This post is part of a synchroblog on “Discussing Maturity In The Light Of Our Faith”
Before I begin let me say that I have a long, active history with the local organized church. I have led women’s ministries, worked in the nursery, planned curriculum, served on the hospitality committee, taught bible studies, helped with vacation bible schools, prepared budgets etc. – all as a lay person.
I still go to church (most of the time) and I still volunteer to do “stuff” at church (some of the time). I am not mad at the church, I haven’t been hurt by the church (at least not much) and I haven’t left the church. BUT, I am frustrated with the church about a few things.
One of the things that I am frustrated with the local church about is its lack of knowledge regarding spiritual growth. So, when I heard there was a synchroblog on discussing maturity in the light of our faith I figured I would take the opportunity to make a few wishes – three to be exact.
Wish Number One
I wish the church knew that having questions, experiencing doubts and being uncertain about things that the church is teaching does not necessarily equal spiritual immaturity. No one comes right out and says that you are spiritually immature because you are struggling with things like the concepts of heaven and hell, or substitutionary atonement, or the inerrancy of the bible, or the sovereignty of God etc … but, when they kindly offer to pray that God will make these things clear to you, what they are really saying is: they hope you settle down soon and get back to seeing things the way they do. When I began to have questions about what I was believing, doubts about certain interpretations of scripture and uncertainty about the life of faith I was living I felt alone and afraid. There was no safe place at church for me to embrace this experience because the thing everyone wanted me to do was to get back to where I had been before. Sure they said things about this drawing me closer to God and God using this to reveal more to me, but when I tried to talk to them about thinking that maybe we had some stuff wrong they didn’t want to hear it. It was so unsettling and frustrating that I might have ended up leaving the church (at least for a while) if I hadn’t had a family to think of AND if I hadn’t stumbled across “The Critical Journey” by Hagberg and Guelich. I won’t go into a lot of detail here about “The Critical Journey” (for more info there’s a great chart at Carnival In My Head that you can check out or an indepth article at Theocentric) except to say that it helped me discover that what I was experiencing was a natural part of my spiritual growth. From there, I have searched out and found support through groups, blogs, books and events – none of which are connected to the local church – to help me as I travel through this leg of my faith journey.
I don’t have a succinct solution to the problem but I think it would help if pastors stopped saying everything from the pulpit with so much certainty, if Christians were taught less answers and trained more in the skill of asking good questions, if the local church would be a little more humble about what they know and hold to be true, so that it would not be considered heresy to think or believe differently in their midst and if more people in the church believed that right living is more important than right doctrine.
Wish Number Two
I wish the church didn’t think that participating in a lot of programs,ministries and or church activities equaled spiritual maturity. I was amazed last year when the Willow Creek’s study came out. I wasn’t amazed at what they discovered – I was amazed that before the study they had actually believed that if Christians participated in a certain set of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it would produce disciples of Christ who were maturing spiritually. They were shocked when they discovered through a multiple year study that their programs weren’t that good at helping their people grow and develop spiritually.
People like Dallas Willard have been saying this sort of thing for years. Increased participation in church activities/programs/ministries does not produce disciples, it just produces people who spend more time at church instead of out in their communities where they could really have an impact in bringing God’s will to earth as it is in heaven. I think churches would serve the mission of God better and promote spiritual growth in followers of Jesus more effectively by teaching, encouraging and inspiring their members to do the work of the church in their daily lives and jobs, in their neighborhoods and communities.
Don’t get me wrong – I think there is a time and place for certain programs (so please don’t feel you need to defend the program that you are involved with) but I know from experience that a lot of the things that I have been involved in at church aren’t really that beneficial – mostly because I have done it before in a different format. You know what I am talking about – it’s the same old bible study being taught, the same old class on how to handle my finances, the same old evangelistic course with a new name etc. etc. etc. Is it wrong to do something for fun or enjoyment – no, it isn’t. But our churches are depending on these things to be the catalyst of spiritual growth for me and you – and it ain’t working.
Wish Number Three
I wish the church would realize that presenting a watered down version of the gospel encourages christians to embrace spiritual immaturity. In other words, a gospel that revolves around humans gaining access to God’s presence leads to spiritual formation that is “me” oriented. When this individualistic facet of the gospel is taught, as if it is the whole gospel, we end up with a very self centered gospel. This self centeredness ends up leaving us comfortable in our immature state.
What christians, and the whole world for that matter, needs is a more robust gospel – like the one that Scot McKnight talks about (check out this article at Out Of Ur). When we begin to look at a larger, more complex, multi-faceted gospel, we begin to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is concerned with more than giving us a free ticket to heaven. We begin to see that the good news is for all of creation, throughout all time, and that as recipients of God’s great gift of grace and freedom, we are called to work with him to love and care for the world we live in now. This call on our lives spurs us on to cooperate with the spirit of God that is at work in us. This meaningful, worthy, mandate that is born of and lives in love, gives us the courage and the desire to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. We desperately need a reason to go through the rigors of maturing and I believe that a larger, more robust gospel gives us that reason.
There, I got that off my chest. I feel better.
Now if I could just remember where I put that magic lamp.
Here is a list of bloggers who are taking part in this month’s synchroblog on the topic “Maturity in the Light of our Faith”: