Few churches or Christians have a clear and measurable definition of “spiritual success” (maturity).
George Barna identified an important flaw in Growing True Disciples. In fact it was the first flaw he listed. He said few churches or Christians can clearly and measurably define "spiritual success." His book reports the findings from a national scientifically-designed survey which investigated how churches were doing at making true disciples.
His overall conclusion was that very few churches had any kind of intentional, strategic and effective approach to facilitating spiritual maturity, i.e., making disciples. Barna defined a disciple as “a spiritually mature zealot for Christ.” This definition prompts an exciting vision, but is hardly “clear and measurable.” It probably doesn’t help the typical man get a clear picture on the TV screen in his mind.
A few years later, in 2009, Barna researched the meaning of “spiritual maturity” through another national scientifically-designed survey. This one was commissioned by Chip Ingram, well-known pastor, author and founder of the radio ministry Living on the Edge. (Read some of Pastor Ingram's questions here.)
In this more recent study, Barna found that Christians, including pastors and church leaders, are all over the map on what spiritual maturity means. To the extent they were able to give any kind of definition, most of those surveyed equated spiritual maturity primarily with certain practices or disciplines such as praying, fasting, memorizing Scripture and having a regular personal time reading and meditating in God’s Word. Thirty years of working with men has taught me that all these practices are certainly helpful and wonderful—in fact, I would say they are essential. However, by themselves, they don’t guarantee making a disciple—let alone a disciplemaker.
A better, clearer and more useful definition or picture of spiritual maturity is certainly needed. And yet, for most Christians, spiritual maturity seems to be a rather mysterious, vague state or quality or condition.
On the one hand, spiritual maturity is something we inherently know we should desire and seek to attain. On the other hand, we’re told that one never reaches spiritual maturity this side of heaven. This can leave us thinking, “What’s the use?”
But still, we’re told we all should keep showing up regularly for whatever is offered by our local churches. It’s as though there’s an unspoken assumption that if we keep showing up, then something good may eventually happen. At least we can hope so. In the end, we often feel confused and conflicted.
Can you identify with this? Not very satisfying, is it?
In summary, then, we have not given people a clear, practical picture of an authentic disciple who is (1) adequately mature spiritually, (2) ably moving forward on his journey with God, (3) accepting responsibility for his further growth spiritually, and (4) seeing and living life God’s way.
How can we paint that picture clearly? We need to (re)Think Disciplemaking to recapture what Jesus had in mind for his disciples. If you haven't seen our introductory video for this new disciplemaking course, watch it now and let us know what you think.