This week covered the stages of spiritual growth, the basic characteristics and needs of each stage, and key phrases people in each stage may say. This week was very helpful to me in showing that discipleship is a process, and just because someone has yet to mature beyond a certain stage, it doesn’t mean that they do not know Jesus. I also learned where I was in this process, and that even though I may mostly be in one stage, I can still have moments where I may say or do things from a previous stage or even the next stage. I am still a flawed person in the process of growing, changing, and becoming, and just because I grow, it doesn’t mean I won’t have a bad day, or selfish moments, or a bad attitude at times.
We were cautioned to not fall into the trap of comparing levels of spiritual maturity, and also cautioned to not mistake Bible knowledge, years of church attendance, age, education, etc., for spiritual maturity. This is a guide to help me discern where people may be in their process based on a relationship with them, in order to help them continue growing. It’s a tool for growth, not a weapon for judgment.
Stage Three: The Spiritual Child
The apostle Paul clearly modeled intentional investment in other believers. I must get personally and intentionally involved in the lives of others. And I have to understand that it may get messy and I may get hurt.
You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory. – I Thessalonians 2:10-12
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. – I Timothy 1:1-2
Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul – an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. – Philemon 1:8-11
Spiritual children are characterized by self-centeredness, idealism, and over- or under-confidence. They must at least have made a basic connection to a spiritual family, and this must be the local church. It cannot be replaced by another group of people.
- Self-centeredness. They behave as if the world revolves around them and their needs. Everything is viewed through a “me” perspective. They are focused on their own needs.
- Idealism. They are black-and-white in their thinking. They are naïve. They apply their idealism to how others should live, and end up disappointed and legalistic, trying to keep up with a list of do’s and don’ts.
- Overconfidence or under-confidence. Their legalism and inability to stick with their list causes them to see-saw back and forth between these extremes. They become overconfident when they keep the rules, leading to pride. They are under-confident when they break the rules, leading to self-loathing and defeat.
Spiritual children may say things like:
- “I believe in Jesus and my church is in the woods, just Him and me.”
- “Who are all these new people coming to our church? The church is getting too big.”
- “I didn’t like the music today. If only they did it like . . .”
- “This church doesn’t meet my needs. It’s time to find another one.”
- “Pastor looked right at me and didn’t even say hello.”
- “You can’t be a Christian if you listen to rock music/watch rated R movies/drink/vote Democrat-Republican-Independent/etc.”
Spiritual children need to be taught who they are in Christ, how to have a relationship with Christ, how to have relationships with other believers, and appropriate expectations concerning other believers. They may also sometimes need a strong dose of truth in love. They need to understand that it isn’t about them. They need people who aren’t afraid to challenge their inward focus.
I can intentionally help spiritual children by modeling behavior that is different, by contradicting – nicely – things they say that are untrue or unhelpful. Sometimes, I might need to boldly tell them they are flat-out wrong. But I need to realize that some people don’t want to mature or grow. I need to pick my battles and move on.
Stage Four: The Spiritual Young Adult
Stage Five: The Spiritual Parent