The Church and Perpetual Adolescence

Josh Buice

In 1946, President Truman threw out the first pitch on opening day of baseball season in Washington.  The picture you see below documented the occasion and it hangs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  What’s most interesting to me is not that a president would throw out the first pitch of a baseball season, but that baseball fans would assemble to watch a game wearing dresses and suits.  The men were dressed in three-piece suites and wearing top hats.  The women were wearing dresses and overcoats.  Let’s just say, times have changed.  Diana West said in her book titled, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization, “These days, of course, father and son dress more or less alike, from message-emblazoned T-shirts to chunky athletic shoes, both equally at ease in the baggy rumple of eternal summer camp.  In the mature male, these trappings of adolescence have become more than a matter of comfort or style; they reveal a state of mind a reflection of a personality that hasn’t fully developed, and doesn’t want to–or worse, doesn’t know how.” [1]


Not only has time changed in the way baseball fans dress, but that same pattern is also visible in the way church members dress.  Historically, church members would wear their “Sunday best” to worship, but those days are quickly fading away.  Today many contemporary churches have branded themselves with a “come as you are” image.  This is not only a pattern in the pew, but it’s likewise visible in the pulpit.  In many cases, the pastor doesn’t even have a pulpit, and he may or may not own a suit.  Let’s just say, times have changed.

Today’s church is far different than it was 75 years ago.  Tragically, the difference is not based solely upon clothing and hair styles.  We’re living in a day where mature men are becoming a rare thing in the life of the church.  From skinny jeans to emoji communication, we’ve abandoned the serious pursuit of manhood and womanhood in the life of the church.  There was once a time where teenagers were discipled and taught doctrine, the importance of worship, the necessity of the prayer meeting, and the need to pursue wisdom and holiness from God.  Unfortunately, today we’re seeing forty year old teenagers who have little skill in carrying on a serious conversation without endless repetitions of “like” and “dude” being thrown around in rapid succession.

Look at the attire of presidents in U.S. history and it reveals much about the attitude and emphasis of the culture.  For instance, President John F. Kennedy was not only a very young president, but he was likewise the first president to refrain from wearing a hat openly and routinely.  Interestingly his presidency had an emphasis upon the youth culture and what followed his administration (after he was assassinated) was a very clear focus on the younger population.  It was almost a deemphasis upon the older population.  It seems that the same thing happened in the evangelical church.  How often have we seen an unhealthy emphasis on the youth of the church and a deemphasis upon the adults?  Have we created an atmosphere in the church where it’s difficult for adults to grow up?

If asked to provide an honest evaluation, does your church promote and aid maturity among the younger population or would you say that your church promotes a dangerous perpetual adolescence?  Are thirty and forty year old men still throwing Xbox parties while finding it difficult to communicate without their cell phones?  Does your church culture promote the “fortysomething teenager” mentality or a serious minded pursuit of adulthood through maturity in life and doctrine?  Are you seeing a passion among younger adults to grow in holiness and to know God through His Word?  Do you see a dangerous delay among men in choosing a bride and starting a family?  Are men in your church lazy and disinterested in holding down a job and providing for their family?  Are the young ladies in your church more interested in getting together to watch “The Bachelor” as opposed to prayer and Bible study?

Allow me to make a clarifying remark.  Sadly I’ve met men who faithfully dressed in a suit and tie for worship on Sunday, but they didn’t know much about God.  Outwardly they appeared to be mature, but doctrinally they were shallow at best.  I’m not saying that if a forty year old man plays a video game or uses an emoji in a text message that he’s immature.  What I am saying is that the pursuit of maturity and wisdom among adults (especially men) in the church today is lacking.  We’re living in a time in church history where it seems that adolescence abounds.  According to Melinda Penner, “An extended male adolescence marks the lifestyles, expectations, and behavior of far too many young males, whose masculine identity is embraced awkwardly, if at all.” [2]  Perhaps we can connect the dots of immaturity in doctrine with a casual attitude toward worship, but that’s not always the case.

When we worship together as a church, there should be a high view of God, a robust understanding of His sovereignty, and a humble sense of gratitude through a consideration of God’s amazing grace.  Our worship services should not come across as VBS for adults.  Our fellowship among the church should not be shallow and immature, but rich and spiritually beneficial.  The posture of the preacher should reflect the seriousness of his assignment and the weightiness of the burden that lies upon his shoulders every time he enters the pulpit and opens God’s Word.  No matter what the context may be, the church should gather for worship with an attitude of thanksgiving, a desire to sing praises to our exalted triune God, an emphasis should be placed on genuine prayer to God, and a longing to hear from God through His Word should be pulsating in the hearts of the people.  The children of the church should progress upward in sanctification and transition into adulthood at the proper time and in the proper manner.  According to Titus 2, we’re to train the younger generation to follow in our footsteps.  Are we leading the younger generation into mature adulthood as followers of Christ or a dangerous path of perpetual adolescence?

Immaturity among the adults today will produce immature and perpetual adolescence within the church tomorrow.  Something must be done to alter this pattern.  Don Whitney writes, “In my own pastoral and personal Christian experience, I can say that I’ve never known a man or woman who came to spiritual maturity except through discipline. Godliness comes through discipline.” [3] The evangelical church today needs a true revival of holiness.  Holiness produces maturity, because by nature a person who is progressing in holiness will not desire to remain in a state of perpetual immaturity in life or doctrine.  As the church returns to the Word and has an unbreakable confidence in the sufficiency of God’s Word, only then will God’s church become discontent with the trivialities and mesmerized by God.  If anyone should be fighting to save the adult from extinction it should be the church of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-16 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

  1. Diana West, The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization, (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2007), 2.
  2. Melinda Penner, “Perpetual Adolescence” (, 2005).
  3. Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 1991), 17.
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Author The Church and Perpetual Adolescence

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.