The most daunting and challenging responsibility for church leaders is not church growth; it’s leading people to greater spiritual maturity.
We’ve learned much in the last thirty years about how to grow a church. Growing an organization is “easy” compared to helping a person grow as a spiritual human being.
We understand stuff like small groups, how to follow up on a new guest, children’s ministry, etc. We do well with org charts, financial reviews, and we almost have the coffee right. But the transformation of a person from a spiritual infant to spiritual maturity – Whoa! That you can’t fit in a blog post, a conference talk and even a good book can’t cover it all.
Personal transformation requires the grace and power of God, along with the desire and deliberate effort of each individual. Then, there is a “real and present” enemy who wants to stop the process! Only the courageous keep leading here.
What I love about all this is that there’s nothing more rewarding and meaningful than to be right square in the middle of it all! I’m just never bored – are you?!
The process of spiritual maturation is often messy and unclear. There is no formula or entirely right way. But we need a target. We need a direction to head in.
We know where it starts. We understand the big picture. The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20. Make disciples of Jesus! That’s the true north of spiritual maturity.
Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
Seems pretty clear, right?
But . . .
- What does it mean to make a disciple?
- What does it mean to be a disciple?
- What does it mean to be a mature disciple?
We can use favorite scriptures to help us such as:
But how do you define spiritual maturity?
What is the target that you aim for? We know it’s not a black and white formula, but some direction is needed.
This weekend, Pastor Kevin Myers, founding pastor of 12Stone Church where I serve as XP, gave the best definition I’ve heard in a long time. He said spiritual maturity is:
- Spiritual Intimacy – your heart experience with God.
- Biblical Knowledge – the truth embraced in your mind from the Word of God.
- Holy Obedience – Your will, that is, what you do — surrendering to the will and ways of God.
It’s the combination of all three that make this so powerful.
Pastor Kevin continued to say:
The risk is when you emphasize one of the three without the other two.
- Spiritual Intimacy without biblical knowledge and holy obedience becomes emotionalism.
- Biblical Knowledge without spiritual intimacy and holy obedience becomes intellectualism.
- Holy Obedience without spiritual intimacy and biblical knowledge becomes legalism.
I’d love to know your definition of spiritual maturity. Leave a comment if you have a few minutes.
I believe God would grant us some freedom with our words that define and shape spiritual maturity. But to keep those we serve and lead headed in the right direction, I believe that “biblical guideposts” are helpful to all of us.
The following three essential guideposts will help us point toward the “true north” of the Great Commission.
This is for all of us. No one ever fully “arrives” in this process of spiritual maturity.
3 Essential Guideposts:
1) An Eternal Mindset
Let’s be honest; there are easier roads to take in life. Christian maturity is the road less taken, and unless you believe that Heaven is real, and so is Hell, life becomes shallow and spiritual maturity doesn’t make sense.
An eternal perspective guides how we think, make decisions and treat people. It shapes how we handle our resources, work at our jobs and handle conflict.
Eternal vs. temporal is a complete game changer.
2) A Creation Framework
Human nature resists submission. No one likes being told what to do. We prefer being in charge. However, God is in charge, and we are not.
A creation narrative assumes a creator and the created. If we are created, then we are created on purpose and with a purpose.
This framework contains a specific design for our lives that includes submission to a greater will. Jesus experienced this struggle at Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36-39)
If Jesus did, even for a moment, it’s obvious that we will too.
A creation framework includes worship of the creator. The complexity is not in our joy practice of worshipping God, it’s found in letting go of worshipping the lesser gods. I’ve been a follower of Jesus for decades, and I’m still working on this!
Continual growing, learning and changing is part of a life committed to spiritual maturity.
3) A Redemptive Outlook
A redemptive perspective believes that relationships can be redeemed. That which is broken can be restored. This is excellent news for all of us.
I’ve often heard it said, that “people don’t change.” That’s not true. I’ve changed. I’ll bet you’ve changed. We’ve helped thousands of people change, through Christ, for the good.
People walk in a direction opposite of God, then they “turn around” and head in a new direction. They change! I love this part!
We sin, we fall, we get back up again. That’s part of the maturing process. The idea is we fall less often and get back up quicker.
Let me say that no matter how “impossible” the road to spiritual maturity may seem at times, it is, in fact, possible. Let’s stick together and keep going.
