01 March 2007

What is a mature Christian or a successful church?

Lately, as a result of some conversations and reading, I’ve been giving a lot of thought and prayer to these two questions that I think really point to one reality:

First, how do you know when a church is successfully being a church?
Second, what do we really mean, or how do we know, when a Christian should be called mature?

Willow Creek Community Church recently did an exhaustive survey of their church that mirrors what I’ve heard from other churches (not seeker sensitive) and experienced myself. The finding of this survey? “What they found was the most satisfied church members were those who were new believers or early in their faith--and the least satisfied were those who were more "mature" in their faith.” Bill Hybel’s assessment was that Willow had really missed the goal which is to slowly (ultimately?) make believers independent. Not independent of a relationship with a church or other believers altogether. Not independent in the sense of going off and doing your own thing. But independent in the sense that they are self-feeding and self-regulating in their spiritual growth and life, allowing them to transition from being a “consumer” of the church’s resources to become one of the church’s resources that introduce unbelievers to Christ and help them grow into mature independence. Independent in the same sense that a grown child is still part of an extended family, but no longer relies on mom and dad, but can lead and support a family of their own.

I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. And, I think we’d find similar results in our own church. Part of what I think this means is that we have to be clearer about the goal. We need to help “right-size” people’s expectations for what they should expect from the church--about where this is all going. The reason that “mature,” seasoned believers are often more dissatisfied with the church is that they are still expecting it to feed them, rather than having accepted the responsibility and grown to a sufficient degree that they have the ability to do it for themselves and others (cf. Heb. 5:12-6:3 and Rom. 14).

There are a lot of different opinions on this out there. There are a number of different ways that you can approach this.

Here’s the framework I’m wrestling with so far that I think addresses both (I’ll be writing about this more in the future):

We gather people together as new Christians into a church around our DEPENDENT need. People become Christians when they recognize their dependence on God for forgiveness and life. They become a part of a church when they realize that their sustenance and growth is dependent on a community that God has created. Worship is an acknowledgment of this dependence.

As individual Christians and together as a church, we grow through our INTERDEPENDENT interactions with each other. Growth through discipleship, encouragement from our fellowship, service expressed through our ministry to each other is necessary because we need each other and God working through each other. There is an interdependence that is at the heart of our interaction together.

The measure of a mature Christian and a successful church is INDEPENDENT believers who are able to feed themselves, others, and self-regulate their spiritual lives as they evidence the fruit of the Spirit. We exist to bring others into a relationship with Jesus (evangelism/outreach, missions) that is like the relationship we have. That implies that we can personally, directly, engage in that relationship without the help we needed at first when we were young, immature believers.

What do you think? Does this framework make sense? Is this the goal of personal maturity and corporate ministry that you share? That you’ve been taught? That you’re working towards?


GUNNY said...

"what do we really mean, or how do we know, when a Christian should be called mature?"

Uh ... this is a trick question, right?

Everybody knows the answer is the kwan of the totality of (a) James Avery jewelry, (b) Christian fishes and bumper stickers on the automobile, (c) t-shirts with witty slogans that are takeoffs of secular advertising (e.g., Jesus, the Choice of a New Generation), and (d) the proficiency of Christianese.

The tie-breaker for spiritual champion, of course, is the most ornate Bible cover.

S'prised you didn't know that.

etoc said...

Uh, you've missed at least a couple. You only buy products labelled as "Christian." And, you have to be involved in at-least one boycott. You may also be heavily preoccupied with "taking back America." Don't know how I missed all of those!

Erin said...

I love Cheeses.

etoc said...

nice :)