I think that most every parent (of teenagers or older) has a story or two when they “misplaced” their child. Maybe they turned down an aisle in the store out of sight of their child, or their kid found out that the round clothing racks in the store make little “forts” to hide and play in. I’m not sure if I’ve ever left one of my children at a school or church event, forgetting to be there for a timely pick-up; however, we did manage to be with a whole group of family members at the zoo one time, and were down the path and around the bend when we heard the wail of one of our kids who thought that he had been left alone.
In the story of Jesus (as a boy) at the temple, his parents are recorded as being pretty trusting of the group they were with:
Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.
Luke 2:44 NIV
I imagine a group of family and townsfolk all visiting Jerusalem together. As they made their way towards home, Joseph and Mary trusted them – and the pre-teen Jesus – to stick together and to take care of each other. Family reunions can be like this: every parent, aunt, and uncle is expected to be responsible enough to keep an eye out for the kids – whether theirs or someone else’s.
Note that the point here is not whether or not “free-range” or “helicopter” parenting is better or worse. First century Jerusalem was a different environment from probably every modern scenario around the world, so present-day parents have to each make the best choices for their respective situations, based on the limited information they have to work with.
A couple of principles should still apply, though, no matter our culture:
First, at some point in their growing up, children1 eventually need to be given independence and allowed to become adults.
However, this is not only true of those who are children because of their age. Followers of Jesus are expected to grow up and become more mature, as well.
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 NIV
The point of Christian discipleship should never be to create a dependence on a teacher, author, or mentor. Instead, it should create a dependence on the Holy Spirit, mature habits in building a relationship with God, and the ability for a follower of Jesus to eventually feed himself/herself. This doesn’t take away from the value of teaching and preaching, but if these things don’t lead to independence and spiritual maturity, they might need to be changed or replaced with versions that are more effective.
Conversely, sometimes we need to remember that children are children. There are people who need our investment, whether because they are too young to know better, because they have never had an opportunity to learn life skills, or because they are new to faith in Jesus.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV
Investing in others, whether they are our legal dependents, or brothers and sisters in Christ, is contained with the responsibilities of the mature. It is not enough to identify or judge shortcomings, if not accompanied by helpful, loving guidance to address a problem.
At the same time, those who are leading and guiding children should keep an eye out for when they can be trusted to step out on their own. Like Jesus’ parents, there is a time to trust them and others in whose care we have entrusted them.
Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6, 25 NIV
(See also Ephesians 6:4.)
On the other side (although there’s probably at least a little of both roles in most of us), when we are being taught and developed into more mature adults (socially, mentally, and spiritually), we should remember that even Jesus humbled Himself to authority. Not only did He set an example for us in accepting leadership, He demonstrated what it meant to grow up and be mature.
- I think that we can all understand the exceptions for special cases, like people with certain developmental disabilities. ↩