How to Teach the 6 Principles of Spiritual Maturity
Growing a church means implementing a solid discipleship ministry. Pastors can to lead their congregants to spiritual maturity by helping them see people as image bearers of Christ, by choosing to bless others, by tearing down walls, and by preserving unity. | By Alejandro Mandes
Today’s church is experiencing seismic cultural shifts. That’s why pastors and other church leaders must help people unite under a biblical model that includes love and service, fasting and prayer, and community outreach.
Jesus called us to a new kind of life. We are not simply spectators, we are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom. We are not simply learners, we are disciples. The rebirthing process ushers us into a new way of life where we orient ourselves around biblical principles.
As pastors and church leaders, we can invite people to embrace citizen-discipleship. We can teach them to see themselves rightly and to interact with others with grace. To do so, we should follow 6 simple principles:
1. We must remind people that they are image bearers of God, and every person they encounter is the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
In Mark 12:16-17 (NKJV), we see Jesus talking to the Pharisees. They wanted to know whether it was lawful to pay taxes, and he asked to see a coin.
[Jesus] said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
They said to him, “Caesar’s.”
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
They meant to trick Jesus, but Jesus shifted the focus.
Essentially, Jesus said that “image” indicates “ownership.” It is easy to understand that people should pay taxes because Caesar’s image was on the coin. But what about people? Whose image do they bear? Jesus taught that people are made in God’s image; thus, they belong to God.
The image of God is stamped on every human being; they belong to him.
C. S. Lewis put it so eloquently:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. . . . And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
2. We must remind people that they are engaging image bearers, whether in person, online, or in other public arenas.
When we are in the middle of a public discourse, it is tempting to label, blame, and dismiss people, especially if we disagree with them.
As church leaders, we must help our congregants remember that they are speaking to fellow image-bearers. Encourage them to slow the conversation for a moment and ask themselves three questions:
- What outcome to I expect from this conversation?
- What stories am I telling myself about this person or this situation?
- Are my assumptions likely to affect the way the other person responds to me?
It is possible to disagree with someone without being dismissive. Treating people with respect and listening with the goal understanding can open the door to relationship and evangelism.
3. We must help our people understand that they can CHOOSE to be a blessing.
God chose the Jews to demonstrate his love. He declared that he would bless the whole world through them. He promised Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed through his descendants (Genesis 12:3).
Blessing does not automatically happen. People have to be intentional in their words, attitudes, and actions. Encourage people to choose blessing, then give them opportunities to demonstrate love.
Consider practical ways people can engage the community. Facilitate conversations around topics that may differ from yours, and model grace and respect.
4. We must help people tear down walls that divide.
Paul said that the death of Christ destroyed the ages-old wall separating Jews and Gentiles:
He Himself is our peace, who has made both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
(Ephesians 2: 14-18 NKJV)
Since leaving the Garden of Eden, people have been fighting over possessions, land, beliefs, and customs. As the chosen people, the Jews tried to keep themselves pure. Strict adherence to the Law was paramount. Those who chose to embrace Hellenistic culture were persecuted within their community. The Jews loathed the Samaritans, like the woman at the well. This disdain was genuine, largely born from a desire to please God.
Yet, the Scriptures repeatedly point to God’s ultimate intention: one family, comprised of all people, who would love him and bless others.
As a pastor, you can lead the way. Foster relationships with people from different cultures and from all walks of life. Model love as you share the gospel and encourage your people to do the same.
Jesus came for all people. He dismantled the wall of separation. We can follow his example and tear down the walls that divide us.
5. We must teach people to care for marginalized people.
Jesus felt great empathy for marginalized people. He didn’t view them as outsiders; in fact, he held them up as examples, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and when he interacted with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42). He validated their courage and encouraged their questions.
Jesus was raised among the Gentiles, and he spent time in the non-Jewish regions around Galilee, including: Perea, which is the Transjordan; the Decapolis, a community of ten Greco-Roman cities; and Samaria. He understood other cultures, and he wasn’t afraid to engage them.
Jesus saw beggars. He saw people with disabilities. He saw people who were controlled by demons. He saw children. He saw the tax collectors and prostitutes. He saw everyone who needed his love.
As leaders, we can formulate a plan to help marginalized people in our communities. Partner with organizations who serve the homeless or who rescue people who are being trafficked, then turn your people loose.
6. We must teach people to engage in spiritual warfare to preserve God-honoring unity.
Jesus loved and honored the image bearers of God. He urged people to choose a life of blessing and service. Through his death and resurrection, he destroyed the wall that separated people. He brought hope to wounded, rejected, marginalized people. Wherever he went, he ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Through it all, Jesus taught his disciples to function as a family. He wanted them to live in harmony and unity. In John 17, he prayed that “they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (NKJV).
As pastors and church leaders, we can teach people the importance of unity. We can model it with our staff, treating them with respect, patience, and kindness. We can speak the truth in love and exercise self-control.
We can help congregants understand the difference between conformity and unity. We can show them how to fight the right battles, against spiritual powers that seek to divide and destroy.
In Ephesians, Paul presents a theological vision of the church, explaining its unique composition:
- Chapter 2: Our salvation.
- Chapter 3: The united Church
- Chapters 4–5: Fostering unity through loving relationships
After expounding those profound topics, one might expect a celebratory proclamation. Instead, Paul tells Christians to “suit up.” He details the equipment they will need to preserve unity.
Unity among God’s people is fragile, and the enemy desperately wants to spoil this precious gift.
Too often, God’s people insulate themselves behind selfish, self-righteous lives.
Unity is a precious gift, worth fighting for, and we must teach people about spiritual warfare. They must understand that people are not the problem. Neither is the government, the media, big business, or whatever group they dislike. Satan is the enemy, and God has enlisted us to fight.
People must learn to fight with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, prayer, and watchfulness (Ephesians 6:14-18).
Jesus has called us to be faithful citizen-disciples, proclaimers of the Kingdom of Heaven. As pastors and church leaders, we have the responsibility ⎯ the awesome opportunity ⎯ to help people grow as we link arms and proclaim the gospel to a hurting world.
This article has been adapted from “My Fellow Citizens” by Alejandro Mandes, chapter 8 of Kingdom and Country: Following Jesus in the Land that You Love, edited by Angie Ward. Copyright ©2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.