Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What is Spiritual Maturity?

I think that is a really important question.

So much of what so many of us do in the church toward maturing people spiritually presupposes a unified answer to that question. But our answer is generally unspoken.

The REVEAL survey, which is now a bona fide phenomenon, having produced a startling confession from Bill Hybels, asks a variety of questions, the aim of which is to gauge "where churchgoers are." My church participated in the survey, and I was one of the 500 or so respondents from my church to answer the survey, so I've seen the questions personally. They generally come from two angles:
a) How involved are you in your church and how satisfied are you with your church?
b) How do you feel about the quality of your spiritual life?

Some of the individual questions are quite pertinent to an honest assessment of one's spiritual maturity. "How often do you read your Bible?" and "How often do you pray?" and "How often do you participate in community service or charity work?" are good questions.

But generally speaking -- and here I'm not at all picking on the REVEAL survey but on the evangelical Church's approach to gauging spiritual maturity in general -- our measuring stick amounts to Participation and Feelings.

And here's where I get hung up: I'm not sure spiritual maturity can be quantified that way.
I do think that the more spiritually mature a person is, the more connected and invested in Christian community they are, and I do think that the more spiritually mature a person is, the greater sense of their own maturity they may have. But the way this gets boiled down so often amounts to "How much church stuff do you do?" and "How do you feel about yourself?"

And frankly, some of the most spiritually mature people I know are very insecure about their sin and their own brokenness and are struggling to find their place in the modern church.

This is an extension, I think, of the Church's previous equation of discipleship with knowing more information. We are better these days at realizing that people who know their Bibles inside and out, or who have all their theological p's and q's minded, aren't necessarily any more spiritual than anybody else.
And yet we persist in measuring spiritual maturity by how further invested in church programs a person is. Someone who only attends a weekend "open community" service is considered new or young or shallow in their faith, while someone who's at the church every time the doors are open is considered farther along. This may be generally true, but it's still not a reliable measurement.

And I'm not sure there is one. I think spiritual maturity = "new faith" + time. And a program can't add years to someone's faith. Faith must be time-tested to mature. Life is what matures us. Nothing has matured me more spiritually than to be married and have children. And that's a program I can't get in a theology book, Bible study guide, midweek service, small group, or discipleship program.

Can we even measure something like that? What is the Bible's measurement for spiritual maturity?
I think this comes closest:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Increasing natural tendencies toward those qualities of character are fruits of life in the Spirit. I don't know how those can be effectively quantified.

I'll admit the whole idea of treating people like projects to be managed turns me off anyway.

I tend to think real spiritual maturity derives from the realization that what I need today and will need fifty years from now is the same thing I needed on day one of my spiritual journey (indeed, minute one of my life): the grace of God in Jesus covering my sin. I think a really spiritually mature person realizes the Gospel is not the ABC's of the Christian life, as Tim Keller says, but the A-Z.

And I think our spiritual maturity is directly correlated to our love for God and to our love for others. I'd be interested in how to translate that to data.


Jon said...

Good post, and great questions, and answer.

Mike Yakonelli (sure I've spelled his name wrong) wrote something on the folly of trying to benchmark spirituality in Messy Spirituality, I'll have to see if I can dig out my copy.

Jen said...

It's really spooky how we seem to think about the same issues at the same time. I was just pondering spiritual maturity in the past week after our small group meeting last week.

Judy said...

I needed this post.

Thank you.

dave brown said...

Well said. I see spiritual maturity when I don't stress over the uncontrollable that blindsides me but rather remember and trust that God is still in control. It's when I want to give when I don't know why or can't really afford it. It's when I am more excited about the good things happening in others' lives than my own. It's when I'm doing something about the one verse I read or remembered or heard this morning. Ask someone about things like these and you'll get an idea as to how spiritually mature they are.