Wake-Up Call: Growing Churches that Don’t Grow People

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Phillippians 3:15–16 (NIV)

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

CONSIDER THIS

Mature. It’s a word we don’t really get too well. We see movies advertised for “mature audiences,” which presumably means children shouldn’t see it but it’s okay for adults because they have already seen it all. They make dog food for mature dogs, which means they are old.

When Paul says “mature,” he uses the Greek word teleios. In studying the Bible we can get a fuller sense of how a writer is using a term by seeing how and where he uses it in other places in the Bible and also how other speakers or writers use the term. That’s where this gets interesting. This little word, teleios, is used by Jesus in one of the most challenging texts in all of Scripture: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

To be perfect does not mean perfection as we commonly think of the term. It means to be mature, possessed by a love of another magnitude of order—the very love of God.

Hear Paul in his letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God” (Heb. 6:1).

And to the Ephesians: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

And to the Corinthians: “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing” (1 Cor. 2:6).

We could go on and cite references to the Romans and the Colossians and the Galatians and so on. You get the point. Paul did not measure church growth by numbers. He measured it by maturity.

We mostly get it backward today. Our primary question is: How do we grow the church? The real question is: How does the Holy Spirit grow people? As a consequence, we have nearly mastered the art of growing churches that don’t grow people. We get people busy in all manner of Christian activity, but when it comes to measuring the maturity of people, we have no metrics. And, as they say, we manage what we measure.

What if, instead of asking how we get people to come to church or how we get people to come back or how we get people involved or assimilated or tithing or in a home group or in Sunday school or going on a mission trip or what we want people to know . . . what if we asked much deeper questions, the kinds of questions Jesus might ask? Who do we want people to become? How would we know if we became it? What are the markers of mature faith? Who in our midst shows forth the qualities of perfect love in their lives?

I’ve said it before and I won’t stop saying it, but the primary reason we are arrested in our maturity is we don’t have the kinds of relationships it takes to grow us into maturity. Mature faith and character simply do not happen alone. I would love for you to dialogue about this in your bands today and in our Facebook group. By the way, if you haven’t joined the Facebook group and you are a Facebook person, give it a shot. Good conversations are happening there.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is the exact image of God, the perfect representation of your being in human form. His life shows us what a real mature human being actually is, and your Spirit makes it possible for us to live as such. Shake us free from our crowd-based, self-satisfied mediocrity. We want to be a real Christians. We pray in Jesusname, amen.

THE QUESTIONS

How do you define the marks of mature and maturing faith? Who do you think of as a mature follower of Jesus? What makes that so? On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being infantile and 10 being saintly), where do you place yourself on the spectrum, and what words would you use to classify it?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

3 COMMENTS

  1. JD, I totally agree with your examples of what maturity means for us believers and further more for the Ecclesia. In my opinion, the church in America was deceived into measuring success through a worldly metric when it adopted the so called “church growth movement “ mentality. This created the situation we have now have where congregations are competing for members like retail stores over customers. Thus we now have market driven evangelism campaigns, rather than honest attempts to make true disciples. The Sunday morning worship service is the big event and folks shop around seeking to find the best “ bang for the buck.” I’ve come to understand that while the early church as fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s now mainly fueled by adequate cash flow. I have the impression that when, not if, the next Great Awakening takes place, that Church as we now know it will look totally different. I would rate myself as maybe a 6 or 7 on the maturity scale. I’m still very much a work in progress. Sorry for the long post, but you asked.

  2. The goal of present-day churches seems to be to gather a crowd of people and tell them about God. The goal of New Testament ekklesia (as well as Wesleyan bands and class meetings) is to connect people heart-to-heart with the living God and with one another. One goal leads to growth in numbers; the other to awakening and to growth in spiritual maturity. Search for: Beyond Church Ekklesia.

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