Define Spiritual Maturity
By Andy Stanley and Bill Willets
Not Just A Plan
Over the years I have noticed that some people seem to equate spiritual growth with the accomplishment of a process or plan. They seem to believe that mature Christ-followers are those who have endured the equivalent of spiritual boot camp. If you have successfully undergone a regimen of classes, seminars, and pre-scribed activities, you are perceived as mature. If you finish the list, you have arrived. You are discipled. Project completed. This perspective assumes that spiritual maturity comes at a point in
time – namely when the process or curriculum has been completed.
I am all too familiar with this curriculum approach to spiritual maturity and what it produces. I helped develop one of these processes myself several years ago at another church. Back then 1 called it my “track to spiritual growth.” To be honest with you, it was more like a “pathway to spiritual burnout.” 1 illustrated my process using a funnel. The top of the funnel was wide, but with each passing step the circumference of the funnel narrowed. Adhering to this process (or so I thought) would result in the goal a more fully y discipled participant.
The first step in this profound process was for people to attend the Sunday morning worship service. Easy enough. After that, they were to attend a Sunday school class that would pro-vide them with a relational connection and another opportunity for someone to speak at them. The third step in this “funnel of fun” was for them to break out into a sub-group, where the care and prayer needs of the class would be addressed. The fourth step was for them to take advantage of the plethora of disciple-ship and equipping opportunities we provided on a regular basis. Lastly, we wanted them to find a place of personal ministry where they could use their spiritual gifts. Needless to say, this track was not user-friendly and frustrated the participants and the point leader (me). It was developed with the right goal in mind, but it produced something different; worn-out, well-informed graduates were the only fruit born from this life-draining model.
A curriculum or a series of classes may be helpful but they shouldn’t be considered the determinants for spiritual growth. They may help people become better informed about their faith, but they don’t automatically lead people to maturity
What Do You Want People To Do?
If completing plans or consuming curriculums isn’t what we’re after, what do we want people to do? How are people going to become what we want them to become? What demonstrates a growing relationship with Jesus Christ? Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 give us the answer. In this familiar passage, Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses. He replied:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems clear that Jesus is saying that loving God and loving your neighbor is what it all comes down to. He says everything written in the Scriptures up to that point could be reduced to those two commands. In other words, the activity and instruction of God for all time can be summed up in two things: loving Him and loving others. That’s it. These two activities give evidence of a person’s spiritual growth and maturity.
It’s important to note that the love Jesus speaks of in this pas-sage is not a one-time kind of love. The verb He uses implies continual action. Our love for Him and our love for our neighbors are to be repeatedly and continually expressed.
This passage implies that spiritual growth is a process. Maturity is measured by demonstrative growth in our love for God and for others. It is not a completed program or the acquisition of a skill, but a continual expression of love in our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with one another.
Saying spiritual maturity is a point in time is like saying physical fitness is a point in time. It’s like saying because we were once fit and understand what is required to stay in shape, then we will remain fit. But we all know that physical fitness is not something we achieve once and for all. It’s something we must continually pursue. It requires regular exercise and a healthy intake of the right diet. It’s not a point in time, but a continual pursuit. Likewise, spiritual growth is meant to be a continual pursuit of our relationship with God and others.
At North Point, we have divided “loving our neighbor” into two categories: those in the faith and those outside the faith. So we have defined spiritual maturity as continual progress in three vital relationships: a person’s relationship with God, with other believers, and with unbelievers. So what do we want people to do? We say it this way: We want them to grow in their” intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders.
Intimacy with God
The Bible records God’s deep love and His passionate pursuit of all humankind. And because He desires an intimate relationship with every one of us, we believe the mark of a maturing follower is that they are continually pursuing an intimate relationship with Him.
After all, intimacy in any relationship doesn’t just happen. It requires regular relational deposits. Imagine the state of a marriage where the husband and wife did not put any time or attention into their relationship. It might be characterized by a lot of things, but intimacy would not be one of them. Our relationship with God is no different. An intimate relationship with Him is not something we arrive at; it is something we continually pursue. And as we do, we enjoy the benefits and demonstrate the marks of a maturing follower.
Community with Insiders
Recognizing people’s need for meaningful connections and the reality that sustained life change takes place best in the context of intentional relationships, we want people to be growing in community with other believers. We believe that a person who is continuing to mature in his faith is meaningfully and regularly connecting with other believers. Since the human propensity is to drift, we need one another for mutual encouragement and accountability. The words of Hebrews 10 come to mind:
Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.
Maturing believers are people who are growing in community with other believers, spending time together, encouraging one another, and supporting one another.
Influence with Outsiders
Because God has invited us to partner with Him in the process of evangelism, we at North Point want people to prioritize relationships with their unbelieving friends for the purpose of seeing these friends come to faith. We call it our “invest and invite” strategy: We encourage people to invest in the lives of their unbelieving friends and then invite them at the appropriate time to one of our relevant environments, where these guests will be encouraged in their spiritual journey.
Many of our most spiritually vibrant attendees started out as disconnected, uninterested neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Then one day a friend or neighbor invited them to visit one of our ministry environments and they experienced God in a fresh, relevant way. Nothing motivates believers (or small groups) more than when they see God using them to bring someone to Him. So we believe one of the marks of a maturing believer is that they are pursuing influence with those outside the faith.
To us, whether you are eight years old or eighty, a spiritually maturing person looks the same. He is not someone who has completed a plan or curriculum. He is not someone who has simply acquired more truth. A maturing believer is someone who is continuing to grow in these three distinct relationships.
What do we want people to become? We want them to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. What do we want people to do? Continually pursue three vital relationships intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders.
So what do you want people to become? More importantly, what do you want people to do? Answering these two questions is critical to gaining clarity in defining your mission and how you hope to accomplish it.
This article Define Spiritual Maturity is excerpted from Creating Community 5 Keys To Building A Small Group Culture by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits.