Beginning To Challenge The Paradigm of “Spiritual Maturity”

Driving A Model That May Be Faulty

Let’s say that every three years I buy a Ford Escort. And every time that Escort hits around 45,000 miles it starts having transmission problems. But, due to my loyalty to the Ford Escort, I buy another one the next year. Wouldn’t you say, “Keith, stop buying an Escort! There are better cars out there without this kind of problem. Move on!” You’d be right, of course. If something consistently does not work properly over time, why remain loyal to it? I wonder if this is true for the model of spiritual maturity as well. 

According to the Barna Research Group: 

America may possess the world’s largest infrastructure for nurturing spirituality, complete with hundreds of thousands of houses of worship, thousands of parachurch organizations and schools, and seemingly unlimited products, resources and experts. Yet, a new study from the Barna Group identifies an underlying reason why there is little progress in helping people develop spiritually: many churchgoers and clergy struggle to articulate a basic understanding of spiritual maturity. People aspire to be spiritually mature, but they do not know what it means. Pastors want to guide others on the path to spiritual wholeness, but they are often not clearly defining the goals or the outcomes of that process. (full article here)

People and churches struggle with the spiritual maturity paradigm or model. It doesn’t seem to work after a while. Even a “basic understanding” seems to allude church leaders and other Christians. You drive it for a while. But, inevitably, it starts to break down. But, since you’re loyal to this one model, you keep buying it.

I guess the operator could be blamed. The driver must be doing something wrong if the car keeps breaking down. The car’s owner is not caring for the car properly according to the manual. That’s always a possibility. 

The solution, then, would be to give the owner more information. They obviously are not educated enough in how to care for a vehicle. But, what information would be most helpful? And, who gives the most trustworthy information? Will the owner actually listen to the information and apply it? It seems that information alone is not enough. 

How about inspiration? Perhaps the owner could be more highly motivated by pictures of damaged cars, moving stories of excellent car care, videos of smiling and enthusiastic people caring for their cars, or short encouraging slogans. Who can argue with a satisfied customer? 

These attempts to deal with the operator are good and noble. However, if the vehicle itself is faulty, nothing the owner does will prevent it from breaking down. 

Perhaps, the model itself is faulty not just the owner. 

I have immersed myself in articles on spiritual maturity, mostly written by evangelicals and one Roman Catholic. Absolutely, none of them can agree on a definition of spiritual maturity, how to measure it, what it looks like, and how to accomplish it. If spiritual maturity is such a core concept to the Christian life, shouldn’t there be a clear path laid out for us to follow so we can get there? 

I imagine there are those who think they are spiritually mature yet are not. Similarly, there are those who believe they are not spiritually mature yet are. Who then is the mature one? How is that maturity determined? Is spiritual maturity primarily an outward expression or something possessed within?

What I’m doing briefly in this post is beginning to challenge the idea of spiritual maturity. Perhaps the evident and real confusion surrounding it, as the Barna report indicates, suggests that this model for the Christian life is faulty. Does this model break down under close scrutiny and real life experience? In other words, you drive it long enough and the transmission goes out?  

I guess what I’m asking is, “Does the paradigm of ‘spiritual maturity’ actually work?” 

How is it working in your own life? You’ve been a Christian for how many years? Ask yourself, “Am I spiritually mature?” “Uhh…em…yes…and…well…umm…no. I don’t really know.” 

Hang with me. We’ll continue to explore the idea of spiritual maturity in future posts. 

In the meantime, ask yourself the question again. “Am I spiritually mature?” Wrestle with it. See if you can actually determine an answer. 

Dr. K 

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

6 thoughts on “Beginning To Challenge The Paradigm of “Spiritual Maturity”

  1. You’ve got me hanging! 40 years of chasing that allusive “spiritual maturity.” Early on in the journey I was driven by legalist zeal. Now that I’ve “matured” physically I guess I think differently. Could it be that it’s not so much what I know but who I’m getting to know that matters. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

    • Hi Pastor Terry. I can really relate to your journey. You are on the right track, from what I’m discovering. Your statement regarding “who not what” is insightful. Let’s see what God teaches us about Himself and His ways as we explore together. Thanks for engaging brother!! Keith

  2. If I read what you are driving at correctly, the paradigm is probably faulty from it’s inception; as you pointed out the concept is not articulated in the Bible. Perfection is, but doesn’t that seem impossible? There is only one who is perfect, and that is the same one who is good, God. And even if I was to attain such a rarified position, wouldn’t I then be too humble to acknowledge it?

    • Good thoughts, John. You are wrestling with some of the dilemma I am wrestling with as well. I’ll be exploring it later, but is it possible to have an invitation to be perfect yet not concern oneself with reaching perfection (as we think we know it)? Stay tuned..Thanks for engaging. Love to you, brother. Keith

  3. Isn’t spiritual maturity becoming Christ-like? Becoming like God not by ontological identity but by grace. Orthodox call the process by “theosis”.

    • Hi Kevin. I see where you’re coming from, for sure! There is a process. But is that “process” what most evangelicals think of as “spiritual growth” or “spiritual maturity?” You’re on to something. It is ontological in nature – who we are as “being.” And, grace is crucial. We become by grace what God is by nature – as you well know. I think I’ll end up focusing on the journey/process rather than the end product. Is “becoming” the same as “maturing?” Is “spiritual maturity” the same as “theosis?” I’m wrestling with that, I suppose. And, the reality of our union with God sacramentally, eucharistically, liturgically, and ontologically is core to the “process.” Thanks for the really good reply. I need to be challenged in a good way. It helps me clarify things a bit (or confuse them further, perhaps). Thanks be to God for all things! Keith

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