35 thoughts on “Is Spiritual Maturity an Impossible Road?”
Great Insight, Dan! The desperation and love for God brings in you all the three ingredients for Spiritual maturity. When you form or try to live a deep relationship with God, you get eternal insight, because He is eternal. When you love God, you submit to Him not because of His authority, but because of this love for Him. With the person whom you love, redemption is not a question, you do not think of redemption, its there; because you identify yourself with Him alone. That’s why Jesus promises to redeem all who love Him.
Thanks for your comment Vinay! Love is central to the process!
Great article. Do you have any thoughts about how congregational leaders know that members of the congregation are becoming more spiritually mature? Evidence of “church growth” is a little easier to see. If we had “congregants on the road to spiritual maturity” as a missionary pillar of the congregation’s plan, how do we know God is accomplishing that in our ministry?
Hi Tim, great question… The overarching idea is that they (we) become less focused on self and more focused on others. From a marriage relationship to serving in ministry, it’s more about giving. The central theme in maturity is love. How we love God and love others is at the core of spiritual maturity. On the surface this might sound vague or difficult to measure, yet I would contend that when people love unconditionally and consistently, its one of the easiest things ever to see.
Loved your insights the spiritual maturity message, and the value-add of your Guideposts! After that powerful message, I came home and journaled about my specific strategy in diving in deeper to my spiritual maturity. As far as bible knowledge, I have been looking for a good book that provides insights into the bible, maybe more from an academic perspective. If you have one to recommend, please let me know – just finished one of your other recommendations, Deep Work, and I loved it. I am willing to do a private retreat to dive into it, that’s how much I want to learn more!
Hi Camiile! Wasn’t sure if you are a 12Stoner or not, but if you are and you are local I would highly recommend Biblical Studies! In 2005 God encouraged me through my small group leader to take up His Word and begin reading. We began in Psalms and Proverbs and then moved into the Gospels. I then took the challenge to read through the whole Bible (which took me 4 years LOL.) But when I took Biblical Studies, it UNLOCKED God’s Word for me, it was awesome! I began with Christian Theology, then took Church History, Old Testament, New Testament and Mark. Now I love to take a chapter even a verse a day and study it, God reveals Himself in such an amazing way when we walk through His Door and seek His truth!
Praying that you too will find His insights!
Thank you, Eve. I have long thought about diving into that, I’m just concerned about the time commitment. I work a lot plus I lead a small group, and I know there is a lot of reading involved. Perhaps I could wade in with one course and see how it goes!
Yes ma’am, and I can completely relate! I was in the first class, when I took it I spent approximately 3 hours / week on the class between study, class sharing and papers. I know that they have since decreased some of the workload.
I will be praying for you, you will love it!
Hi Camille, I’d need to give that a little thought. There are hundreds of commentaries and general biblical studies books! Eve’s suggestion below is a great one!
Hey Camille. A book that I’ve found helpful is “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem. I’m too old and tired to carry around a book that big through so I listened to Dr. Grudem teach through it in it’s entirety for free in iTunes.
Thank you, that is very helpful! Another friend recommended a series by Ray VonderLaan, which I watched part of last night and loved! He puts the bible in historical context, I watched the modules on discipleship!
I like this a lot! To me, I think another way of describing spiritual maturity that fits with these concepts is the word Trustworthy. I’ve read and believe that trustworthiness is a combination of “character + competence” and it takes both to be trustworthy. Spiritual character + spiritual competence results in being trustworthy or mature and embodies all three of these elements: intimacy + knowledge + obedience. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says “It is required that those who have been given a trust, must prove faithful.” If leadership is influence and as believers, our goal is to influence others toward Christ, then we must constantly pursue this attitude of maturity or trustworthiness. If people do not find us trustworthy, they will not allow us to connect with them and influence them.
Hey Eddie, Thanks for adding value to the conversation! Blessings!
This post, and the clip from Kevin Meyers is very helpful as we try to define spiritual maturity, and move people in our circle of influence forward to that end. His three areas of spiritual intimacy, Biblical knowledge and holy obedience make a great three-legged stool. They remind me of the three words in John Wesley’s personal seal: Believe, Love, Obey.
