All of the signs are there.
Hair on his legs. Inflections in his voice. An unpredictable temperament. Seemingly endless sleep.
My oldest son is on the cusp of puberty.
Puberty is glorious.
Puberty is awful.
But the end result is maturity.
It’s not a fast process.
It takes time. It takes experiences. It takes heartbreak. It takes food. It takes facial cleansers. It takes staying up late and sleeping in later.
But eventually we overcome puberty and become adults.
Our temperament comes into balance. Our skin clears. Our diet moderates. We still sleep late, but for different reasons.
The same thing happens to us as we grow in our faith. The more we come to know about the Bible and God, what Helmut Thielicke called “theological puberty” sets in.
Group leaders in the midst of theological puberty probably shouldn’t be group leaders. In his book, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, Thielicke says, “It is a mistake for anyone who is just in this stage to appear before a church as a teacher. He has not yet come to that maturity which would permit him to absorb into his own life and reproduce out of the freshness of his own personal faith the things which he imagines intellectually and which are accessible to him through reflection.”
But if you are a group leader working through theological puberty—or you are working with one or two—there is one thing you can emphasize again and again that will help your leader overcome theological puberty: Emphasize love.
This is precisely what Paul does in 1 Corinthians 8. Some in the Corinthian church were theologically pubescent. They knew a lot of stuff, and they used their knowledge to puff themselves up and demoralize others who weren’t as far along developmentally. Paul’s appeal to them was direct: “Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1b).
Paul expounded on this in 1 Corinthians 13. One must not unnecessarily his extend his period of theological pubescence, because knowledge, after all, is a gift of the Spirit that no one will need when Jesus comes back (1 Cor. 13:8). And there’s no Good News in knowledge; there is only Good News with love (1 Cor. 13:4).
So if you’re guiding one or two theological adolescents, be patient and kind towards them, because you can’t demand of them what you don’t model for them. Emphasize love, and they’ll be loving like adults in no time.
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for nearly 15 years. They have four children: Trey (10), Jonathan (9), Abby (1), and Luke (born April 10). He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at Lifeway Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.