By Erik Reed
Developing people into mature Christians is the goal of discipleship. It is the bullseye. But we have to know the right way to decide if we’re actually making progress.
Everyone starts the Christian life as a baby, so churches should strive toward helping people grow in Christ.
We work to form disciples so we can present them as mature. The Apostle Paul established this as his mission in Colossians 1:28—“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
That should be the aim of our labor as church leaders too.
There are many ways to measure spiritual maturity. Different churches place a higher value on some metrics above others.
Certain denominations and types of churches produce a particular kind of mature disciple. Some churches judge spiritual maturity by theological knowledge. We anoint those who love to read as mature.
Sometimes we give stature to those who endorse names such as Luther, Calvin, and Sproul. The right theological affirmation equals spiritual development.
Spiritual gifts are king at other churches. They place a higher value on what people can do, instead of what they know.
We search for leadership competence, teaching ability, or musical talents. These gifts lead to opportunities and influence.
Strong business leaders become board members. Good communicators teach classes. Gifted singers get a microphone.
There’s nothing wrong with learning more or having skills and abilities. The problem comes when we equate these things with spiritual maturity.
You can possess all the biblical knowledge and every desirable gift, yet not be mature.
Pitching a Fit
I have pastored my church 14 years. Too frequently, I’ve quickly elevated someone who shows competency with the Bible or who has marketplace success.
When I make the mistake of putting these individuals in positions of leadership that their maturity level cannot support, it never turns out well.
Once, I placed a leader over a significant ministry who looked the part. They were extremely knowledgeable of the Bible and had an undeniable teaching gift.
They were not a staff member, but they needed to work with staff to execute the ministry in alignment with the church’s discipleship strategy. This brought to light the maturity issues.
This leader started implementing ministry plans without communicating them with staff or fitting them in line with our discipleship plan. These ideas would shape our church culture in the wrong way.
When a staff member met with them and expressed our concerns over the direction, it didn’t go well.
The ministry leader snapped at the staff member and revealed personal insecurities by accusing the staff member of saying things they had never said.
The leader contacted me after the meeting. This was their first tantrum, and it blindsided me.
The leader had lots of freedom to make decisions and lead without micromanagement. But when accountability appeared, a different side of this leader emerged.
A Greater Revealer
Sadly, this experience is not my only one. The situations may vary, but some semblance of the story above has unfolded before.
People I thought I knew shocked me with behavior unbecoming of a mature Christian.
In all my years of pastoring, I’ve learned this lesson: a person’s spiritual maturity isn’t truly visible until they don’t get their way. Then you see the person.
How does a person handle conflict? What’s their response when you don’t choose their ideas?
Larry Osborne says problems tend to arise when people sense a loss of power, prestige, or preference.
In other words, people not getting their way is usually the root of the outbursts we see in churches.
How people act when this occurs is a far greater measure of their spiritual maturity than their knowledge and gifting.
Some Additional Measures
We have to get better at this. Our churches need accurate measures for spiritual maturity.
It can’t only be knowledge and gifting we weigh. We must look for character that’s often revealed in challenging moments.
Here are three additional measures that can help us better evaluate someone’s spiritual maturity:
1. They trust leadership.
Mature disciples trust their leaders.
This doesn’t mean they’re “yes” men or women, but they respect the leaders God has given them. This makes them less combative and cynical.
Some of the most mature followers of Jesus I’ve met trusted their leaders. Conversely, some of the most immature, who believed they were mature, were those who were most cynical towards leaders.
2. They submit to leaders.
As they trust leadership, mature disciples submit to their leaders.
That doesn’t mean mindless allegiance. It’s a recognition God has put leaders in positions to make decisions.
Mature believers understand the weight of leadership and don’t want to be an unnecessary burden on their leaders. They don’t want to be divisive.
Potential leaders must have a history of being good followers who voice their opinions, but submit to biblical, healthy leadership.
3. They avoid pointless conflict.
As they trust and submit to their leaders, mature disciples get along with others within and outside the congregation.
Conflict is not bad, and sometimes you can’t avoid it, but when someone is always at the center of conflict, they’re the issue.
An inability to stay out of constant friction shows a lack of spiritual depth.
Spiritually mature people are gentle, gracious, and self-controlled in their interactions with others.
They display wisdom concerning which fights to pick. They play nice in the sandbox with others.
The goal of discipleship is to form mature believers. Don’t fall into the trap of only measuring it by knowledge and gifts.
Look for people whose character remains steadfast even when they don’t get their way. The folks who that often applies to trust their leaders, submit to authority, and get along with others.