Last time, we discussed the idea that as Christians who make disciples, we need to have the habit of being intentional in making disciples. This time, I think we had better learn to discern where the other person is in their Christian walk. The Christian life revolves around Jesus Christ; this is obvious, or at least it should be. A person’s relationship with Jesus Christ will result in that person growing in their level of spiritual maturity from the time that they were brand-new Christians until the time that they are making disciples on their own, and for us to aid and mentor and encourage them through this process, we need to recognize where that person is so that we can meet their needs.
I’ve studied this quite a lot over the years, both through my own observations, and both reading the writings of others and discussing these things with very wise and experienced Christian leaders, and I think that I can accurately say that most of us go through four levels of spiritual growth and maturity in the process of becoming a mature disciple of our Lord. Different commentators have their various names for these steps, and in this post, I’ll give you my names for these levels of growth.
Brand-new Christian: The “New Phase”
A new phase Christian has just come to faith in the Lord. Very often they are wide-eyed, excited and sometimes a bit zealous. You can tell who these people are, because they usually ask big questions, hypotheticals that are hard to answer sometimes, for they have no relevance to much of anything. They are not ‘dumb’ questions, they simply reveal a general lack of understanding which is to be expected of someone who is brand-new to a whole new life. A few examples that come to mind might be: “If God told Adam’s children to be fruitful and multiply, and they were the only people in the world then God was telling them to commit incest. Does that mean incest is OK?” “If a person spends their whole life in the Amazon jungle and never has an opportunity to hear the Gospel, do they go to hell when they die?” “If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then that means that smoking is a sin, right?”
Some of the questions a new phase Christian might ask will sound very much like the kinds of things that atheists will say to ‘prove’ that the Bible isn’t true, but these questions really prove that the person asking doesn’t understand the Bible yet. This is not said to be critical, please understand that, for nobody understands the Bible all that well before they learn about it! The new phase Christian is going to make some mistakes because of the combination of low understanding and newfound excitement, but that’s OK; it is completely normal and the rest of us did the same thing in our early walk. Why even Peter made a few just like we did. What the new phase Christian really needs is support, encouragement and patience from their “older” brothers and sisters in the Lord. They will need to have some things patiently explained, and most of all they will need someone who can demonstrate by their actions and speech what a mature believer looks like.
Young Christians: The Me Phase
Sad to say, most American Christians these days never advance beyond the me phase. In this phase, they have moved beyond the early phase of being excited without much understanding. Often these Christians have a great amount of Bible knowledge; I’ve met Seminary professors who are in this stage, in fact. What they really have, however, is a point of view that is seeing everything around them in terms of how it affects them personally. These folks love devotions that make them feel good, they often refuse to let go of old traditions that they are fond of, and they tend to serve in the church for recognition, praise or good feelings. You can tell who they are by the things they say. For example, they will say things like: “I’ve been serving in the nursery for six months now, but I don’t think anybody appreciates what I’m doing. I think I’m going to quit.” “Modern music doesn’t feel like worship!” “I don’t like our preacher; he doesn’t talk enough about God’s love.”
People in this phase, though they are great people and may have great Bible knowledge, are having a hard time dealing with self. I’m not saying they are “selfish” though some may be and I’m not saying they are self-absorbed, but they are struggling with this issue, as we all have. They need a mature mentor to help them past issues relating to “self.”
Young Adult Christians: Serving Phase
I don’t mean young adult in years, I mean it in terms of spiritual maturity; they are almost there! These people will work their tails off for you. They are willing to serve selflessly; they expect nothing in return for their service. They can head up a ministry and they will serve tirelessly. You can easily recognize them by what they say: “Man, this ministry is going so great; if only I had another person or two who could take the lead… just think of how many people we could help!”
What a joyous complaint to hear! All we need is for them to realize that they are the ones who train the next batch of leaders!
Mature: Disciple Level
This person is a leader who is always on the lookout for someone to mentor. They look around and see raw human potential, size up the spiritual phase of that person and set about building them up into a maker of disciples. They serve, just like the serving phase people do, but they are already at work helping the people in the ministry teams to grow spiritually so that they can lead the team. These are also the ones who can guide a person from being lost, into faith in Christ and up through all four phases into maturity and then turn them loose to serve and disciple all on their own.
This phase is the goal of every Christian who desires to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as we have been called to serve, even though they might not yet realize it.
Next time, I think we need to discuss how spiritual gifts play a role in our service as disciples.