I agree with Tim Schwan that the next question is how do we measure, or how do we know that the people of our church are becoming more spiritually mature.
Hi Bruce! Thanks for your comments here and I see the connect to Wesley too. Tim did ask a great question… check out my response to him. Hope you are doing well!
As PK introduced this topic I said to myself, “You too eh? Yeah, I’ve been thinking and writing on all of these things too!” because spiritual maturity is foundation to the development and planning of our church plant. But intentional discipleship is not where it stops – our plans include a restorative component that lays foundation for discipleship to build upon. Through restoration we see a path that naturally leads wounded individuals to maturity as leaders who disciple and develop believers that mature into discipling leaders.
Thankfully, we do have a guide and a template to develop mature believers and PK hit the mission on the head when quoting the Great Commission, but I would emphasize “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is both vertically and horizontally relational and is in keeping of all of the Law and the Prophets.
To pursue this, I believe we as leaders must:
1. Wholly commit to a philosophy of maturity
2. Use Jesus’ approach as a template for the process of producing mature leaders (The Bible gives us this)
3. Build practical programs to be implemented on the local church level through lay leaders
4. Recognize maturity and restoration as a progressive process
5. Multiply these processes through local outreach and inter-church partnerships
God created us in His image and He desires that we become like Him. This is at the core of the Law and the Prophets and central to our mission as pastors and leaders. To fearlessly lead in love, rooted in Christ, encouraging and admonishing one another in love, that the saints be strengthened and the lost be loved in real and tangible ways that demonstrate God’s loving passion for them in Christ Jesus.
These concepts are at the core of our vision of what we hope to see as a movement across the churches, of personal and corporate growth and maturity, through specific tools which are given us in the Bible. I will be watching to see what PK has to say on this next week and pray for him and 12Stone church as a body in these exciting but challenging times.
Hey Richard – Wow, great thoughts here. Thanks for sharing! I pray God’s best for your church plant!
Thanks for taking the time to add to this conversation. Your insights speak to me as I am in the second year of leading a group of women who are aggressively pushing the envelope on their spiritual maturity. Slowly I have seen a paradigm shift to service, love, accountability and life analysis based on Christ’s teaching, not on emotion. Tonight they said they want to meet all summer to pursue these concepts we are learning!
Hi Camiile, Congratulations on your groups decision to pursue spiritual maturity in the summer season! It really is a game changer when you seek and follow the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength and share that love with all you meet in the day. Each of us is a minister of the faith in Christ and called to be God’s representative on earth. In that way, each of the women in your group are leaders, encouragers and facilitators. The value and critical importance of having (and maintaining) a “safe place” in which to meet and share cannot be underestimated. I pray that you (your group) is blessed with many opportunities to share the love of Christ and open the door of your group to new hearts seeking the voice of truth. This is a work of the Spirit. All we have to do is be there and listen for His still small voice.
Hey, Dan. Without oversimplifying it too much, you referred to John 15, where Jesus indicated that the mature, fruit bearing believer ultimately flourishes out of regular intimacy/abiding with him. A Spirit-formed, true biblical understanding of intimacy (e.g. Rev. 3:20) should mitigate against emotionalism, intellectualism, and legalism. They are not compatible with a believer who daily clings to the heart of God. As for measuring spiritual growth (which certainly fluctuates)…in my own life I’ve been challenged by the amount of time between when I sin/respond inappropriately/ignore the Spirit’s prompting and when I confess and let the Spirit “recalculate” my direction. The shorter the time frame…I thank God for progress. The longer time frame…there is much more work to be done in my heart. It’s a long road. As a 24/7 lifestyle, it’s not easily measured by church leadership, but there will be evidence. It’s likely more accurately measured by those we live with.
Hi Don, you are not wired to “oversimplify”! 🙂 You are naturally a deep and thorough thinker and processor –so thanks once again, for your thoughts. I so agree with you, our maturity is best “measured” (if we choose to measure and I think some evidence is important) by those we live with. It’s under pressure that we discover our real selves.
Hey, Dan. Long time reader, first time commentor. Perhaps some creative mind could come up with a kind of “Christian Maturity Credit Rating”, kind of like how we do all those different spiritual gifts assessments. Seriously, though… I’ve found that a solid way to assess a person’s maturity level in the Christian life, whether in the context of counseling or friendly conversation, is to ask two things: 1. What steps do you take to understand God’s will and direction in your life? 2. What do you believe God wants you to do right now?
