Survey: Definition of Spiritual Maturity Vague

The term “spiritually mature Christian” is not new.

Folks who have such maturity are often thought of as church lay leaders, active Bible study members and certainly pastors.

But when it comes how such spiritual maturity is defined, a new survey indicates it might just be anyone’s best guess.

A study released this week by The Barna Group and Living on the Edge indicates a startling level of ambiguity on what spiritual maturity looks like, including among pastors.

A heavy emphasis for self-identified Christians was based on following rules spelled out in the Bible. Eighty-one percent articulated this view, but conversely, half of the respondents had no clear idea how their church defined spiritual maturity. The confusion over church perception extends to two-fifths of born-again Christians who have openly professed Jesus as their Savior.

Similarly, many respondents only cited one way they live out spiritual maturity – for example, having a relationship with Jesus or applying the Bible – but largely failed to make substantive connections between expressions of faith.

Diffused views are no less for pastors.

Ninety percent of pastors identified the absence of spiritual maturity as a problem in society at large. However, a minority of pastors said this was a problem in their own congregations, a response that would seem to indicate a disconnect between ordinary churchgoers’ views of themselves.

Pastors, too, had widely different answers about where they directed people in the Bible to find keys to spiritual maturity. One-third indicated “the whole Bible” as the guidepost and 20 percent gave a vague opinion such as “Romans” or the “life of Christ.”

Amid what seems like mass confusion, the survey does pinpoint lack of personal motivation, other life distractions and complacency as reasons for spiritual stagnation. Generation gaps are also a factor, with people over 40 expressing greater satisfaction with spirituality and a propensity to follow biblical rules. Conversely a clear minority of young Christians saw such literal interpretations as significant.

The mixed messages here appear to point to a couple of long-established truths. Pastors, at times, need to do a better job of defining what it means to be a Christian. Yet the responsibility for having that sense of spiritual connectedness needs to come from individual believers.

If all church is to a congregant is an hour on Sunday morning with some polite chit-chat over coffee thrown in, belief will be skin deep at best. As is the case with much of life, you get out what you put in. Just like interpersonal relationships, a relationship with God takes time, effort, and most importantly, a willingness to make it a priority.

 

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