The most practical and powerful way to get believers headed in the direction of spiritual maturity is to help them establish habits that promote spiritual growth.
Often called spiritual disciplines, we use the term habits at Saddleback because it is non-threatening to new believers.
While we teach that being a disciple certainly requires discipline, we believe these habits are to be enjoyed rather than endured. We don't want people to be afraid of the spiritual exercises that will strengthen and develop them.
You cannot talk about character without talking about habits. Character is the way you habitually act. For instance, if you are honest only part of the time, or you are honest only when you consciously choose to be honest, you cannot claim to have the character quality of integrity.
Having integrity means you are always honest. It is your habit. You don't even have to think about it. When someone asks you a question or gives you back too much change, you habitually do the honest thing.
Of course, there are dozens of good habits we need to develop as we grow to maturity. But in designing Class 201 I spent a lot of time thinking about what are the foundational habits that must be learned first in order to grow.
What are the minimum requirements?
What are the core habits that will give birth to all the others?
As I studied, I kept coming back to the habits that influence our time, our money, and our relationships. If Christ's lordship is recognized over these three areas of life, then he will truly be in control - so these are the areas we focus on in Class 201.
Class 201: Discovering Spiritual Maturity focuses on how to establish four basic habits of a disciple: the habit of time with God's Word; the habit of prayer; the habit of tithing; and the habit of fellowship. These are based on statements of Jesus that define discipleship: a disciple follows God's Word (John 8:31-32); a disciple prays and bears fruit (John 15:7-8); a disciple is not possessed by his possessions (Luke 14:33); and a disciple expresses love for other believers (John 13:34-35).
After teaching the what, why, when, and how of these four habits, the class covers the practical steps to starting and maintain any other habits. The class closes with everyone signing the Maturity Covenant, which is the size of a credit card.
Build A Balanced Christian Education Program
I believe there are five measurements of spiritual growth: Knowledge, perspective, conviction, skills, and character.
Knowledge of the Word.
To begin building a spiritual growth curriculum you need to ask two questions: What do people already known? and What do they need to know?
A church that has grown primarily by biological growth (conversion of members' children) or transfer growth may have many members that already have a working knowledge of the Bible. But in a church designed to reach the unchurched it's a different ball game. You cannot assume your new members know anything about the Bible. You must start from ground zero.
At a recent monthly baptism, we baptized 63 new believers including a former Buddhist, a former Mormon, a man with a Jewish background, and a former Catholic nun! When you add in ex-New Agers and plain old pagans, you have quite a mixture to deal with. Biblical illiteracy is almost universal among unbelievers. They do not even recognize the most well-known stories or personalities of the Bible.
Tom Holladay, who for years led our Maturity team, told me of a recent 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 he 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.
At the knowledge level, your church needs to regularly offer continuous New Believer Bible studies, and surveys of the Old Testament and New Testament.
While every Bible book is important, at Saddleback we want our members to study five "core" books before they branch out into other studies. These books are Genesis, John, Romans, Ephesians, and James.
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. The Bible says that unbelievers have no spiritual perspective (1 Cor. 2:14). Likewise a lack of perspective is a mark of spiritual immaturity ( 1 Cor. 3:1-2, 13:11, 14:20). God's reoccurring complaint about the nation of Israel was that they lacked perspective. Many of the prophets rebuked this weakness (Isa. 44:18, Jer. 4:22, Micah 4:12).
In contrast, having perspective is evidence of spiritual maturity. Hebrews 5:14 (NASB) says "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." There are dozens of benefits of learning to see everything from God's perspective. I will mention just a few.
Perspective causes us to love God more. The better we understand the nature and ways of God, the more we love him. Paul prayed "...may you be able to feel and understand, as all God's children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is;" (Eph. 3:18 LB)
Perspective helps us resist temptation. When we look at a situation from God's viewpoint, we realize the long-term consequences of sin are greater than any short-term pleasure sin might provide. Without perspective we follow our own natural inclinations. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." (Prov. 14:12)
Perspective helps us handle trials. When we have God's perspective on life we realize that "... in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." (Rom 8:28) and that "the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (James 1:3). Perspective was one of the reasons Jesus was able to endure the cross (Heb. 12:2). He looked past the pain to the joy that was set before him.
Perspective protects us from error. If there was ever a time that Christians need to be grounded in the truth it is today. We live in a society that rejects absolute truth and accepts every opinion as equally valid. Pluralism has created a very confused culture. The problem is not that our culture believes nothing but that it believes everything. Syncretism, not skepticism is our greatest enemy. Perspective is the antidote.
Jeremiah 3:15 say that pastors that feed the flock the way God intends provide both knowledge and perspective. The result is believer that rock solid. "Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth." (Eph 4:14 LB)
Saddleback's program to teach perspective is called Life Perspectives. It is a systematic theology written by my wife Kay and Tom Holladay. Life Perspectives covers twelve essential Christian doctrines.
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.
When you first become a Christian you often do things simply because other Christians around you suggest them or model them. You may pray, read the Bible and attend services because you see the examples of others. This is fine for a new Christian. Little children learn the same way. However, as you grow, you must eventually develop your own reasons for doing what you do. Those reasons become convictions. Biblical convictions are essential for spiritual growth and maturity.
One of the biggest hit songs of the 1980s was "Karma Chameleon" by Boy George. The key line said it all: "I'm a man without conviction." Sadly, that represents many people today. Their values are blurred, their priorities are jumbled, and their commitments are diffused. James Gordon said. "A man without conviction is as weak as a door hanging on one hinge."
A person without conviction is at the mercy of circumstances. If you don't determine what's important and how you'll live, other people will determine it for you. A person without conviction is a weak, jellyfish type of individual who mindlessly follows the crowd. I believe Paul was talking about conviction when he said in Romans 12:2 "Don't let the world squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your mind from within..." (Phillips)
The church must teach biblical convictions to counter the secular values that believers are constantly exposed to.