My son Judah (who is now 10 months old) has been making the transition from drinking only milk to eating solid food for a few months now. He is still drinking his bottle a few times per day, but he is eating solids just about as often as he has a bottle. As you can tell by this picture, he is very serious about food.

In a few places in the New Testament the imagery of milk and solid food is used to explain the spiritual maturity of Christians. Here are some examples:

  • Hebrews 5: 12-13 – “12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”
  • 1 Corinthians 3:2 – “2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready…”

For most of my life in the church I have heard these verses quoted for one purpose: to encourage youth to grow up and stop acting like children. While I do think that teens (especially in the modern age) need every encouragement that they can get to take the steps into adulthood, I think that these verses are filled with an enormous amount of implication and subtlety.

First of all, it needs to be recognized that the literal transition from milk to solid food is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months. Even Judah, who has never met a solid food he didn’t like, is having to go through the process right now of preparing himself for the next stage in his life. When you encourage a young person to move to “solid food” you must be patient.

The second point turns everything around. If a young person is transitioning to the mature, healthy, spiritual “solid foods” they must be aided in it. They need a responsible adult to lead that transition. That responsible adult must feed them “solid food”. Youth need to hear challenging sermons. They need adults to hold them accountable for their behavior. They need to be given an opportunity to grow. If we expect anything from our youth we must give them the tools to aid their growth.

How can we expect youth to stand up and become the mature, responsible adults that we want them to be if we are the ones that keep giving them milk? How can we expect them to grow if we are giving ourselves milk?

In the 1970’s our parents fought against the constraints and oppression of church tradition. They wanted to be free to worship how they pleased. They fought for the ability to have things like contemporary worship and topical sermons (amongst a whole lot of other things… I know that it wasn’t that simple). A lot of good has come form their efforts. However, one of the great myths today is that the younger generations want the same for themselves. Many adults can’t imagine the fact that their children would want to return to the rigid structures and disciplines that they fought so hard against.

But they do.

We want to be challenged. We want to have practice discipline. We want to read from the Bible… and that’s ok.