Hey Rich, glad you jumped into the comment mix! I love your two questions! Thanks!
Hi Dan – like Rich, I’m a long time reader, first time commenter! 🙂
This is great stuff! Really appreciate it. I wonder though, if spiritual maturity is possible without a consistent life of witness & sharing the Gospel?
Perhaps this was addressed in the context of PK’s whole sermon (which I haven’t seen/heard)… Perhaps this is addressed as part of holy obedience. Too often I’ve found myself and others thinking it possible to become spiritually mature without ever finding ways to share Christ with those who don’t know Him. And my concern is when we think we’re mature – possibly even showing signs of spiritual intimacy, bible knowledge, and holy obedience – without ever sharing Christ with people outside of the Church.
Thanks for jumping in Clint! You are spot on! And yes, it is in PK’s larger context. A maturing church (maturing believers) doesn’t make the programming and content all about them, they reach out to those who are not as far along in their spiritual journey. The caution is to stay clear of legalism, which can come from enforcing a certain way, or time, or style, or even a number… in terms of sharing our faith. If we give freedom in how and when that is done, (and not judgment when it’s not done), I agree, sharing Christ is clearly part of all three components of spiritual maturity that PK shared.
Thanks Dan, that’s a really good caution… amazing how quickly & easily we can slide (even with best intentions) into the various “isms” PK warned of. Appreciate your response – thanks.
I’ve just reached out in my church, which largely focuses on reaching out to people who don’t like church, to receive some intentional discipling. I have been studying on my own for some time and have joined various small groups, none of which really fill my need and desire for more Biblical knowledge (I’m definitely at risk of becoming an intellctualist if I lose my grounding!). I have connected with one of our pastors who believes that intellectual knowledge and deep study of the Bible is a great way to grow our faith. In my recent studying, which was partly inspired by a Bible study I’ve just written – and am now sending out to betas to test!! – I have never felt more alive and more on fire in my faith. I’ve been digging and asking big questions without easy answers and I feel so full right now, it’s amazing.
Anyway, Pastor Steve sent me over here to read and watch this and I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you for breaking this down and revealing the importance of the trifecta – we must have all to have it all.
You are most welcome Cari. And thanks for sharing a little of your story. I so glad you are fired up about God’s Word, and keep the three components in balance.
Thanks for sharing this Dan. PK’s three components are really helpful as I try to keep my spiritual maturity on track. Another definition of spiritual maturity (mostly ripped off from Dallas Willard) that I’ve found personally helpful is “to live each moment as if Jesus can be trusted.” It’s not quite as specific, but as an old person I appreciate having less to remember (no offense to other old people).
Love that Roy! Willard is a favorite! And I can relate to “less to remember”!!!
The Emmaus Movement – an organization whose goal is to assist churches in shaping and growing spiritual leaders in the church use a three legged stool to represent a complete definition of spiritual maturity. The first leg, Piety, requires us to give our hearts to God. The second leg, Study, requires us to give our minds to God. The final leg, Christian Action, requires us to give our hands and feet to God. The stool requires ALL THREE to be there – otherwise, it does not have the ability to stand up on its own. Having intense focus on one of the legs of this stool still does not make up for the lack of the other missing leg(s). And as PK points out, the by product of a missing leg can lead to Emotionalism, Intellectualism or Legalism. We learn that only when we keep the focus and balance on all three legs of the stool, is it able to function and be utilized in its proper way. We are to daily evaluate the stability of our stool keeping in the forefront the necessity and need to care for each of its legs! When we are able to do this, we find that spiritual maturity is the gift received!
Hi Kevonne, hope you are doing well! Thanks for sharing this, so confirming of PK’s thoughts!
From personal experience and helping others grow in Christ, I believe that the fruit of the Spirit is proportional to spiritual growth. The more of His love that we are able to receive from Him and the more we are able to give His love back to Him and then the more we are able to give His love to precious, priceless people and then the more we are able to receive His love from them, the more we are transformed into His image in ever increasing splendor. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Love covers, believes, hopes and endures all things. Love never falls, fails or ends. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
Thank you Dan, that is uplifting and inspiring.