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How Do Christians Grow and Mature?

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When people come to our church from other established (probably bigger) evangelical churches, they often come looking for a communal, real, authentic, missional life with Christ and a church body. They find our liturgical forms of worship refreshing at first. But sometimes, if they don’t GET what’s going on, they become disillusioned. Our sermons do not always exposit word for word what the Bible means and then package some applications to go home with and do and improve your Christian life. They proclaim Truth (the reality of Jesus as Lord) out of the Biblical text and ask us to obey, submit and live under the Lordship of Christ for this day, this week, this year. We do have group Bible study time at 9 a.m. (newly reinstituted teaching for an hour teaching the Scripture that we are preaching), but the service itself is a time of formation before and into the Word of God. It is not a time of learning information for the purpose of attaining a certain competence (don’t get me wrong, there’s an important place for studying and knowing The Bible). Different assumptions about “How People Grow in Christ” undergird how we gather as a people, and the discipleship processes that come forth from that.
There seem to be two different models of growing into Christ at work here. I would argue one is more modern, individualistic and particularly good for people who were raised in evangelicalism and liked it and have a character already formed into Christ (because of good Christian parenting) and therefore are less in need of Christian formation (or at least can get along without it). The other way recognizes the formational issues of growing up in post Christian-dom world. This way is built around a community (the speaking of truth in love- Eph 4: 15), growing together as a community (Eph 4:16) into Christ based upon the working of all of the gifts of Eph 4:11. I must adamantly assert that I don’t think the second way is any less committed to Scripture, the conversion of the lost into Christ’s salvation or the development of each believer in over and out of sin than the first way. The ways of understanding how Scripture, preaching and the Holy Spirit work together in the community and the individual’s sanctification are however different.

Matt Tebbe, one of our pastors, with the help of Geoff Holsclaw, another of our pastors, wrote up the difference like this. (I have edited a few of Matt’s words)

HOW DO CHRISTIANS GROW AND MATURE?

ONE WAY:
1. Strong, charismatic, decisive leadership
− emphasis on one person’s vision, dependent on personality and leadership skill of pastor, creates STRONG group identification among members
2. Lengthy, exhaustive, application-heavy teaching and preaching –
− emphasis on right belief leading to right behavior, problem in spiritual progress diagnosed as “wrong/bad/insufficient beliefs” (i.e. not enough information)
3. Community who will be “in your face” about issues, ideas, opinions, advice
− emphasis on not tolerating sin, speaking truth, issues tend to be black and white and approach others monolithic

Can lead to:
− “like throwing gas on a fire” – can bring fast, initial growth, but over time Christians develop lack of character, discernment, and wisdom to sustain an abiding relationship with the Lord
− Leadership style undercuts development of listening, sensitivity, wisdom, and responsivenes to the Spirit
− Incredible numerical growth and brand loyalty to church
− Mature Christian = one who has answers to important questions, can articulate churches positions on issues, has demonstrated right living in certain areas of focus at church

ANOTHER WAY:
1. Humble, mutually-submitted, empowering leadership
− emphasis on a togetherness of leadership, Spirit’s authority is not deposited in one person in the church, raising up and empowering others alongside leadership
2. Sermons proclaim the Word of God, the truth (the reality as it is under Christ’s Lordship) leading to
a response to the Holy Spirit by congregation in liturgy rather than an application “to-do” list
− emphasis on character formation, responding to Spirit’s conviction rather than Pastoral direction, and the mutual reinforcement of obedience and belief.
3. Community who will engage in dialogue, questions, and listening as a way of engaging with others
− emphasis on listening to what the Spirit is doing in another’s life, discerning what a person is ready to receive, issues tend to be complex and approach to others is contextual

Can lead to:
− “duraflame log” – slow, steady, sustainable growth in maturity and wisdom as a Christian.
− People who learn how to listen to Spirit, think through issues with a worldview shaped by obedience to scripture, and care for others and respect their journey of faith
− Lower numbers and less brand loyalty
− on the downside, can lead to: abdication of pastoral leadership/authority (i.e. too hands off), congregation can interpret lack of directedness as being “soft on sin” or “not structured enough”
− Mature Christian = one who is a practiced listener – to scripture, the Spirit, one another – and responder, has an imagination and conceptual tools increasingly full of the Story of God, knowledge and understanding leads to humility, obedience, and compassion.

Have you experienced either one of these ways to how a Christian grows into Christ? Has Matt been fair in his characterizations, the weaknesses and strengths of each way? Have you noticed the same distinctions? Have you ever been in a community that operates under the second set of assumptions? What are your own experiences of growth in relation to the worship/discipleship practices of your church? Do these distinctions ring true for you?

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