Let's Hunger and Thirst to be Mature Disciples of Jesus Christ
A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was a man who had a passion to see people develop a mature relationship with Jesus Christ. This passion came in direct conflict with many church leaders of his day. It appeared as if they were more interested in the number of people in the pews and the amount of money in the bank. They believed that these were indications of a healthy church, but they cannot be properly used to determine the level of spiritual growth of the people within. True, people who have a deep relationship with Christ will be dedicated to a local, healthy body of believers; Paul makes a point of this numerous times in the New Testament. This dedication is shown through regular attendance and a financial commitment to the work of the local church, but to say that number of people in the pews and the amount of money in the bank equates to spiritual growth is simply not true.
Simpson left a lucrative pastorate in New York City because of a tension between “playing church” and doing Kingdom Work. He broke away from the established church to build into a group of people who desired a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and to be involved in building His Kingdom. The church leaders wanted him to make those “inside” the church their top priority, while showing little to no interest in growing spiritually. Conversely, Simpson was meeting with dock workers who showed a great interest in growing spiritually. They didn't have others who were willing to share the Gospel message with them and disciple them into mature believers of Christ. These dock workers didn’t really fit into the mold of what the prestigious church model was looking for in attenders. This led to a conflict for Simpson and the leadership of his church.
Faced with a difficult option of following the demands of man or the calling of God, Simpson made the right call to strike out in the direction of God’s leading. He quit his job as a pastor and focused on the unreached people within the city. He trusted that God would provide for Him and started a Kingdom journey that changed Christianity. He started evangelistic campaigns to reach the lost for Christ in the same city as the church had left. He also started to hold “deeper life” studies for those who were interested in developing maturity in their relationship with Jesus Christ. These studies drew from people from a variety of denominations who were longing for a deeper understanding of Christ and a greater submission to Him.
As I look at where we are in American Christianity I see this same stirring taking place in many places. There are people in churches on Sunday mornings who are asking, “Is this it? We want to go deeper. We want to know Christ on a more intimate level. We want to be involved in things that are life changing and world changing!” But sadly, most churches are not involved in those kinds of activities. Even if they do have mid-week activities, they are based on developing the same immature level of Christianity that is being presented on Sunday mornings.
We have heavily invested in a Sunday morning presentation that is not working. At some point of time we have to admit this and make some changes to become more productive at developing disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to see how this kind of an error in the process can take place! Most leaders want to develop spiritual maturity. Most come up with a plan to bring it about. The problem occurs when people don’t want to follow the plan or when leadership doesn’t want to amend the plan on the fly. Sometimes pastors feel they have to keep the Sunday morning presentation the top priority just because that’s what pays the bills, or because that’s when they have the greatest chance to speak into people’s lives.
But there is an inherent flaw in adapting this kind of thinking: it’s working against your main objective to produce spiritual maturity. You see, spiritual maturity is marked by a hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Spiritual maturity is marked with learning how to learn on one’s own. Spiritual maturity is marked with a care for one another. Spiritual maturity is marked by a desire to serve. Spiritual maturity is marked with a desire to go, to give, to experience, to teach, to bless. If a church is focused the vast majority of its time, energy, resources, money on a Sunday morning presentation they’re in effect working against developing the things that are required for spiritual maturity to take place. In effect, they are creating a system that is working against its main purpose. They’re in that situation because their people lack spiritual maturity, but the people are only coming to things that build into more of a culture of spiritual immaturity. This does nothing to develop leadership that can be depended upon to develop spiritual maturity. It’s a never-ending cycle that is just waiting for a new spiritually mature family to move into town to rescue the church out of its leadership development crisis.
I have learned that there are multiple benefits in calling people to a deeper spiritual relationship with Christ – even if the majority will reject that calling. Just as Jesus called the crowd to become part of the committed, we have to call those who are Sunday morning attenders to take the next step in their spiritual progress. Jesus never did anything substantial with the crowd – all of His best ministry was done with the committed.
For ACC, this is calling our people to come to a Sunday school type class (we have a few offered during the week). This class CANNOT contain the same level of teaching that takes place on a Sunday morning service – it must be a level up from there if we want to develop spiritual maturity. The next step for us is the small group. We call those in our Sunday school type class to begin to participate in a small group. Again, this cannot be the same level of learning that takes place on Sunday am or in our Sunday school classes – it must go deeper. The fourth level that we’re currently focusing on is developing a culture of on-on-one discipleship relationships. These relationships present the best level of development of spiritual maturity.
Another thing that we focus on is the development of leadership within our church. I’ve learned that only good things come from raising the bar of expectations for leadership in the church. Just as Jesus did, expecting His disciples to make great sacrifice for the cause of His Kingdom, we make a huge mistake when we allow our leadership to lead their way, or expect them to grow in maturity just because they’re leading. I use a portion of my meeting time with leadership (or elders, our board, staff, and ministry positions) as a training opportunity: a chance to teach them what healthy ministry leadership looks like in the Church of Jesus Christ.
This time of instruction has proven to be a very good investment in the life and ministry of our church. Stronger/healthier leaders make stronger/healthier ministries.
Stronger/healthier ministries make more leaders. You can’t have one without the other!
These are principles that I put into play as a youth pastor and I’m finding that they’re the right things for me to put into play as a lead pastor as well. We can’t wait for people to develop spiritual maturity on their own – we have to be hands on with the process. There is no area of life where the immature develop maturity on their own. In every area, those who are mature must be the ones to call others to maturity and build into their lives the characteristics required to achieve that maturity.
Let’s strike out on a path of spiritual maturity that would make A.B. Simpson proud to see if he walked into our church! Ultimately, He’s not the one that we should look towards for affirmation, Jesus Christ is the one who holds that place, but I still would like to hear Simpson say something like, “I sure like what you’re doing at this Alliance church.”
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.