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Maturity Focused Discipleship

These thoughts aren't fully formed, but this idea is based on a pretty simple concept. Not everyone can be discipled using the same methods. This is not rocket science. Joe Myers book The Search to Belong really nails this concept and does a great job of identifying four spheres in which people develop relationships. A few years ago, I broke this idea down in a sermon entitled,  7 Things Everyone Should Know About Community.

This model, however, is based on the idea that the process of discipleship is a process which is intertwined with a person's developing spiritual maturity. Observe an infant. Their primary concern is themself. Everything they do/think/say revolves around what they want or are trying to get. Even young children spend far more time thinking about themselves than about others. Even though no one enjoys self-centered children, the reality is that almost all children are self-focused.

Around adolescence that begins to change, though. With the noticing of the opposite gender, children (now pre-teens) begin to think much less about what they can do or have themselves, and become far more relational beings. Particularly, they are interested in what they can have or do together (often with the cute boy or girl in class). This is a world transforming shifts that is somewhat messy and quite awkward at first; but ultimately manifests itself in a marriage relationship. The individuality of childhood is gone, replaced by a team mentality (ahh, if only it always worked that nicely...).

Amazingly, when that oneness of two is expressed to its ultimate, the result is often multiplication. Childbirth recalls the messiness and awkwardness of adolescence as the team struggles to discover how to balance the desire to continue focusing on each other, while still appropriately caring for the needs of this new addition. Healthy parents learn that their focus has to drastically change. Their expressions of care and love are now primarily outward rather than toward each other.

Thus we move from caring only for ourselves, to uniting ourselves with another and caring for each other, to using our unity to create and care for others. Here are the discipleship take-a-ways I'm thinking about:
1) The first stage of spiritual maturity is one in which the individual is self-focused, regularly wondering, "What does the church provide to meet my needs?"
2) Spiritual maturity is not necessarily reflective of age or time as a believer. Many older and long-time Christians continue to focus most of their attention on their own spiritual development.
3) Churches need to provide discipling opportunity for "child" Christians. Ministries that focus on specific demographics or life-stages provide these opportunities.
4) Ministries that are targeted at "people with 'x' need" are designed for immature Christians. Therefore, something in those ministries needs to be designed to move people from a "me" mentality to an "us" mentality.
5) Small groups that don't focus on any one demographic are the ideal discipleship opportunity for growing Christians... But they are not the final destination.
6) Groups that never grow/multiply and don't act missionally are like the 30 year old who still lives with his mom.
7) As parents, our service is directed at our offspring. What if we took a view of "service" that we were mainly called to serve our spiritual offspring? This has revolutionary potential.
Down the road, I'll try to develop this further; along with some of the practical implications for discipleship and small groups in the local chuch.


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