I am beginning to meet with people around Cornerstone's 20th Anniversary in 2013. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since I helped make phone calls to get the word out that a new church was starting in West Chester, Ohio. Someone came up with an idea: what if we think in terms of growing up, taking more responsibility, maturing, moving on as we turn 20?
What does it mean for a Christ-follower or a Church to grow up? To move from milk to solid food? It's been a question from the earliest days of the Church:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! - Hebrews 5:12Peter Scazzero authored a book about church health called The Emotionally Healthy Church. As I worked my way through an issue of Leadership Journal on Transformation, I came upon an interview with Peter. This paragraph struck me:
But people were not changing deeply. It really showed when there was stress and conflict in the church. It was clear to me that we had a big problem......We had a lot of people saying they were on fire for Jesus, but they were still arrogant, still proud, stull nursing conflicts like they were 12 years old. I thought to myself, Something's not right here. (italics his)Scazzero goes on to talk about the need to, as a leader, look inside first and then he talks about his need and desire for people to "grow up" in the Christian faith. It wasn't happening and it bugged him. It bugs me.
When Christ-followers encounter "stress and conflict" in their lives, in their church, in their work or family, sometimes there is an ugly display of unChristian behavior that betrays their claim to be Followers. Saved maybe, but transformed - evidence says no. When people turn to Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know how "pissed off" they are and how horrible someone else is, it is evidence that transformation has not happened. It makes me wonder where we went wrong - where I went wrong - where the Church around the world has gone wrong.
Where did we go wrong in helping people grow up spiritually?
The Book of Galatians gives a great list by which to judge our own lives, showing where we're growing up or staying put, mired in the muck of sin.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21It has been said that character is not so much developed as it is exposed during difficult times. Whether it's the athlete getting beat, the illness that suddenly strikes, the tragedy caused by evil that jumps into our lives, how we have developed our character will show. When we are vulnerable, who are we? Too many church-goers and Christ-followers are defined by this first list in Galatians.
The untransformed life is characterized by these things. Disagreements, sure. Difficulties, no doubt a reality with human beings doing life together. But what then?
Weekend worship attendance 2-3 times a month won't bring the kind of transformation Jesus intends. When a family gives up church for sports, what foundation is provided when the sports are over? The temporal excitement of now can cut the legs out from the bliss of eternity. There is no such thing as part-time discipleship.
Thankfully, there's more to the story. There's another list that describes a different path to pursue.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23aTwo key points help unlock this list for me: 1) these character traits are the natural result of the presence and work of God's Spirit in our lives. These are not things we have to force to grow in our lives. We might practice some spiritual disciplines to help support their growth but they are the result of living a life connected to Jesus. 2) this is one fruit demonstrated nine ways. The ultimate fruit of the Spirit is love - that's the way the Greek words it. Everything flows from love.
The key for me is staying connected to a small group. I love those in my group. They laugh at me when I'm trying to fake it. They support me when I'm struggling. They challenge me as I try to grow my faith. They tell me the truth. I can't do life without them.
Are you growing up or staying put? What character was revealed the last time you encountered stress or difficulty in your life? Those who pursue Jesus will be revealed in the end. Those who don't - the same is true.