Emotional and Spiritual Maturity
The church board was discussing what to do with the dated, worn and frayed carpet in the church sanctuary. One of the board members grew increasingly agitated and without a word got up and stormed out of the meeting. A parishioner wrote an email to the pastor explaining that she was no longer going to tithe because the pastor neglected to acknowledge the anniversary of her parents. A small group of people decided to leave the church because they did not like the song choices by the new worship leader.
Sadly, the hypothetical scenarios above are often more truth than fiction. As a young person growing up in church, I often wondered how people who were so gifted, talented and used by the Holy Spirit could also be so petty, narrow and even mean. Peter Scazzero writes, “Many are supposedly ‘spiritually mature’ but remain infants, children, or teenagers emotionally. They demonstrate little ability to process anger, sadness, or hurt. They whine, complain, distance themselves, blame and use sarcasm, like little children who don’t get their way. Highly defensive to criticism or differences of opinion, they expect to be taken care of and often treat people as objects to meet their needs” (The Emotionally Healthy Church, p.18). Additionally, he wrote, “I discovered the inseparable link between emotional health and spiritual maturity – that it is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature” (The Emotionally Healthy Leader, p. 17).
I believe it is time for church leaders to take a long hard look at what becoming a disciple of Jesus truly is. We must be willing to examine our own spiritual / emotional maturity and do all that is necessary to become the emotionally / spiritually mature men and women God desires we be. We must also establish an environment in our churches where it is expected and safe for our congregants to mature. The Apostle Paul wrote,
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints…to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…(this) causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
What is spiritual and emotional maturity? Spiritual / emotional maturity is the ability to make good, positive, healthy choices during life’s challenges. It is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions in an appropriate manner – to handle interpersonal relationships truthfully, respectfully and lovingly. Spiritual / emotional maturity is the development of Christ-like character through a renewed mind and tested faith – exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-26)
The next question is how. How can we move ourselves and our congregations toward greater and greater degrees of spiritual and emotional maturity? Although I cannot answer that question thoroughly in this brief article let me offer some mind-set changes that can get things started.
- Spiritual/emotional growth is expected – We are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).
- Spiritual/emotional growth is intentional – We must be doers not merely hearers (James 1:22).
- Spiritual/emotional growth is both mundane and miraculous – Work out your salvation…for it is God who is at work in you… (Philippians 2:12-13). “Without God we cannot, without us He will not.” St. Augustine.
- Spiritual/emotional growth reaches below the surface into our soul – The word of God is living. It pierces and divides to the core of our being (Hebrews 4:12).
- Spiritual/emotional growth must be evaluated – We must foster an environment of love, respect and safety. If we do then people will have the courage to allow the Holy Spirit to get below the surface and deal our inner self (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 11:28).
Can you imagine what church life would be like if we all grew emotionally and spiritually as God desires? It would probably feel a little like heaven on earth. In fact, our churches would probably grow because others would be drawn to Christ. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).