10 Reasons to Re-Evaluate the “Spiritual Growth” Model

Taking a Second Look At A Core Belief

I am uncomfortable questioning the spiritual growth paradigm. I have many friends, relatives, spiritual “heroes,” and Christian leaders who have banked on this model for their entire Christian lives. They have, as I have done for many years, promoted this paradigm as the way Christians become what God designed. All discipleship ministries and programs that I know are based on this kind of growth paradigm. To take a second look at something so entrenched in evangelical thinking seems foolish and futile. Yet, here I am, doing just that. 

The growth model has been used despite its many weaknesses and flaws. There simply isn’t an alternative model available. You move from one level of spiritual maturity to another and keep going until you develop into a godly person who can (this varies depending on your theology, experience, or upbringing) teach and disciple others, see visions, clearly understand scripture, perform miracles, be virtuous, or build a successful ministry. 
I’ve been wrestling with this paradigm for decades – from a major encounter with God as a teen into over 30 years of pastoral ministry to it being the primary motivation for my PhD studies in my 50’s. Over 45 years of struggling (much of it positive) to make this paradigm work.
So, I continue to take a hard look at the spiritual growth model with a growing confidence that there is a better paradigm waiting to be discovered. 
In the meantime, here are 10 reasons to question the spiritual growth model
1. Bible verses used to support “spiritual growth” don’t hold up under scrutiny. Biblical basis for this model is faulty. Proof-texting is king in this arena. I’ll be doing some digging into some of these verses in future posts.
2. It doesn’t work ultimately. This is tricky. There are small successes initially that lead one to believe that its a good model. It falls short in the long-term. 
3. It has no set standard for measurement even though many are proposed like proper moral behavior, possessing a high level of Biblical knowledge, engaging spiritual practices, addressing social justice issues, or adhering to orthodox worship and truth.
4. It can be complicated and confusing. What areas of the Christian life are to be addressed to become spiritually mature? That usually depends on who you’re reading or who’s speaking. 
5. It is often ego-centered. You’re expected to make it happen with God’s help. Pride can set in as you compare yourself to others. You look for recognition from others for your spiritual competence. 
6. It often substitutes the destination for the journey. The goal is spiritual maturity. Dissatisfaction and frustration occurs when the goal can’t be reached. The beneficial daily grind of spiritual struggle and formation are vastly diminished. 
7. It’s emphasis on evaluating “spiritual progress” nurtures judgmentalism. The spiritually astute can now become the assessors of those “less than.” 
8. It’s goals are misunderstood, difficult to explain, and not agreed upon. Almost every article I’ve read on determining spiritual maturity, presents different criteria. Here are some: grasp of truth, well-defined philosophy of life, spiritual understanding, stability, changed behavior, handle stress, maximum fruit, positive self-concept, a life of prayer, improved relationships with others, reorienting priorities, obeying God, doing spiritual disciplines, or care for weaker brother. You might have your own list. What does spiritual maturity actually look like? 
9.Spiritual maturity, spiritual growth, spiritually mature are phrases not found in the Bible. This was the focus in my previous post. I’d encourage you to read it.
10. Applying the model to any Bible character is problematic. No one in scripture is characterized as “spiritually mature” nor given as an example of spiritual growth. We find people mightily used of God who were weak, faulty, and sinful. How does a spiritual growth model fit here? 
Soon, I will present an alternative paradigm that can be discovered and explored. I’m calling it the “Participation – Union Paradigm.” Believe me, its not novel or new. I did not make it up myself. I think we’ll enjoy it and struggle with it in posts to come. 
What is your “take-away” from the post today? Share your thoughts below. 
Dr. K 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

10 thoughts on “10 Reasons to Re-Evaluate the “Spiritual Growth” Model

  1. It seems He just wants us to “to be” in His presence and know that we are in His presence and He is the source. I agree with what you have written today and cannot wait to read your next blog. Habakkuk 3:17-19

    • Hi Bonny. I believe you are on to something seriously profound! Perhaps what I write about in future posts will resonate with you. Thank you for sharing the Habakkuk passage as well. Oh, that it would be true in my life. I’d love to be less preoccupied with the “stuff” around me and more occupied with God Himself. (Then the stuff would find their rightful place.) Thanks for engaging with TUJ! Dr. K

  2. I am so blessed by this, because at 45 I feel like I know less than I thought I knew in my 20’s and 30’s! ~always a work in progress~

    • Hi Sandi. Your are experiencing something but it sure doesn’t seem like “growth,” huh?!? I think we often confuse “growth” with “progress.” We can move our car from one place to another but that doesn’t imply growth. We’ve changed and journeyed but not necessarily grown. Your experience speaks volumes. Thanks be to God for all things. Dr. K

  3. I’m tracking with you Keith. Wow! You should write a book on the topic. Could be very helpful to Christians who have struggled with “Christian Maturity.”

