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.