The marks moved incrementally up the door frame no more than a half inch or more at a time. To the side they were assigned the initials of the one being measured: REC, TCC, PJC, KIC, and DMC. Measurements were taken on no particular schedule, but probably after a fair amount of pestering had transpired. In resignation – perhaps curiosity, but mostly to satisfy – the yard stick would be brought out as one by each the subjects stood. Shoulders back, eyes forward, head level as that same yard stick served first as marking point and then was brought down the wall to measure the height of the subject. Inches were converted to feet and inches called out to the nearest quarter or eighth. Growth was noted, cheered, celebrated, and marked for all of posterity on the frame behind the door to our utility room. Those marks, perhaps under a layer or two of paint, still exist today.
As the youngest of the above identified initials, and therefore the shortest for quite some time, I took specific interest in the gains being made in my growth in stature. Was I gaining on my siblings? How long until I might catch one of them? Who would it be? What would it be to look them in the eye? When would I surpass them? In anticipation I made several unofficial measurements of my own between those made by our mother or dad – the ones that really counted. By my own eye and hand I was always growing. Are you?
Growth is an expectation of Christ following discipleship. Just as a child expects to grow in stature, and thus have their mark move up the door frame, so a follower of Christ should expect to grow in maturity and experience the deepening of their faith. Growth is an expected companion to discipleship.
Paul spoke of it using the metaphor of food and infancy – stating that as one matures in Christ, he or she should move on from milk to solid food. (See I Cor. 3) He also wrote that we are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph. 4:15)
So many of Jesus’ teachings and parables deal with the concept of growth or growing. From yeast that expands to seed that grows to harvest, Jesus used the world he knew to teach about growth – kingdom growth. He spoke of growth in faith, from a mustard seed to a bush-like tree that houses the birds. Faith that is able to move mountains. Strong faith. Deep faith. Growing faith.
In the journey of faith it often seems that growth comes through struggle. When faced with difficulty or challenge we are presented with growth opportunities. Our faith is challenged to move or grow from simple platitudes to deeper assurances. We, like Jacob of the Old Testament, grow as we wrestle with God (Genesis 32). We, like Ananias, in the New Testament (Acts 9) grow as we are obedient to God. Sometimes we tell God – “no thanks, I’ve grown quite enough for now.” In our stubbornness, our laziness, our fear we allow our growth to become arrested – stalled. It’s in these moments that we need each other. We need the support and companionship of those who are in Christ with us to encourage our growth. Growing becomes more than an individual enterprise – it also belongs to the faith community.
“Is your church growing?” It’s a question people like to ask. Usually they are referring to bottom line kinds of growth – attendance, number of baptisms, new members, growth of offerings, footprint in the community. Statistics can be consulted and compared. Quantitative data is used in measurement – time to get out the yard stick!
It’s hard to not sound defensive if you respond with qualitative measures of growth – the kind that usually come in story and not data. Let me tell you about so and so and the growth I’ve seen in him. Or, you wouldn’t believe how so and so is growing in her faith. Both measures (quantitative and qualitative) are important. We would do well not to over emphasize one to the other.
I’ve often been tempted to answer the question with my own sequence of questions. “Are you growing in your faith?” “Where are you growing?” “Can you give me an example?” “How are you measuring that growth?” What would the door frame say?
As we age we tend to shrink in stature. Shoulders stoop, vertebrae compress, knees buckle, backs curve. It’s funny to think that some of those who’ve grown the most in Christ are, in their later life, much shorter than previously measured. They may even be overlooked and passed by in the main streams of living. But stop for a conversation, or listen to a prayer, and you might be amazed at the growth in these jars of clay.
Growth in Christ knows no statute of limitation and no expiration date. The growth of these saints will not be found on the door frames of their home, but perhaps in the legacy of their living, and in the wake of their witness.
So grow. Grow up. Grow deep. Grow humble. Grow in love. Grow in grace. Grow in Jesus.