SBC Life Articles

Moving Members To Maturity

The New Testament is very clear that God's will for every believer is spiritual maturity. He wants us to grow up. Paul says we are not meant to remain as children … but to grow up in every way into Christ the head. (Eph. 4:14, Phillips) The goal of spiritual growth is to become like Jesus. This has been God's plan for us since the beginning. He created us to be like His Son.

The big question, then, is how? How does spiritual growth happen? How do we become mature in Christ? Churches are filled will people who have attended for decades but show little development in discipleship. What's the problem?

One of the biggest barriers to growth is the misconception that all you need is Bible study to grow. Many of our churches have been built on this myth. I call them "Classroom churches." Classroom churches tend to be left-brain oriented and cognitive-focused. They stress the teaching of Bible content and doctrine but they give little, if any, emphasis to believers' emotional, experiential, and relational development.

The truth is that it takes a variety of experiences with God to produce true spiritual maturity. In addition to Bible study it takes worship experiences, ministry experiences, fellowship experience, and evangelism experiences. In other words, spiritual growth occurs by participating in all five purposes of the church. Mature Christians do more than study the Christian life — they experience it.

Genuine spiritual maturity includes having a heart that worships and praises God, building and enjoying loving relationships, using your gifts and talents in service to others, and sharing your faith with lost people. Any strategy or program to move people to maturity must include all of these experiences: worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and evangelism.

Many Christians fool themselves by thinking that all they need to do to grow is attend Bible studies. But James warns do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead put it into practice! (James 1:22 TEV)

What people need is a practical program for putting truth into practice! The respected Bible teacher Gene Getz says, "Bible study by itself will not produce spirituality. In fact, it will produce carnality if it isn't applied and practiced." Bible knowledge without ministry and missions tends to produce Christians with judgmental attitudes and spiritual pride.

If Christianity was simply a philosophy, then our primary activity might be studying. But Christianity is a relationship (John 14:20-21) and it is a life (John 10:10). Jesus didn't say, "I have come that you might study." The words that are used most often to describe the Christian life are love, give, and serve. Yet the schedule of most churches indicates that they believe the sole duty of a Christian is to study!

Honestly, the last thing some believers need is another Bible study to attend. They already know far more than they're putting into practice. What they need are ministry and evangelism experiences where they apply what they already know, relational experiences (like a small group) where they are held accountable for what they know, and meaningful worship experiences where they express appreciation to God for what they know!

The Dead Sea is dead because it takes in water but doesn't give any out. When any Christian's schedule consists completely of receiving biblical input but has no planned outflow of ministry or evangelism, his spiritual growth will be limited. Study without service leads to stagnation.

Of course, we must continue in the Word to be Christ's disciples. All I'm saying is that it is a mistake to assume that study alone will produce maturity. It won't. It is only one component of the maturity process. People need experiences of obeying and applying God's Word, in addition to study, in order to grow. That is why we need a balanced strategy for developing disciples.

At Saddleback, we've seen amazing results by using a balanced strategy that involves people in worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and evangelism at the same time. In one concentrated emphasis on all five areas 564 people accepted Christ, 1,065 new believers were baptized, 1,628 new members joined our church, 2,701 more signed up to be involved in a lay ministry, and 5,465 were trained in personal evangelism and world missions — all within two months. I believe that's because we maintained this balance.

Your church can be a healthy church, but remember — healthy churches are built on purpose. Your church will develop the healthy balance that makes lasting growth possible when you have a balanced focus on all five of the New Testament purposes of the church.

    About the Author

  • Rick Warren