Mike was a “spiritual orphan.” He was a disciple of Christ. He had attended a theologically solid church for several years. But no one had ever put an arm around Mike’s shoulder and offered to walk with him, to help him become what God was calling him to become.
Then a disciplemaker met with Mike and asked him, “What do you think it means to ‘grow’ as a Christian?”
Mike immediately replied, “To know more about the Bible.”
Mike’s answer reflected the culture of the local church he attended. There, an increase in Bible knowledge was equated with “growing.” Mike had gotten the unspoken message that dedication to attending classes and sermons, and the knowledge that was obtained through that attendance, marked one as a “growing” or “maturing” Christian.
This “educational model” has produced growing frustration in well-meaning church leaders as they dedicate untold hours to produce quality classes and preaching but see few people becoming more like Jesus—and fewer still making disciples.
Growing numbers of churches are realizing that spiritual growth and maturity is not a matter of faithful attendance or intellectual learning alone. Knowing and showing up, although necessary, does not equal growing. Knowledge without heart and life change becomes Phariseeism.
So what does it mean to mature or grow as a disciple of Jesus?
“A disciple is not above his teacher….It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher” (Matthew10:24-25).
In Matthew 10, Jesus is letting the twelve know that their growth as His disciples is largely defined by their transformation into His likeness. Jesus imparted knowledge to His disciples for their transformation. Transferring knowledge was never His “end game.”
When church leaders’ conception of Christian growth changes to emphasize Christ-likeness, their metrics for measuring spiritual growth will also change, as will their leadership.
A disciple changing into the likeness of Jesus in the heart, mind, character, action and mission is truly growing. Christlikeness is the true measure of Christian maturity and the object of all true discipleship.
The Morph Factor
Paul’s stated objective regarding the Galatians was that Christ would be “formed” (morphed, or the Greek morphoo) in them (Galatians 4:19). As a faithful spiritual leader he was willing to “suffer…until” Jesus was “formed” in the Galatians.
The ultimate ministry result Paul was looking for was disciples:
- In whom Christ was formed (Galatians 4:19)
- Who were transformed into the image of the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2)
- Who were conformed into Jesus’ image (Romans 8:29)
Knowledge of the Word of God is foundational for Christian growth. But many who read, hear, and even study the Word of God have little appetite for morphing, for really growing. In addition, church leaders can more easily measure and clear the low bars of attendance, completed programs, and knowledge transfer than growth. God calls church leaders higher! The sheep of countless local flocks and a lost world need leaders to bring them toward Christ-likeness.
Growth in Disciplemaking
For a disciple to grow in Christlikeness, he or she must grow as a disciplemaker. Rather than a second “element” of what it means to grow as a Christian, growing as a disciplemaker is a subset of the one and only definition of Christian growth: becoming like Christ. Many churches have deemphasized developing disciplemakers, which requires training, evangelism, and Jesus-style, Life-to-Life® discipleship. Unfortunately these churches assume that disciples are made from large group Bible teaching alone.
During the three years of Jesus’ ministry on earth He “proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom” in towns “throughout all Galilee” and did the same in Judea, “passing through from one city and village to another” (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:32-39; Luke 4:40-44, 13:22,33). On one instructive night, Jesus, in His compassion and demonstration of Kingdom nearness and power, spent the sundown to pre-dawn hours healing and casting out demons in Capernaum. He left the crowds at dawn and went to a secluded place to pray. When the crowds found Him and sought to prevent Him from leaving them, He reflected on the purpose for which the Father had sent Him into the world: “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).
Jesus was a man of gospel mission. Other than dying for sin, preaching the gospel of the kingdom was the number one reason Jesus came to earth! Preaching the gospel was Jesus’ non-negotiable, elevated even above all the good deeds He performed during His life on earth. And Jesus sent the church for all ages on the same gospel mission. Growing as a disciplemaker (in evangelism and discipleship) is a big part of what it means in to grow in Christlikeness!
Imagine a future where each member of your church family knows explicitly what it means to mature spiritually, to grow in Christlikeness, because leaders communicate this truth regularly. Imagine that every disciple’s mind and heart is focused on seeing this growth occur in an ever-increasing fashion, where the church evaluates and amends its efforts based on whether members are becoming more like Jesus, including growing as disciplemakers.
Where would your church be if Christlikeness, including disciplemaking, were “present and increasing”? Imagine the people in your church rediscovering the joy of life with Jesus while they grow as He intended, in His likeness.
About the Author
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We dodge the maturation process, choosing to avoid or blow up instead taking a new step. We get stuck by life’s challenges. We each face this truth: growing up is awkward, scary, and disorienting.