    • Thanks Pastor. When I get it all figured out, I’ll write the book. Meaning…it’ll probably never happen. Perhaps an ebook or something along those lines. Thanks for the encouragement! Thanks for tracking with me = we journey together. Please hit me with questions you wrestle with regarding spiritual maturity. I need the perspective of others. Thanks be to God for all things. Keith

  4. Keith,
    I am enjoying this “series.” And the last two posts have really got me thinking. My first thought deals with the idea of “spiritual maturity” being a term we use to help people understand what growing up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2) might look like, as well as what being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) means in “understandable” terms.
    In addition I understand your work on the word “perfect” vs. mature – and think it is valuable for this discussion. However, don’t we often use words in explaining our faith that aren’t used the Bible. For example – Triune God, which you use in the previous post – is that a word in the Bible? Aren’t you using it to communicate a biblical idea in language your readers would understand. (I haven’t found it in a concordance, but it is what we confess as Christians – that we believe in the Triune God.) So I guess I am saying that we have “adopted” using the term “spiritually mature” as a term to help us disciple people so that we can help them grow into Christ-likeness as it gives us some ideas to help them move forward on their journey.
    If that term (spiritual maturity) is that misleading, or that hard to define, what should we be doing to help people grow in their union with the Triune God, and in their salvation? In addition, isn’t the level of “spiritual maturity” supposed to be discerned (or judged, while not being judgmental) as we look for “overseers” (1 Timothy 3) in the Church?
    I am looking forward to reading your next post as you lay out the alternative paradigm…

    • Hi Ryan. Good thoughts and questions. There are certainly concepts in scripture that do not have terms in scripture for them. Trinity is an essential reality whereas “spiritual maturity” may not be. The Trinity is three real persons not an idea. On the other hand, spiritual maturity is an idea whose reality I’m questioning. So, there is a difference, it seems. You are correct that the idea has come along to make the progress of Christians understandable. I’m questioning the modern idea of spiritual growth & maturity as a good way to describe the process of becoming like Jesus. I think there may be something more accurate and effective. In posts to come, I’ll present an alternative paradigm that I hope will help Christians journey more fully into becoming “perfect” – into union with the Triune God (without the “baggage” of the spiritual growth model). Specific characteristics of an “overseer” are presented as you said. But only one seems to connect to what we’re addressing – not a recent convert. The list does not include spiritual maturity (strange enough). I hesitate to say this, but I’ve seen plenty of Christian leaders who would qualify as being less than mature. It’s a fascinating discussion, isn’t it? As I said in the first post on the subject, I may have more questions than answers. Thanks for joining us on the journey. Keith

  5. One of the main issues with any growth is the attraction that said growth has on one’s pride. Pride is a killer, it has to go; pride goeth before the fall. Humility seems key.
    As far as knowing the word of God is concerned, in practice, our knowledge and practical application of that knowledge is never equal, and seldom even close. And as discussed previously seems to be rooted somehow with experience.
    I have often looked through God’s word in reference to pride. It is a term we brandi about loosely, we are proud of our teams, our kids, our tv shows, our country, our flag… yet, in every instance I can find in God’s word, every mention of pride is negative EXCEPT when it is Paul talking about being proud of what God is doing. Perhaps we all too often misuse pride, when what we really mean is thankful (?) or are proud of God’s work.(?) Being thankful also seems to be a key concept, and life-style. It completely changes the way we view everything! Giving thanks to the Lord God for all things, in all circumstances, and at all times. How can we actually do this, without the Lord’s presence constantly in our lives, in our experience?
    Thanks brother, miss you.

    • Hi John. Thank you for your good thoughts! One of the strong antidotes to pride is thankfulness. Thankfulness and humility must be cousins if not brother and sister! You’re on to something when you talk about God’s presence in our lives and experience. Stay tuned. Blessings, Keith

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