You’ve had it happen before, people tell you they are leaving your church because ‘they’re not growing’ or they’re looking for ‘deeper teaching.’
They claim they need a place where they can grow and mature more spiritually.
While I totally understand that people leave churches for legitimate reasons (I have left a denomination at one point), I’ve begun to sense a trend over time. While everyone might have one or two life-time changes in them, the kind of ‘this isn’t doing it for me’ movement that characterizes church today alarms me.
I’ve noticed that the people who often claimed to be the most spiritually ‘mature’ (or at least on that quest) are often people who are:
- Somewhat judgmental
- Generally disinterested in reaching their unchurched friends
- Serially dissatisfied
- Often unwilling to actually commit long-term to any local church
Question: are these really the characteristics of maturity?
Maybe what poses as ‘maturity’ isn’t always maturity.
Here are three points of confusion I’ve noticed in the maturity discussion in the church today:
Depth of knowledge is seen as the goal of maturity. It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.
Clarity is mistaken for superficiality. Sometimes I think people assume a teaching is ‘deep’ because they can’t understand it. They walk out of church and you ask them what they learned. They say “I”m not sure, but wow, it was deep.” How helpful is that?
Preachers need to be clear, but often, there’s a pressure on us ‘to go deeper’ by offering information that’s confusing or even irrelevant in the name of ‘being deep’. I always shoot for clear, even though that’s sometimes more work. It’s easier to be confusing than it is to be clear. And I still shoot for clear even though I know my inbox will get messages from people who can’t understand why we’re not ‘deeper’. But if you want to reach unchurched people (here are 9 signs you are ready to reach unchurched people) and truly help even Christians mature, you need to be clear (Paul, by the way, seems to agree).
Many Christians also appreciate clarity because, unlike complexity, clarity is helpful. If you really want to grow, clarity is of tremendous value.
People think the church is responsible for their spiritual growth. People leave churches because they’re not growing. But whose responsibility is growth? Theirs. Yours. Mine. Why is that people who say they are most passionate about maturity blame others for their lack of maturity? I just don’t get that. Isn’t responsibility a sign of maturity?
For sure, the church can help. In the same way a gym can help you get fit, a friend can help you through a tough time. But you are responsible getting in shape, for getting better and even for your personal and spiritual growth.
So what are some marks of a different kind of ‘maturity’ in the church today? Here are five I see:
A passion for application. Biblical knowledge is ultimately designed for application. The kind of maturity that I think honour God most deeply is knowledge applied in love. Our lives should be different. Our marriages should be different. Our parenting should be different. Our love for our neighbours and community should be different. Our confession and repentance should be deep and authentic. Our transparency should be authentic. And we should be radically committed to living out our faith.
Humility. True Christian maturity has always been marked by humility.
A servant’s heart. True maturity comes in many things (including faith) when your quest becomes about others, not yourself. Mature Christians live for Christ and live for others.
A love for unchurched people. If you consider the Apostle Paul to be a mature Christian, consider his obsession with unchurched people. Eventually it got him killed. Real maturity is not a life lived in pursuit of self or even the ‘found’ – it’s a life lived pursuing others and the lost.
A deep investment. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I do think one of the marks of mature faith is a deep investment in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes I wonder if you checked the giving records of people who complain most about being fed, and you will see scant evidence of a sacrificial investment in the Kingdom of God. Conversely, you will see many people deeply committed to quietly serving others who have a deep investment in the Kingdom. Think about that for a while.