Spiritual maturity, and spiritual morons.

Years ago I had a boss who was seriously immature. Same age as me; we were both in our thirties. But he was completely unreliable, had serious lapses in judgment, couldn’t be trusted with private matters, lied to cover up even minor mistakes, and did some really inappropriate things and told inappropriate jokes so he could impress the teenagers we worked with.

How’d he get put into any position of authority? He was a pastor’s kid. There’s a whole lot of nepotism in churches; our word nepotism even refers to the various popes giving a “nephew” (Italian nipote) a significant job in the church. I have no problem with nepotism when the kids are qualified and gifted like their parents. I have a big problem when the kids assume—exactly as many a Christian does when it comes to our heavenly Father—their patronage means they needn’t bother trying to be a person of good character.

And character is Paul’s one requirement for leadership: You only put mature Christians in charge. Do otherwise, and you get disaster, which is exactly what happened to this boss. I don’t know the details (and really, they’re none of my business anyway) but he pooched something so huge his dad couldn’t bail him out, so the board fired him and hired a much better boss.

The immature boss is what I call a spiritual moron. And yeah, “moron” is used as an insult nowadays, but it’s the appropriate word; it was originally a medical term for an adult who’s mentally 8 to 12 years old. A spiritual moron is a Christian who really oughta be way, way further along in their Christian life than they are. Like people who were raised Christian, or who became Christian decades ago; they’re hardly newbies! But at some point they stopped growing, and won’t budge further. They have very little fruit of the Spirit, and too often, a whole lot of fake fruit instead.

Newbies—new believers, recent converts—are “baby Christians,” and of course they’re spiritually immature. They’re like two-year-olds. They need people to watch them, redirect them, correct them, and keep them from taking off their pants in polite company. Newbies present a minor problem, but don’t remain a problem. They grow up, and learn better.

Whereas spiritual morons should’ve learned better, yet they’re still taking off their pants at dinner parties. If you didn’t know them, you’d assume they were newbies. They’ve little self-control, little patience, no grace. They might know a ton of bible trivia, but their fruitless misbehavior disqualifies them from any responsibility. Problem is, they’ve been Christian so long, they think they’re elders… and throw little tantrums when we correctly don’t recognize them as elders.

And as you already know, Christendom is full of such people.

When immature people are put in charge.

Like my former boss, a lot of these spiritual morons nonetheless get put into positions of authority. Many a Christian has no clue what a spiritual moron is, and despite their obvious lack of fruit, let ’em take charge of things. After all, they’ve been members for 20 years, or grew up in that church, and they’re such nice people. Or they have an obvious talent: They’re wonderful public speakers. Great with kids. Amazing musical ability. Or they went to seminary, so they know a lot.

There are four ways an immature Christian gets put into authority. Probably the most common is the person just assumes it: An immature Christian sees a power vacuum, steps into it, and is in charge from now on. I know of an immature Christian who started three different churches. Sounds impressive… till you find out the reason he didn’t stay in his first two churches was scandal. He embezzled money and had sexual affairs. The churches swept the scandals under the rug, so he moved to another city and started another church anew. He’s a friendly guy and a good speaker, so of course he attracts followers. But it’s only a matter of time before he steals their money and bangs their women.

My boss is an example of two ways. He’s a pastor’s kid, so there’s a case of a person who should know better, putting an irresponsible person in charge because other factors blind them to commonsense. Many a pastor wrongly believes, “If I just give my kid a challenge, she’ll rise to the occasion”—and nope, she doesn’t. To be fair, some kids do! But y’know, it’d be wiser of these pastors to put their kids in charge of something which doesn’t affect other people’s lives, or doesn’t run the risk of shaking people’s faith and driving them away from Jesus. Fr’instance put your probationary kids in charge of cleaning the bathrooms, not leading the youth group. But some parents get pretty blind when it comes to their family members’ deficiencies.

The other is when the board of an organization or church likewise put an irresponsible person in charge. Sometimes for the very same reasons as a biased parent: They love the guy and think he’ll surprise them all. (In a good way, not a horrifying one.) Other times they’re also spiritual morons—they’re only on the board because they’re connected, or rich—and they’re looking for the wrong qualifications, like talent or education or charisma. Those things are important, but character is paramount.

Lastly we come to congregational churches, where leaders are elected by the popular vote of the members. Problem is, anybody can become a member of these churches, so you’ll get voters who are of all stages of spiritual maturity. Newbies can vote. Spiritual morons can vote. Full-on hypocrites can vote. What are the chances a majority of the members will be fruitless Christians?—and as a result you’ll of course get fruitless leaders.

Most of the fruitless leaders I’ve met, either started their own churches or lead congregational churches. It’s the easiest way to bypass any real accountability structure. And like I said, when your church or organization puts spiritual morons in charge, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’ve seen the disasters. ’Tain’t pretty.

Dealing with spiritual morons.

Spiritual morons aren’t unteachable. (They always wanna learn more trivia!) But lacking fruit, they’re gonna fall back on their trivia… and don’t you dare contradict them. You can teach ’em plenty of new stuff, but when you threaten to correct their old stuff, you’ll get pushback. They know what they know. They believe it; it’s settled. They can’t handle controversies, nor criticism, nor paradoxes. They’re like robots in bad science fiction: Give ’em a paradox, and their heads explode. They simply can’t deal with ideas which contradict their firmly-held beliefs. And they lack the love, patience, kindness, and peace to accept correction.

In fact spiritual morons believe, and teach, anything which threatens their beliefs is devilish and sinful. Challenge them, and you’re devilish and sinful. You’re trying to get ’em to doubt their faith, and shipwreck it. You’re trying to undermine Christianity, morality, the whole of reality. You’re evil. If you’re a pastor, they’ll get you fired if they can.

Y’see, a lot of the reason Christians struggle with theological questions is because they lack the spiritual fruit of faith: They don’t really trust God. They do a bit, but only as far as they think they can control or manipulate him. Which they can’t actually do at all, but they think they can… ’cause they know doctrine.

They don’t trust God has the universe well in hand. So they want explanations: “Why does God do it that way?” Not so much because they want to know his heart and share his compassion and contribute to his kingdom. More because they want to know his will, and reduce him to a predictable formula. If we can forecast what God’s gonna do next, it means we “know” him. Right?

Wrong. We know God because we have his Spirit, and he’s growing his fruit in us. Not because we can stay a step ahead of him, then turn back and tell others, “Toldja so.”

We’ve got to realize this fragile mindset whenever we deal with spiritual morons. We’ve gotta work with them in much the same way public school teachers work with the learning-disabled: Carefully. Patiently. Slowly. Watch for triggers. Don’t push them too far, too fast. And as much as we can, concentrate on growing spiritual fruit in them. Not knowledge; they have knowledge already, for all the good it’s done them. Focus on fruit. Doctrine’s important, but put it second. Fruit will put their knowledge to good use—and prepare them for all the corrections the Holy Spirit wants to make in their knowledge.

We all gotta fully participate in the Spirit growing his fruit in us. Love more. Have more joy. Embrace more peace. Be more generous. Forgive everyone. Submit to fellow Christians. Control your emotions, habits, and desires. Be kinder. Take leaps of faith. Grow in maturity.