ, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11). The aim of the fivefold ministry is to model the Body as a replica of Christ, “unto a perfect man”. The adjective telios, one of the more familiar Greek terms, means to be complete, of a full age or to be fully equipped and developed. New International Version and New American Standard render “mature”, while Weymouth speaks of “mature manhood”, and International Standard Version translates, “mature adulthood”. Is there an adult in the room?
When a savings bond comes to “maturity”, the full-term has been met and payout is now permissible. “Premature” speaks of occurring too soon, out of proper time, without being fully developed. When we jump to a biased conclusion we call the hasty folly a “premature judgment”. Another variation, “immature”, comes from a prefix meaning “not”. Immature is different from premature because it implies arrested development, juvenility and a predisposition to childishness. The qualifications listed for bishops and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 are given to safeguard the church from the premature and immature. Israel had a history of crowning kings while still adolescent – “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign…” (2 Chronicles 34:1) At times the inauguration turned out okay but normally the results were disastrous. Little David started his career with a slingshot in hand, not the levers of a Stealth Bomber. The lad was gifted, quite gifted, for the giant Goliath lay at his feet, but it took many years of mentoring, training and preparation before the lad “after God’s heart” was handed total rule over both Judah and Israel.
So there are signs to look for, the reddening of the fruit. A mature minister is not easily offended. With age comes less care about winning the popularity contest.The mature are confident in their own skin so they are not easily intimidated and they will continue down the right path whether others are on board with them or not. David encouraged himself in the Lord. The mature know how to stay self-motivated. They have seen fads come and go and are not swayed by the latest religious craze.
The mature are able to look at scripture from all angles and not be stuck in a rigid ideological box.The premature want to step immediately under bright stage lights. The mature don’t need stage lights because they carry their own light. The mature have deep roots and don’t show any weakening during times of spiritual drought. Those planted on the shallow soil of the rocks spring up at once and then wilt when the early rains cease. The mature believer has learned to discern the Shepherd’s voice and receives directions from the intimacy of the Holy of holies, not the other outer courts. His or her stomach can handle strong meat and potatoes – “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14 NIV). A mature minister doesn’t simply have wisdom, he knows how to employ and apply wisdom. He can listen to both sides of congregational issues without showing favoritism. If seasoned fruit represents Christian maturity then the minister must ultimately bear the ripe fruit of the Spirit, the foremost of which is love.
With a little pondering you can add to this short list of mature traits. As in all aspects of life Jesus Christ is the model for maturity – “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Believers are to “grow up”, the same two words mothers speak a million times through their child’s adolescence, “into him”, or under the headship of Christ. The fivefold ministry shares the same objective as all parents, the maturing of children. I think of the farmer who pushed his sons rigorously out in the farm fields. He went to the banker to ask for more money to rent another field, to which the banker asked why he needed to raise so many crops. The farmer replied, “Sir, I am not raising crops, I’m raising sons”. Ministerial maturity sees the next generation as a greater priority than its own. Growth by itself is not sufficient, the child, and the church, must grow “up” conforming to an image. The late Robert H. Schuller said the purpose of the ministry is “to turn people into persons”. The immature, insecure leader conforms others into his own image. The Father wants every convert “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). John was the true adult on the banks of the Jordan River because he directed others to Christ, willingly decreasing that He might increase.
“A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men” (Proverbs 18:16). Your calling and position is your “room” and God demands that you be the adult in the room. Such a trust will require a circumspect life, taking the lead, setting the house in order, handling little lambs with tender care while not being afraid to rebuke Pharisees and scribes. The promotion demands both tenderness and toughness. If I have learned anything in thirty-seven years of ministry it is that my own maturation is not yet complete. I study God’s word every day and glean new truth about both Him and myself every time the Book is opened. Even Paul conceded, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature” (Philippians 3:12 Holman). His ripening process was not finished but he resolved to know Christ in the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings and committed to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ until he reached the finish line. Instead of sitting back on past laurels, fix your eyes on His laurel wreath and climb higher. Younger eyes are watching. The house needs a father, the asylum a warden, the monarchy a king. Someone has to be the adult in the room.