Building a balanced Christian education program

I believe there are five measurements of spiritual growth: knowledge, perspective, conviction, skills, and character.

These five levels of learning are the building blocks of spiritual maturity. Any strategy designed to help people reach spiritual maturity must incorporate all five to be effective.

Here's a brief sketch of how Saddleback developed key programs around each of these measurements:

Knowledge of the Word

To begin building a spiritual growth curriculum you need to ask two questions:

1. What do people already known?

2. What do they need to know?

Saddleback Teaching Pastor Tom Holladay told me of a conversation with a brand new believer who was struggling with trials in his life. Tom took him to James 1 and explained the purpose of trials. The man seemed satisfied.

But as he started to leave Tom's office, the man said, "I thought maybe my trials were a result of some sins from a previous life."

Tom realized the man needed more than an explanation of trials! He needed to understand the biblical view of life.

Saddleback's largest program to develop knowledge of the Word is a nine month inductive Bible study course, written and taught by lay teachers of Saddleback. It is called the W.O.R.D. study.

W.O.R.D. is an acronym for the four activities of this Bible study:

• Wonder about it (ask questions about the text), • Observe it, • Reflect on it, and • Do it!

It is based on the methods described in my book, Personal Bible Study Methods.


Perspective is understanding something because you see things from a larger frame of reference. It is the ability to perceive how things are interrelated and then judge their comparative importance.

In a spiritual sense, it means seeing life from God's point of view. In the Bible, the words "understanding," "wisdom," and "discernment" all have to do with perspective.

The opposite of perspective is "hardness of heart," "blinded" and "dullness."

Psalm 103:7 says, "He (God) made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel." The people of Israel got to see what God did, but Moses got to understand why God did it. This is the difference between knowledge and perspective.

Knowledge is learning what God has said and done.

Perspective is understanding why God said it or did it. Perspective answers the "Why?" questions of life.

Perspective causes us to love God more, helps us resist temptation and enables us to handle trials. Without it we are in danger of falling into error and drifting away from God's truth. Saddleback's program to teach perspective is called Foundations (formerly Life Perspectives). It is a course of systematic theology which covers eleven essential Christian doctrines, and it is written by Tom Holladay and my wife, Kay.


Dictionaries usually define conviction as a fixed or strong belief. Conviction is really much more than that. Your convictions include your values, commitments, and motivations.

I like the definition I once heard Howard Hendricks give - "A belief is something you will argue about. A conviction is something you will die for!" Our convictions determine our conduct. They motivate us to act in certain ways.

The church must teach biblical convictions to counter the secular values that believers are constantly exposed to. As the old clich