As I learned to guide individuals from spiritual infancy toward spiritual maturity, the differences between the steps and the implications of each step grew. Helping new Christians progress from being fed, to feeding themselves, to feeding others, and, finally, to coordinating feeders, calls on disciple makers to teach information, to model skills and to nurture others' spiritual responsibility.
Guiding individuals into growth also explained the situation from which my former church family launched the process. Before the launch, no pathway or mechanism existed by which individuals could intentionally grow. No one had identified the destination of spiritual growth, nor provided a method to measure progress along the journey. And, though not always correct, many church members saw themselves as spiritually mature. In the absence of the destination and measurement benchmarks, individual Christians developed their own standards, ones reasonable to them. Often, their standard of maturity described their current spiritual state, not something farther along.
That pre-launch situation is natural. People want to succeed. So, when given no pathway or standard for success, they develop their own. Who can fault a believer for desiring spiritual success? Who doesn’t want to be a mature Christian? Every true saint wants to please Jesus. So, every saint charts his or her own way when no one provides direction.
Most church members that I pastored gravitated to the second step (where individuals begin spiritually feeding themselves) when no plan was in place. It’s a step to which every saint aspires, but there’s more, too. It’s both easy and comfortable to reach step two and stall out. In fact, many saints see feeding themselves as the pinnacle of taking spiritual responsibility for themselves. It is the pinnacle of the first part of the journey.
During those early days, I made the mistake of asking people in step two to take on responsibilities in church ministry that required a greater level of maturity. I lacked any way to see the mismatch. I became frustrated with their performance in their new role and they became disillusioned. They concluded, “I can’t do this.” I kept pushing, but people kept failing. I blamed them. When I realized what was happening, I took the blame back on myself. I hadn’t helped them know how to grow. I had not helped them develop the maturity new areas of service required. I gave them assignments beyond their spiritual ability and development. Essentially, I was asking new swimmers to dive into the deep end of the pool. They were not ready, yet.
During the second step, quiet times grow exponentially in value. Personal Bible study claims a more prominent place. Step two saints devour Bible studies. They take attendance and consistency seriously. Worship becomes a meaningful personal expression to God. In this step, saints discover their own spiritual personality - they find out God wired them and what they need to thrive. Step two really is about personal thriving. Until a believer becomes personally stable and significantly self-responsible, charting more of the journey serves little purpose.
The end of step two, where a saint is ready to reach “beyond,” becomes evident as believers master the art of caring for themselves and begin yearning for additional responsibility. They discover an indefinable “itch.” Up to that point, perfecting their mastery of themselves has satisfied their longing for “more.” Upon reaching the far side of step two, they begin desiring more than taking care of themselves. Others' needs begin to intrigue them. They begin noticing how their own walk with God could benefit others, too.
Step two may be the broadest step of spiritual growth, covering the most ground. Step one stirs a person’s interest in the Bible. Step two gives them tools to understand and apply it to their lives. Step one introduces basic spiritual disciplines. Step two relates those disciplines to the routines and rigors of daily life. Step one introduces concepts and ideas. Step two attaches those concepts and ideas to a solid and immoveable foundation. Yet, despite its breadth of content and skill training, completing step two only completes half of God’s journey. He has more in store. He still sees room for us to grow, a lot.
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
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