Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Four Stages of Christian Maturity

We talk about looking for worship ministers and worship leaders with Christian maturity and character. But what does that really mean? We need to have some idea of what maturity is, because if we do not know what it looks like, we will not recognize it when we see it. Or we will be easily taken in by people who can spout the standard church-ianity model answers and clichés but do not live in the reality of the Christian walk.

What I am giving here is certainly NOT the final word on the topic, but it gives us a good starting point to look at this wide-ranging issue. I've realized that within the church context there are four stages of development that a believer may be at. They are:

1) Un-rooted Loner – A believer at this stage has accepted the salvation of Christ before, but because of anger, bitterness or unforgiveness, chooses to live independently of the other people in church. They have no functional root in Christ to give them consistent strength to walk in the Spirit.

They would live by their own standards of what is right, and they are often contemptuous of what other Christians believe and how they behave. They may accuse other Christians of just putting on a show, of pretending to follow the law and instructions of Christ. They may attend church services out of habit, but they are fundamentally self-centred and loners. One of the best descriptions of them is found in the following passage:

Proverbs 18:1 - A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment. (NKJV)

2) Un-rooted Communal – these are believers who are not firmed rooted in Christ in themselves, but follow what they see the crowd doing. If it is fashionable to follow a particular doctrine or worship God in a particular way, that is what they do. Un-rooted Communals rise or fall depending on the godliness and wisdom of the leader of their particular group. If the leader and the rest of the group members are on fire for God and seeking God for wisdom as a body, these crowd-followers will do fine. But they are unable to stand alone, because they are not rooted in God by themselves. They are unable to take an individual stand against corporate mistakes, whether the mistakes of their denomination, church or fellowship group.

One of the best examples of crowd-followers would be the people of Israel during the time of Elijah's confrontation with King Ahab, recorded for us in 1 Kings 18:21-24. None of them dared to stand up for the LORD publically when the nation went into idolatry, but when they saw the demonstrated power of God they rejected the prophets of Baal and followed Elijah's lead in killing those prophets.

3) Rooted Loners – These are believers with a genuine walk with God. They are able to stand up against corporate error and are not intimidated by peer pressure. However, they are tactless and unfeeling in their interactions with other believers. They may be tempted to see other believers as mere crowd-followers, with no root in the Lord. And sometimes that is true. Rooted Loners are individualistic and they see little value in seeking God in the assembly.

They may go seek out people, but they do so for the sake of ministering to them (or correcting) them. They are not open to receiving ministry or correction from other people in the body of Christ, unless that person is clearly some spiritual super-hero, who has written a number of best-selling books, sold many worship albums or raised 18 or more people from the dead.
One of the best examples of rooted loners is the Apostle Paul in his early days. When he was converted, he would boldly go into the synagogues and preach Christ (Acts 9:20). But because he did not move in the wisdom and direction of the Lord, he stirred up such great strife that the rest of the believers had to send him to Tarsus (Acts 9:30). And when they did that the churches in that region had peace, were edified and their numbers multiplied (Acts 9:31).

Imagine, being so unedifying to church growth that your church multiplies in numbers and grows in maturity when you decide to do nothing! I would be so discouraged…

4) Rooted Communal – these are people with a genuine walk with God AND a heart both to serve his people and to be taught and served by them. They will seek God by themselves in the personal prayer closet, but they also know that they cannot walk with God alone. So they actively seek out edifying fellowship, people they can serve and be accountable to.

One clear example of a Rooted Communal is King David. We know from his psalms that he had a genuine walk with God; yet he also delighted in seeking God in the assembly. You can see from the following passage that David loved to go to the house of God with close companions, hence the pain he felt when betrayed by such a friend.

Psalm 55:13-14 - But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance.
We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng. (NKJV)

This emphasis on worshipping God as a community is an important theme in the worship of God's people. Consider this verse:

Psalm 122:1-2 - I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the LORD.” Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (NKJV)
When does a believer really start growing?
The turning point in a believer's growth in the Lord comes when he or she gets rooted in the Lord. This comes from taking personal responsibility for his or her personal walk with the Lord. Such people will not fall away from God because other believers stumble. They will never leave the Lord because of other believers offending or hurting them, because they abide the Jesus, the Vine (John 15:4) and therefore they will bear fruit even if others do not.

But no matter how much time they spend in the presence of the Lord and seeking him in worship and in his word, they will never reach their highest potential in Christ until they realize what the Bible says in this passage:
Eph 4:12-13 - … to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

In other words, there is no way for a Loner, no matter how sincere or fervent in his or her faith, to fully realize his or her potential in Christ unless the rest of Body of Christ rises up too. The Rooted Communal will seek growth for his/her own sake, as well as for the Body of Christ. The Rooted Communal will be teach and exhort other believers in humility and gentleness, and be open to teaching and correcting from other believers as well, even those who are not spiritual super-heroes.

Why are we looking at this?

Because the nature of worship ministry, especially worship leading, require that we live in community. We cannot lead people if we look down upon them or think they are spiritual slackers that are just dead weight to the Body of Christ. We also cannot be consistently effective in leading people in worship if we do not know where they are at, what they struggle with, or even what songs they know.

The last thing you want is some Rooted Loner with a good singing voice leading worship for your congregation. I have seen situations in which the worship leader thought he could prophetically exhort the congregation into powerful spontaneous worship, and when the congregation didn't respond because they were not musical enough to sing to some abstract chord progressions, the worship leader continued to exhort them to love and praise God with all their hearts. The unspoken message is that if the people cannot sing to some strange chord progression they do not love God with all their hearts.

Do your people need this kind of guilt trip and condemnation? I don't think so!

I do not talk a lot about the intangibles of the worship ministry, because it is not the thrust of my ministry. But this factor, maturity in the Lord, is very important and has a very direct impact on the effectiveness of everybody in the worship ministry. So what stage of maturity are YOU at right now? How about your worship team members? And how will understanding this influence the way you select musicians and worship leaders for your worship ministry?

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