I continue with my reflections from Andy Stanley's principles he used to build North Point Church. These reflections apply not only to our own personal faith but how we as parents can instill a strong faith in our children. In Part One, we talked about a balance of truth and grace and how balancing the two can be messy but we should openly walk towards and embrace the mess and complexity just as Jesus did. In this post, we'll discuss the mess and complexity of authentic spiritual growth. Discipleship and Maturity in Faith
I believe this goes back to my earlier discussions on focusing on the head versus the heart. Classes and Bible Studies get people involved in the word, which is a really good thing, but the content is not what is the most important. Classes make smarter, more knowledgeable believers but not necessarily more mature believers. I know atheists that can quote scripture back and forth but they are not mature believers.
Theological Education/Knowledge ≠ Spiritual Maturity
Again, I'm not saying small groups or Bible Studies do not add value but it's not necessarily the increased biblical knowledge that creates maturity in faith.
So what does?
Spiritual Maturity can be defined as a growing relationship with God through faith and confidence.
How do we grow in relationships with other people?
Many people try to grow as Christians through the Old Testament model of Obedience to the Law but do we truly grow and create intimate relationships with others by being obedient? Furthermore, salvation does not come from obedience but by faith and Trust. Think of a relationship with a close friend or spouse, there is a deep trust there.
So therefore, an accurate definition of spiritual maturity could be a growing and unconditional trust in God through full surrender and a relationship with Christ.
Easy to write, hard to implement in daily life and decisions at times. It means faith no matter what.
Read the New Testament, Jesus was not amazed by obedience but when people acted on their faith by living, active, out of the box, death defying trust and faith in God. Trusting God against all odds, not lukewarm obedience.
In light of all this, many church models focus on increasing biblical knowledge and obedience rather than increasing faith and trust in the Lord.
So what can we do for ourselves, our churches and our children to fuel trust and faith in God which ultimately creates spiritual growth? Read On...
The 5 Catalysts of Spiritual Growth.
These catalysts are designed to be pursued simultaneously or in conjunction with each other rather than focusing on only one at a time.
For believers to become strong disciples they need to hear strong practical teachings from God’s Word that are relevant and impact their lives on a daily basis and bring change and transformation starting from the inside out. These biblical teachings must impart Godly wisdom that touches them personally, allows them to internalize the teaching and ultimately to take action on the teaching. Sometimes we can get this from reading/hearing the Bible directly, but most people need this to be refined and put in a practical context. The message must also be aimed at the heart or spirit realm and not their heads where it is just more information that they will quickly and gladly forget.
The real purpose of God’s Word and thus the teaching of His Word is to transform people – changing them from the inside out.
Transformation – not information. We are overloaded with information these days.
Practical teachings for every day life is therefore essential for a believer to grow into a strong, reproducing disciple of the Lord Jesus.
I believe there are some basic Christian disciples that a believer needs to implement in their lives of they really want to grow as a Christian and become a strong disciple of the Lord.
The discipline of simplicity – A God Centered Life
Submission – Total surrender to God and allowing his plans to be done.
Prayer – where we connect with God and hear his plans for us.
Study – Digging into the Word
Meditation and Journaling - where we find solitude and reflect on his word and are understanding of it.
Forgiveness – When we confess our sins and ask for Gods forgiveness.
Service and sacrifice – where we learn to express our faith through serving others and giving unconditional of ourselves.
Evangelism and apologetics – Spreading God’s word through our actions, love, grace and compassion for the lost and sometimes defending our faith and beliefs. I've learned a lot about my faith defending and debating atheists on my beliefs.
Each day you are influencing and changing everyone around you through your actions and words. How you change them is your choice. Leaving them with a positive impression or a negative one makes all the difference and studies consistently show that the impression you leave, gives all of Christianity a positive or negative image. Most people cite leaving the faith due to interactions with Christians who acted unchristian rather than due to theological or content issues.
The thing about a personal ministry is that we may never see the transformation or change in others. Through our spiritual gifts and passions we share the positive lessons we’ve picked up from our life experiences. And then we move on, relying on faith that our offerings will come to fruition. Many times, I have poured my heart into others only to hear years later of the impact.
Providential Relationships are relationships we enter into normally and God then uses them providentially to bring changes to our life. We all grow through relationships.
For us to grow as disciples of the Lord we need to be open to actively building personal relationships within the local church as well as with non-believers, unchurched and other religious sects. These are relationships that will challenge us to grow and mature in our faith.
For our children and many of the younger generations, Community is much more important that Content. One of the best practices I have seen is for small group leaders for children taking the group from kindergarten all the way through middle school. This creates a group and leader that are strongly bonded and connected to each other year after year.
When people tell their story of spiritual growth, they almost always talk about something that happened to them – I was divorced, I got a raise, I got moved by my company, I received a scholarship, I lost a friend or a child. Pivotal circumstances always impact a person’s faith. Always. Either for better or for worse. What makes the difference in most cases is not the circumstances, it is the way we interpret or process or frame the circumstances. People who are surrounded by people of faith who are able to help them frame or interpret a circumstance correctly, for them, pivotal circumstances can more easily impact faith in a positive way. For the person who does not have that network of Christian friends or relationships, it can be devastating. To be there for them, of course, means you are building relationships long before they hit their circumstance or situation. You have taken the time to connect and in doing so have built a certain level of mutual trust and respect and you are known as a person of integrity. Otherwise, when the pivotal circumstance comes along they will not turn to you for advice, support, or help
I can honestly say that I am not actively pursuing all of these catalysts all of the time. The first three are all within our control so I cannot make excuses there. Also, we can ultimately control how we act in our relationships with others; whether we are positive or negative, loving, graceful and encouraging or gossiping, judgmental or hypocritical. We have some form of control over how we interact with others but pivotal circumstances is ultimately up to God. We don't decide when an accident happens, when we lose a job or hardship hits. However, focusing on growing and developing ourselves in the first four ares will ultimately prepare us for whenever the final catalysts come along in our lives or the lives of those around us.
In 2013, I'm making a commitment to focus more on the first four catalysts in my own life and in developing these areas in my children. I invite everyone to make this same commitment, put first things first and make 2013 another great year to grow closer to God through faith and trust.
Esse Quam Videri