Q: How do I teach a woman who is much older than I am and who has been a born-again Christian for a tremendous amount of years, but is still a baby spiritually?
Answering this question requires getting to know this woman as a whole person, her story. Along the way, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Be certain of your diagnosis.
What makes you call her a spiritual baby? Does she not know where Nahum is in the Scriptures? Or is she saying something that rubbed you the wrong way personally? We only see a snapshot of people who attend a weekly Bible study, or Sunday school class. Have some healthy doubt that you may not be seeing the complete picture. Sometimes trauma and other personal suffering can affect how someone interacts with others. Sometimes women might joke or tease inappropriately to hide their pain. If there is something else going on, address it with compassion. Get professional counsel if needed.
- Get to know her outside of class and seek to answer the question, why hasn’t she grown spiritually all these years?
Perhaps your assessment is accurate. Why would she now be interested in your class? Answering these questions could go a long way in helping you know how best to approach teaching her. If she’s been a believer for many years and hasn’t grown, there must be a reason. The situation might be an opportunity for you to get to know her story, and being a safe place to be known can be the beginning of helping her deepen her faith with Christ.
- Scripture tells us this circumstance is not new and offers a path forward.
In Hebrews comes a stern warning to believers who never grew up:
"About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." (Heb. 5:12–14)
In Corinthians, Paul addresses the same problem with similar language:
"But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,for you are still of the flesh.For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Cor. 3:2–3)
In both instances, a back to basics approach is needed. I find it interesting that in Hebrews the writer says someone needs to teach you these things again.
But my sense is that your angst is more in the area of approach. That is where taking time to really get to know her and asking questions can go a long way in establishing a rapport and building trust. There might have been a great many dangers, toils and snares she has had to endure to bring her to where she is now. Having a compassionate, listening ear who is interested in her spiritual growth may be a godsend to her.
- Be willing to learn as well as teach.
An older woman who is a “baby” Christian can put a younger Christian teacher in a very tricky spot. As with any student, no one likes to feel like a project. An older woman will doubtless pick up on that faster than most. You have zeroed in on her obvious deficit. What are the assets that she might bring to the class or your relationship with her? Letting her know that she has traits that you respect, skills you would like to learn, can also soften any resentment or jealousy she might experience in having a younger woman teach her about growing in her faith.
- Be much in prayer.
You can teach all the right doctrine with the utmost humility, approach her with the greatest compassion of all time, and have accessed a host of professionals to advise you on her hurts and garnered all sorts of insights as to why she has not grown all these years but you can be sure of this—your efforts will lack power if they aren’t fueled by prayer. Be pounding the doors of heaven for this saint, as the devil will be fighting to keep her apathy well intact. And never forget this: it is the Lord, ultimately, who changes the heart and causes it to grow.