Developing Mature Members
Ephesians 4:12) [LB] Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity;
2 Corinthians 13:9) [LB] We are glad to be weak and despised if you are really strong. Our greatest wish and prayer is that you will become mature Christians.
Ephesians 4:12) [Phillips] We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head.
The New Testament teaches clearly that God wants us all to grow up into spiritual maturity. God’s ultimate goal for us is to become like Jesus. That’s been His plan since the beginning.
Romans 8:29) [NIV] For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
God wants every believer to develop the character of Christ. How does that happen?
Myths About Spiritual Maturity:
Maturity Myth # 1: Spiritual growth is automatic once you are born again. Many churches have no organized plan for following up on new believers and no comprehensive strategy for developing members to maturity. They leave it all to chance, assuming that Christians will automatically grow to maturity if they attend church services. They think if they encourage people to show up for church the job will get done. This is obviously not true. There are many Christians who have attended church for years and are still spiritual babies.
At Saddleback, on their Life Development Process diagram, the task of equipping people with the habits necessary for spiritual maturity is called “getting people to second base.”
Hebrews 5:12) [GW] By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food.
Millions of Christians have grown older without growing up.
The truth is this: Spiritual growth is intentional. It requires commitment and effort to grow spiritually. A person must want to grow, decide to grow, and make an effort to grow. Discipleship begins with a decision – it doesn’t have to be a complex decision, but it does have to be sincere. The disciples certainly didn’t understand all of the implications of their decision when they decided to follow Christ; they simple expressed a desire to follow him. Jesus took the simple, but sincere, decision and built on it.
Philippians 2:12b-13) [GW] In the same way continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
13) It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him.
Paul tells us to “work out,” not “work on,” our salvation. We can’t add anything to what God has done to save us. We can, however, with the help of God, work out our salvation, carrying it to its logical conclusion. Spiritual maturity is the result of decisions and commitments that we make.
Romans 6:13) [GNB] Nor must you surrender any part of yourselves to sin to be used for wicked purposes. Instead, give yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes.
[MSG] Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time–remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!–into God’s way of doing things.
Maturity Myth # 2: Spiritual growth is mystical, and maturity is attainable by only a select few. Mention the term “spirituality” today and many people conjure up an image of someone in a white robe, sitting in a yoga position, burning incense, and chanting, “ommmmm” with his/her eyes closed. Many Christians feel that spiritual maturity is so far out of their reach, they don’t even try to attain it. They believe spiritual maturity is only for super saints.
The truth is this: Spiritual growth is very practical. Any believer can grow to maturity if he/she will develop the habits necessary for spiritual growth. Paul often compared training for the Christian life to the way athletes stay in shape.
1 Timothy 4:7b) [NLT] Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness.
The path to spiritual fitness is as practical as the path to physical fitness. Spiritual fitness is simply a matter of learning certain spiritual exercises and being disciplined to do them until they become habits. Character is shaped by the habits we develop.
Maturity Myth # 3: Spiritual maturity can occur instantly if you find the right “key.” Books that promise “four easy steps to maturity,” or “the key to instant sainthood” reinforce the myth that Christian character can be acquired overnight. Though we have instant coffee and instant potatoes there is no such thing as instant spiritual maturity.
The truth is this: Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. Spiritual growth is a journey that will last a lifetime. Pastor Warren has spent a great deal of time trying to understand the components of this process and finding a way to communicate them in a simple way that his members can grasp and remember. It’s his conviction that believers grow faster when we provide a track to grow on. The result is Saddleback’s philosophy of edification, which they call the Life Development Process.
The Life Development Process uses the baseball diamond as an analogy for growth because it’s universally understood in America. It’s easy for people to understand how they want them to mature when they see a milestone of spiritual growth assigned to each base. They explain to their members that their goal is to help them move around the bases of life. They want Saddleback Sam to score!
Saddleback assigns a staff pastor to each base: membership, ministry, and missions. Each pastor serves as a “base coach,” – someone who helps the runners make it safely to the next base.
If we convince people of the importance of scoring and give them a coach at each base, it’s much easier to get people to home plate. Likewise, if we lead people to commit to growing spiritually, teach them some basic habits, and give them guidance as they progress around the bases, we can expect to see them grow.
