What Makes Spiritual Maturity?

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[Based on a letter to my cousin-in-law, who runs a seminary in Chicago.]

Most seminaries focus on:

  • Pastoral vision and skills
  • Theological knowledge
  • Community and relationships

Those are all good things. But are they the right things?

From my perspective, we (the church) send seminaries passionate and teachable students, and what we want to get back are spiritually mature workers.

I agree that all those things are useful for maturity. But are they necessary? More importantly, are they sufficient?

This isn’t just a theoretical question. Our church Kingsway has recently “spread” into two new campuses. We are already ramping up leadership training to enable 3-4 more over the next five years. Getting this right is literally a matter of life and death for our church. If we put someone insufficiently mature in charge of one of our first few campuses, it could irrevocably destroy our community and our mission.

Because of that, I currently define spiritual maturity as knowing how to:

  • Submit in a healthy way to God, the Bible, authorities, and peers
  • Grieve and forgive sin (theirs and others)
  • Help themselves and others to grow in grace through the gospel

Importantly, I see these as inter-related disciplines to be mastered — not merely facts, attitudes, or decisions. I’d take someone like that in a heartbeat over someone who merely has vision, skills, or knowledge. It is easy to impart those on the job, or find a job where such limitations don’t matter.

But if they have not mastered all three of those disciplines, they are just an accident waiting to happen.

I’m sure most seminaries implicitly nurture and develop those aspects to some level. But I worry that they don’t realize that those are the essentials they need to develop and nurture in others. So they  end up focusing on and reproducing the wrong things…

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