Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spiritual Maturity is Public and Personal

I've been thinking about spiritual maturity. It's helpful to look at three spheres of activity: Community, Worship and Service. Do you regularly participate in the following? 
  • Community, where you connect with others, with a "shared life around a shared faith." 
  • Worship, where you honor God by following Jesus Christ, where it can be seen in your attention, appreciation, affection and allegiance. 
  • Service, where you work to bring help and hope to others. 
At Bahia Vista, we have built our mission statement around that. We want to "befriend all with the love of Christ, through community, worship and service." But as I live with this, I am realizing that each of the three spheres have public and private activities: 
  • Public Community: church social, or small group; Private Community: spiritual friendship.
  • Public Worship: Weekly worship gathering; Private Worship: prayer time, bible study.
  • Public Service: Volunteering for ministry; Private Service: helping your neighbor.
In pastoral ministry, so many of the struggles people come to us with, are symptomatic of spiritual immaturity. Sure, some problems are very complex, and even caused by others. But I would suggest that even chronic problems are helped by a regular investment in developing spiritual maturity. 

Here's what I mean. 

It's not uncommon to see someone who is solid in their public activities -- they never miss the weekly worship service, they belong to a Sunday School class or small group, and they volunteer for ushering or whatever. But they struggle to see victory in their lives over very basic things because they haven't yet personalized their discipleship. They have no spiritual friendships where they can talk openly about their relationship with God; they spend no meaningful time in private prayer or bible meditation; they rarely notice the people around them to so much as offer a helping hand. 

In my opinion, these people cause our churches to be spiritually immature. These are the people who occupy our seats, and even positions of responsibility, who seem like they have it all together, but they're the reason we keep finding "muddy footprints" all throughout our halls--the footprints of those who take regular strolls through stubborn sins and hidden shames that affect their faith. They are spiritually immature. 

On the other hand, there are those who are very active in their private spiritual lives but they resist the public activities of Community, Worship and Service. They have regular devotions but don't value worshiping with other believers, so it's regularly displaced by lesser things. They have spiritual friends where they talk about their spiritual lives, but they never make themselves available to social settings where they can learn to love on people who are not like them. These are the people who are quick to offer a hand to their neighbor but they won't volunteer to any regular ministry because it ties them down. 

I'm suggesting that these disconnected believers are those who feel disillusioned and disenchanted, who are chronically cynical, and tend to lob bombs of accusation and ridicule into crowds of believers. They come in looking for inspiration, and then leave looking for fresh inspiration, because it's all about their personal, private spiritual experience. They are spiritually immature. 

There is no spiritual maturity without a public and personal commitment to community, worship and service. Is that too strong a statement?

If you're a minister to others, look at their lives with these questions: Are they experiencing public and personal community? Are they committed to public and personal worship? Are they active in public and personal service? If they are not, and they're coming to you so you can help them feel more this or less that, start where they are lacking. If they only attend the worship service regularly, encourage them to set aside daily time with an open bible, and a list of things to pray for. If they only have one or two spiritual friends, invite them to the next social gathering of believers. If they are volunteering at church, challenge them to help people in ways that have no titles or job descriptions.  Move them to be both public and personal in their commitments to spiritual maturity! 

And, of course, check yourself. Are you only public in your discipleship? Are you primarily private? Be both. Fill your life with public and personal activities that foster community, worship and service, and become spiritually mature.