Maturity Myth # 4: Spiritual maturity is measured by what you know. Many churches evaluate spiritual maturity solely on the basis of how well someone can identify Bible characters, interpret Bible passages, quote Bible verses, and explain Biblical theology. The ability to debate doctrine is considered by some as the ultimate proof of spirituality. However, while knowledge of the Bible is foundational to spiritual maturity, it isn’t the total measurement of it.
The truth is this: Spiritual maturity is demonstrated more by behavior than by beliefs. The Christian life isn’t just a matter of creeds and convictions; it includes conduct and character. Our deeds must be consistent with our creeds.
James 2:18b) [GW] Show me your faith apart from the good things you do. I will show you my faith by the good things I do.
James 3:13) [GNB] Are there any of you who are wise and understanding? You are to prove it by your good life, by your good deeds performed with humility and wisdom.
Paul connected belief and behavior.
Ephesians 5:8) [NLT] For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it!
Jesus said it best.
Matthew 7:16a) [NIV] By their fruit you will recognize them.
It is fruit, not knowledge, which demonstrates a person’s maturity.
Matthew 7:24-25) [GNB] “So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.
25) The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.
It’s only beneficial to know the Word if we practice the Word.
At Saddleback Rick teaches “Five Levels of Learning.”
1. Biblical knowledge.
Rick will teach more on that in the next section of this chapter.
The real danger of having knowledge without the other components is that it produces pride.
1 Corinthians 8:1b) [GW] We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes people arrogant, but love builds them up.
Knowledge needs to be tempered by character. Some of the most carnal Christians Rick has know are veritable storehouses of Biblical knowledge. They could explain and defend any doctrine, yet were unloving, self-righteous, and judgmental. It’s impossible to have spiritual maturity and pride at the same time.
Another danger of having knowledge is that it increases responsibility.
James 4:17) [NLT] Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
Maturity Myth # 5: Spiritual growth is a personal and private matter. The idolatry of individualism in American culture has influenced even the way we think about spiritual growth. Most spiritual formation teaching tends to be self-centered and self-focused without any reference to our relationship to other Christians. This is completely unbiblical and ignores much of the New Testament.
The truth is this: Christians need relationships to grow. We don’t grow in isolation from others; we develop in the context of fellowship. We find this throughout the New Testament.
Hebrews 10:24-25) [GW] We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things.
25) We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming.
God has purposed that spiritual growth occurs in the context of family. Relationships play an important role in moving people to maturity; they are absolutely essential for spiritual growth. Fellowship is not optional for a believer; it’s mandatory. When a Christian is not connected in loving relationships with other believers that Christian is disobeying all of the “one another” commands given in the N.T.
1 John 1:7) [GW] But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin.
John claims that the proof that we are walking in the light is that we have a relationship with other believers.
1 John 3:14) [GW] We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love other believers. The person who doesn’t grow in love remains in death.
John also wants us to examine our claim to be a Christian based on whether, or not, we love other believers. If we love other believers shouldn’t we desire to be around them? Do those who have no desire to go where Christians hang out [church] truly love those Christians?
1 John 4:20) [GW] Whoever says, “I love God,” but hates another believer is a liar. People who don’t love other believers, whom they have seen, can’t love God, whom they have not seen.
John points out that the quality of our love for God is seen in the quality of our love for His children.
Matthew 5:23-24) [MSG] “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you,
24) abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.
Jesus teaches us in this passage that we cannot be in fellowship with God and out of fellowship with believers at the same time.
Maturity Myth # 6: All you need is Bible study to grow. Many evangelical churches have been built on this myth. Rick calls them “classroom churches.” They stress the teaching of Bible content and doctrine, but give little, if any, emphasis to believers’ emotional, experiential, and relational development.
The truth is this: It takes a variety of spiritual experiences with God to produce spiritual maturity. Genuine spiritual maturity includes having a heart that worships God, building and enjoying relationships, using your gifts and talents in service to others, and sharing your faith with lost people.
Any church strategy to bring people to maturity must include all of these experiences:
- Bible study.
In other words, spiritual growth occurs by participating in all five purposes of the church. Mature Christians do more than study the Christian life – they experience it.
Because some churches overemphasize experiences, other churches have reacted to that by removing all emphasis on experience, and viewing every experience with suspicion, especially if it moves the emotions.
Rick once heard Gene Getz say, “Bible study by itself will not produce spirituality. In fact, it will produce carnality if it isn’t applied and practiced.” Rick agrees, and so do I. Study without service produces Christians with judgmental attitudes and spiritual pride.
James had to warn the first Christians.
James 1:22) [TEV] Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.
When any Christian’s schedule consists completely of receiving Biblical input with no outflow of ministry or evangelism, his/her spiritual growth will stagnate. Impression without expression leads to depression.
Pastor Warren isn’t de-emphasizing the importance of Bible study. He’s simply stating that Bible study isn’t effective if we aren’t practicing what the Bible teaches.
Designing Our Strategy:
Saddleback’s strategy for developing disciples is based on the six truths Rick identified in contrast to each of the six myths.
They believe that spiritual growth:
- Begins with commitment,
- Is a gradual process,
- Involves developing habits,
- Is measured by five factors,
- Is stimulated by relationships,
- And requires participation in all five purposes of the church.
Raise the level of commitment. Rick has always loved Elton Trueblood’s name for the church, “The Company of the Committed.” It would be wonderful if churches were known for the commitment of their members. Sadly, churches are often held together by committees rather than commitment.
Each time we raise the standards for leadership we’ll bring everyone else in the church along a little bit. “A rising tide raises all the boats in the harbor.”
How do you get people to commit to a process of spiritual growth?
You must ask people for commitment. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. If we don’t ask members for commitment, you can be certain that other groups will: civic groups, service clubs, political parties, or para-church ministries. The question isn’t whether or not people are going to be committed, but rather who is going to get their commitment.
Little League parents are required to provide refreshments, transportation, trophies, and victory parties. There’s nothing voluntary about that commitment. Little League is important. Is it more important than church?
Ask confidently for a big commitment. Jesus never hesitated to ask people to drop everything and follow Him. Rick tells us that an interesting phenomenon is that the greater commitment you request, the greater response you will get. People want to be committed to something that gives significance to their lives.
Luke 14:33) In the same way, none of you can be my disciples unless you give up everything.
Pastors are sometimes worried that if they ask for a big commitment they’ll drive people away, but people don’t resent being asked for a big commitment if there’s a big purpose behind it.
Be specific in asking for commitment. Tell people exactly what’s expected of them. At Saddleback they explain specifically what they’re after.
They ask people to:
- Commit to Christ,
- Commit to baptism,
- Commit to membership,
- Commit to the habits for maturity,
- Commit to ministry,
- And commit to fulfilling their life mission.
Build on commitment rather than toward commitment. They challenge people to make a commitment and then grow into it. It’s like choosing to become a parent. Very few couples feel competent to parent before they have their first child. However, after the child is born the couple grows into their parenting role.
It’s important to celebrate each time someone commits to moving forward to the next base. The ability to make and keep commitments is a sign of maturity that people deserve to be recognized and rewarded for.
Help people develop spiritual growth habits. Though Saddleback teaches that being a disciple requires discipline, they believe these habits are to be enjoyed rather than endured. They don’t want people to be afraid of spiritual exercises that will strengthen and develop them.
Human beings are creatures of habit. If we don’t develop good habits, we will develop bad ones.
Build A Balanced Christian Education Program. Rick teaches that there are five measurements of spiritual growth: knowledge, perspective, conviction, skills, and character. They build their Christian education program around those levels of learning.
Concerning knowledge, at Saddleback they want their members to study five “core” books before they branch out into other studies. These books are Genesis, John, Romans, Ephesians, and James.
Concerning perspective, they teach that perspective is seeing things from God’s point of view.
Concerning conviction, they teach that your convictions include your values, commitments, and motivations. Rick likes what Howard Hendricks said, “A belief is something you will argue about; a conviction is something you will die for.”
Concerning skills, they teach that a skill is the ability to do something with ease and accuracy. You develop a skill, not by listening to a lecture, but by practice and experience. Knowledge and perspective are concerned with knowing. Conviction and character are concerned with being. Skills are related to doing.
Sow a thought and you reap an act.
Sow an act and you reap a habit.
Sow a habit and you reap a character.
Sow a character and you reap a destiny.
Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church