February 8, 2006
Exit Stage Left 2: How the Spiritually Mature Reengage
In his earlier post, Dave Terpstra described why the spiritually mature find most churches ill-equipped to assist them in their growth. This, he says, is why the more mature often leave the church or disengage from active service. After reading your responses, Dave has returned with further thoughts about spiritual growth within, and without, the church.
When my friend's dad died it was a challenge to his faith to say the least. His dad was a long time follower of Christ and had been in full-time ministry for years. He seemed to be at the height of his ministry career. The he got sick and died. My friend didn't officially "leave" our church. But as best as I can remember he stopped serving. He stopped participating in programs. I rarely saw him at worship services. I'm sure he missed more than he made. But God was up to something amazing in his life and with his faith.
Some of the comments in response to my original article seemed to hold the viewpoint that my friend was being spiritually immature because he stopped serving. But to cut straight to the point, I trust his maturity more than those who would question it simply because he stopped serving for an indefinite period of time.
It has been my experience that everyone who matures in their faith has times where God grows them tremendously through basic discipleship and service. I would hope that those are maturing elements of our faith to varying degrees throughout our lives. However, I disagree with those who would argue those are the only times and ways in which we grow. I believe in the same way we experience times of transformation through discipleship and serving, we also experience times of inner transformation that are not initially outwardly expressed.
In Galatians 1:15-17 Paul writes, "But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus."
According to scholars Paul spent a couple of years in Arabia. He was not doing the externals of the faith, being discipled in church services or serving. Paul was receiving the gospel straight from heaven. That seems to be quite a journey inward to me.
Why is it that when someone tells us they need to take a break from serving or from the programs of our churches we become so defensive? Was Paul being selfish because he took two years off from helping in children's ministry? I think my defensiveness towards those who might leave my church is wrapped up in a healthy sense of wanting what's best for them, and an unhealthy desire that I (or even my well programmed church?) have failed them.
No, I am not creating victims. No, I am not excusing selfishness. I am questioning the mentality of myself and other church leaders who so quickly assume that a time of disconnect from the programs of the modern (or postmodern) church immediately indicates apostasy.
My friend who "left" our church has come back. He is now an elder. He is one of the most spiritually mature men I have met for his age. He serves and disciples in ways he never could have before his inward journey. He is moving on to the selflessness of stages 5 and 6 where his faith and service are out of a deep friendship with God.
If our greatest strength is found where Christ is made strong in us (2 Cor. 12:10), then perhaps as church leaders we should delight when others experience the weaknesses that come from not growing through our teaching or the service opportunities we provide. Perhaps God has them on a journey we can't draft on the white boards of our meeting rooms or diagram in a membership manual. We can plant. We can water. But let's trust God to make people grow.