The Barna Group recently ran a survey asking Christians to define spiritual maturity. Their findings say that no one--churchgoers and pastors alike--can really define spiritual maturity. In fact, most churchgoers equate maturity with following rules and don't know what their churches expect from them in terms of spiritual maturity.
Perhaps they don't know because many churches are not prepared to teach or encourage real spiritual growth. Much of the activity we see in churches today tends to center more on validating the status quo rather than probing, challenging "conventional wisdom" and growing spiritually.
Churchgoers defined spiritual maturity as having a relationship with Jesus, practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study, living according to the Bible, being obedient, being involved in church and having concern for others.
According to the study, even pastors struggled with defining spiritual maturity and articulated maturity in relation to what activities people did rather than by their attitudes.
I find all of these explanations of maturity inadequate. Anyone can have a relationship with Jesus, God has made it that way. However, there is a growth process involved. Anyone can practice spiritual disciplines and live according to the Bible--would that be regarded as obedient? But we do not live by every rule in the Bible. If we did, we would be stoning those committing adultery and dragging sassy adolescents into court and having them killed. How can we relate Scripture to our postmodern world when the majority of Christians do not truly investigate what it means? Most are satisfied with commentators who agree with their opinions (if they read commentaries), or are satisfied with what they've known for decades.
Anyone can be involved in the church, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are spiritually mature. Ask anyone who's been kicked out of a pew by an old "saint" who had claimed that pew long before the church was built, if everyone is spiritually mature. What about the fighting and bickering that goes on amongst congregation members? Does that reflect spiritual maturity? What about those who criticize the pastor either behind his or her back or to his or her face? Is that spiritually mature?
Having concern for others isn't adequate either. Atheists have genuine concerns for other people too.
So what makes one spiritually mature? I'm not sure. It's one of those things that you know if you see it and you definitely know if you don't see it. Most Christians are growing and one Christian's growth differs from another. Within ourselves, we may excel in one area and then completely blow it in the next. Some Christians are content to go to church on Sundays, yet do not listen to the Holy Spirit. Some hide their lack of obedience well, so defining, or more accurately, labeling someone as spiritually mature can prove difficult.
Nonetheless, I have found that the most mature Christians I know are those who show evidence of the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) more often than not. As Henri Nouwen said, they also exhibit attributes from the Beatitudes. Spiritually mature people are obedient to the Holy Spirit, even if it means changing some habit or some undesirable aspect about themselves. Love permeates their lives.
A good indication of spiritual maturity is in Proverbs 24: 16: " ... for though (righteous people) fall seven times, they will rise again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity (NRSV)." The righteous are resilient despite circumstances and always come back to God after they fail. I believe that this resiliency comes from a deep love for God and a desire to please him. Returning, staying faithful, love--in my book that's the mark of a spiritually mature believer.
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