Many churches act as though spiritual growth is automatic once a person is born again. They operate with no organized plan for following-up new believers and no comprehensive strategy for developing members to maturity. They leave it all to chance.
They assume that Christians will automatically grow to maturity if they attend church services. All we need to do is just encourage people to show up at meetings and the job will get done.
Obviously, this isn't true.
Spiritual growth doesn't just happen once you're saved, even if you attend services regularly. Our churches are filled with people who've attended their entire lives, yet they're still spiritual babies.
Spiritual growth must be intentional
Spiritual growth is not automatic with the passing of time. The writer of Hebrews sadly noted, "... though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again." (Heb. 5:12)
Millions of Christians have grown older without ever growing up.
The truth is that spiritual growth requires a commitment to grow. A person must want to grow, decide to grow, and make an effort to grow.
Discipleship begins with a decision. It doesn't have to be a complex decision, but it does have to be sincere.
When the disciples decided to follow Christ they didn't understand all of the implications of their decision. They simply expressed a desire to follow him. Jesus took that simple but sincere decision and built on it.
Philippians 2:12-13 says, "... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
Notice that it says "work out" - not "work on" - your salvation. There is nothing you can add to what Christ did for your salvation. Paul is talking about spiritual growth in this passage to people who are already saved.
The important thing to note is that God has a part in our growth but so do we. We must make an intentional effort to grow.
Becoming like Christ is the result of the commitments we make
We become whatever we are committed to - without a commitment to grow, any growth that occurs will be circumstantial, rather than intentional. Spiritual growth is too important to be left to circumstance. It needs to be intentional, not incidental.
Spiritual growth that leads to maturity begins with the kind of commitment described in Romans 6:13: "... give yourselves completely to God - every part of you - for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for his good purposes."
Spiritual growth is not a private matter
Some of us hesitate to commit ourselves to developing an intentional plan of growth for our members because we believe spiritual growth is a personal and private matter. Rather than interfere, we choose to allow each person to develop in his own way at his own rate.
This is an aberration from the truth. The idolatry of individualism has influenced even the way we think about spiritual growth. So much of the teaching on spiritual formation is self-centered and self-focused without any reference to our relationship to other Christians. This is completely unbiblical and ignores much of the New Testament.
The truth is that Christians need relationships to grow. We don't grow in isolation from others. We develop in the context of fellowship. Over and over again in the New Testament we find this basic truth: Believers need relationships with each other to grow!
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another ...." God intends for us to grow up in a family.
As I've stated several times in this column, the most significant growth toward maturity we've EVER seen at Saddleback was during 40 Days of Purpose.
In those 40 days, we baptized 671 new believers, added almost 1,200 new members, and increased our average attendance by 2,000. Those 40 days transformed our church and mobilized our members in ways we never dreamed possible.
This article is used by permission from From Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for those in ministry. www.pastors.com.