Spiritual maturity: It’s based on fruit, not knowledge.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April 2021

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. Couldn’t be trusted with private matters. Lied to cover up even minor mistakes. Had serious lapses in judgment. Regularly did inappropriate things, or told inappropriate jokes, so he could impress the teenagers we worked with.

How’d this guy get put into any position of authority? He was a pastor’s kid.

A whole lot of nepotism takes place in churches. Our word nepotism even comes from the practice: Various popes regularly gave important jobs to their “nephews” (really, their illegitimate kids), and the Italian for “nephew” is nipote. But lemme first say I’m not saying we should never hire family members. Most of the time they’re just as talented, gifted, and qualified as their relatives, if not more so. Being a pastor’s kid is a plus, not a minus.

Of course sometimes the apple didn’t fall near the tree. Sometimes it fell into a whole other yard, rolled down a hill, fell off a cliff, landed in the pigpen, and is working its way through a pig’s large intestine. Some pastor’s kids are not at all qualified to take any position of leadership whatsoever. But they got the job anyway, ’cause Dad or Mom gave it to them, or pulled strings. That’d be my boss. He got his job because Dad knew some people. He had connections… so he didn’t need 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 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 I wound up with a much better boss. Happy ending.

But during that time I worked for that immature man, my coworkers and I had more than one discussion about maturity and leadership, ’cause our boss was such a poor example of Christian maturity. One of those talks went kinda like this.

SHE. “I mean he’s qualified and all that; the board wouldn’t’ve hired him if he weren’t qualified. But he’s so immature.”
ME. “Sure. And the spiritual immaturity is undermining the job…”
SHE. “Hold up. I didn’t say he was spiritually immature. He’s just immature.”
ME. “They’re the same thing.”
SHE. “No they’re not.”
ME. “Mature people exhibit self-control, emotional control, patience, kindness, gentleness, and peace, right? Those are all spiritual things.”
SHE. “Mature people know stuff.”
ME. “When the smartest person in the world sticks her tongue out at you, would you say she’s being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Smartest person gets bad customer service, so she throws a massive hissy fit in the middle of the supermarket. Still being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Because it’s not about knowledge or ability. Betcha the oldest, wisest people in your church don’t know squat about computers.”

(Like I said, this happened years ago. I’m old now. We old people grew up with computers. But our parents, not so much.)

ME. [continuing] “But here’s the thing. When an old person’s spiritually mature, and you tell them, ‘You need to go on the internet for that,’ they’re not gonna freak out—‘Oh I don’t know anything about computers, and I’m too old to learn. What do you need a computer for? You young people and your computers. In my day we didn’t use computers for anything.’ They’re not gonna have a mini-meltdown; they’re gonna be patient. ‘I don’t know how to do that. Can you show me?’ Because maturity isn’t about knowledge or ability. It’s all behavior.”

Or, as it’s elsewhere called in the bible, the Spirit’s fruit. Mature people—whether Christian or not!—are gonna exhibit either those fruits, or the nearest pagan alternative. Self-control, emotional control, patience, kindness, gentleness, and peace. They’re gonna actually think of others instead of themselves alone. They’re gonna think about doing the right thing instead of the popular thing—and when they reject the popular thing, they’re gonna remember to be kind; they’re not gonna be jerks about it.

Immature people are gonna be fruitless. Like teenagers: It’s gonna be all about them and their needs and wishes. There’ll be little lapses in their self-centeredness from time to time; just enough to give us hope for their future. But then they’re right back to staring at their phones.

And as you already know, Christendom is chock full of such people. Our biggest job is to get ’em to grow up and become mature. Our biggest problem is we think other things—like knowledge—are what actually makes a Christian mature, and based on them we put immature Christians into positions of authority and leadership. And in so doing, damage fellow Christians, damage the church’s reputation, and shipwreck the gospel.

So it’s kinda important we know what Christian maturity really is: People who regularly, consistently, intentionally produce the Spirit’s fruit. And strive to get there ourselves.

Spiritual disciplines.

There are all sorts of ways to develop fruit, and thereby develop spiritual maturity. They’re called spiritual disciplines.

And they’re not popular. Partly because people don’t wanna put any effort into their Christian growth. Partly because they think we don’t have to put any effort into it: It grows spontaneously. The Holy Spirit does it all by himself, without our input—in fact if we made any effort, it’d be works righteousness, and we don’t wanna do that.

Yeah, these are immature excuses for not doing the work. They’re how Christians stay immature. You wanna grow up? Then act like a grownup, and start following the Spirit instead of whining, “But you’re supposed to do it all.” No; he provides the power. He gives the marching orders. We obey.

Is it possible to grow fruit without practicing any of the spiritual disciplines? Not really. I know people who claim they have, but what they’re either doing is faking the fruit or substituting other things for fruit.

Or they’re reinventing the wheel: They actually are practicing a spiritual discipline, but they figured out the technique by themselves (with a lot of input from the Spirit, obviously), and when I tell ’em other Christians are already doing the same thing, they’re dumbfounded. “No… what I’m doing is totally different,” and no it’s really not. Or “What do you mean other Christians already figured this out?” And depending on their current level of maturity, they’re either thrilled others are on the same track… or annoyed, ’cause they were kinda hoping to market their “new thing.”

But folks, we gotta do the work. Seek God’s presence, pray and meditate, read bible, fellowship with fellow Christians, fast or do without, find ways to exhibit self-control and patience, tithe and give to charity, minister and contribute to charity, pursue God’s will and submit our own to him, and otherwise change our lifestyles so they reflect Jesus all the time. Never settle for a Sunday-morning façade.

Does this mean we can no longer engage in immature fun? Duh; of course it doesn’t. But mature, wise people know there’s a time and place for it; that there’s safe people to goof off with, and impressionable people who won’t know we’re kidding. We learn there are boundaries, and learn where the boundaries are. And yeah, sometimes we mess up and cross the boundaries. But we apologize instead of saying, “Well you’re supposed to be mature enough to not be offended.” We’re always supposed to be the grown-up.

That’s where Jesus wants every last one of us to be. It’s where he is. Let’s go to him.