This series of lessons introduces you to the vision, mission, and strategy of Genesis Church. “Experiencing Growth” introduces you to the five stages of spiritual growth. Everyone you know is at one of these stages. This lesson will help you to identify where they are spiritually and how to help them grow.
Take your Bible and turn to Ephesians 4:11. God blessed us with four children. Three boys and a girl (show pic of when they were small). One is married and has a daughter. Two are in college and one is in tenth grade. When we first brought them home from the hospital they were tiny compared to now. It is amazing to look at them as babies and to watch them grow on the weeks, months, and years. There were times my kids were so cute, fun, and adorable I didn’t want them to grow. But think about that. Wouldn’t it be a heartbreaking thing to have a child who by the time they were ten you still had to feed them and dress them. If I had to do that and it was necessary I would. But God creates us to physically grow, emotionally develop, and to mentally grow. All my children have grown and it was a natural process that God built in them.
There are some parallels that we see in the natural growth of children that we see in the spiritual growth of believers. God calls us to spiritual maturity throughout His Bible. He wants us to grow and He wants us to help others to grow.
- Listen to all the growth language in Ephesians 4:11-16, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of His body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (NLT).
- Notice what Colossians 1:28-29 says, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me” (HCSB). Helping people grow spiritually was an intense passion for Paul.
Today, I want to introduce the five stages of spiritual growth.
- Everyone, without exception, is in one of these five stages.
- Knowing where you are in these stages, helps you know what you need to grow. As we go through this, I want you to try to identify where you think you are.
- Knowing where others might be in these stages, helps you help them grow.
- It doesn’t matter what age you are when it comes to these stages. Just because you are older doesn’t mean you are spiritually mature.
- A person may be more spiritually mature in one area in their life than another. For example, you may be spiritually mature when it comes to finances, but a spiritual child when it comes to kind words.
- Once a person grows into a new stage, does not necessarily mean they stay there. They can backslide into a previous stage. However, they cannot lose their salvation.
Seeker: exploring truth
The first stage of spiritual growth is the seeker. This person is exploring truth. They are looking for meaning in life. Even though they may be exploring truth and even though they may be looking for meaning in life they are in spiritual darkness. The Bible is clear that no one seeks after God, it is God who does the seeking after man. This person is called a Seeker because they are searching for meaning, significance, and value in life. This person can range from being very interested in Christ to being very hostile to Christ and His people. The Bible describes this first stage in several ways.
- Dead – Ephesians 2:1-2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil – the commander of the powers in the unseen world” (NLT).
- Lost – Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (NLT).
- Sinners – Luke 15:10, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents” (NLT).
We all start out this way. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Our role as disciple makers is to build a relationship with them, share the gospel with them, and answer their questions. 1 Peter 3:15-16, “You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (NLT).
Believer: discovering truth
Once a person becomes born again and a follower of Jesus, they immediately enter stage two. We call this stage the Believer. At this stage they are discovering truth. Everything is new to them. Prayer is new. Church is new. The Bible is new. Learning how to walk and live as a follower of Jesus is new. They don’t know how to pray. They don’t know much about God’s Word. They are discovering truth.
Look at 1 Corinthians 3:1 which says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as through you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life” (NLT). Babies in Christ are born again, they are believers, they are followers of Jesus but they are still very worldly or fleshly. They still have a lot of habits and attitudes that are sinful in their life.
- They don’t think Biblically. They make decisions based on how it makes them feel or how it makes them look in front of others. They don’t filter decisions through the Scripture.
- They still have a lot of their bad habits. They still make a lot of bad decisions and make a lot of mess in their life. You will still see some obvious sins in their life. They are saved but there is not a lot of evidence for their salvation. They are still acting like they “belonged to this world” in many ways.
The great thing about these spiritual infants is they are usually hungry for God’s Word and they want to learn. We are told in 1 Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (NLT).
As disciple makers these spiritual infants need us to nurture them with God’s Word and good examples. They need to be fed the basics of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. How to get the most out of the Bible, how to talk and listen to God, the importance of other Christians in their life, and how to deal with sin when they fail and the importance of following Christ.
Learner: growing in truth
As the Believer grows they leave spiritual infancy and enter into the third stage; we call this the Learner. At this point they understand the basic aspects of following Jesus. Spiritually speaking they can feed themselves and they can dress themselves. They are learning how to be kind to others and share with others. They know how to hear from God through His Word and they are comfortable talking to God. But as a child they are still very self-centered and selfish. If they can’t have what they want they will whine about it and maybe even throw a little fit. They want their world and the church to revolve around them.
Let’s take a look at 1 John 2:12 where John writes, “I am writing to you, who are God’s children [he’s not talking to 7 year olds, he is talking to children in the faith who might be 40] because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus” (NLT). Now jump down to verse 14, “I have written to you who are God’s children because you know the Father” (NLT). Spiritual children know their sins have been forgiven because of Jesus and they know they are a part of a spiritual family with a Heavenly Father. They understand the basics.
As disciple-makers we need to provide them guidance. A spiritual child can eat meat. So we need to give them the meat of the Word. We need to make sure we guide them into a solid Biblical foundation dealing with the major doctrines of the Bible. This will help them make decisions based on the Word of God rather than on their flesh (their wants, desires, pleasures, etc.) We also need to help them begin focusing on others more.
Server: applying the truth
As a Learner grows up they move into the fourth stage called Server. This group, they are applying the truth. You could call them the spiritual young adults. I believe we can describe this group with three words:
- Change: At this stage, they have grown tremendously from where they started. You can see the difference. It’s obvious. God has changed them so much they don’t act like, talk like, and respond anything like when they were a spiritual infant or child. They think Biblically and there is some spiritual maturity about them. They are “God-focused.”
- Ministry: They are becoming intentional and strategic about sharing their faith and ministering to others. They are hungry to help, they are wanting to serve and be a blessing to others. They want to get involved. They want to be a part of ministries and they want to go on mission trips. They are not content simply watching others do ministry. They are willing to sacrifice.
- Energy: They are zealous for God and they are enthusiastic about ministry. They usually bring energy and activity to the church and ministry. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (HCSB). Spiritual young adults normally don’t have a problem with enthusiasm.
Look carefully at the middle of 1 John 2:13 where John says, “I am writing to you who are young in the faith because you have won your battle with the evil one” (NLT). Now jump down to the middle of verse 14, “I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong. God’s word lives in your hearts, and you have won your battle with the evil one” (NLT). These “young in the faith” can also be translated “young men’ (HCSB). The Servers are in the middle of the battle. They are involved in the war between kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. They have seen the Lord’s victory in their life and they have seen it in others.
As disciple-makers we need to offer them training. We need to equip them to recognize their spiritual gifting, their heart for ministry, the ability God has given to them they could use in ministry, and how their personality and experiences equip them for ministry as well.
Leader: Guiding others in the truth
In the final stage of spiritual development, we become spiritually mature enough to reproduce disciples – we become spiritual parents. We call this stage the Leader. This group helps others grow in the truth. These are spiritual leaders who think like mature spiritual parents.
- As spiritual parents we share our faith and see people become born again and we get involved in helping them through infancy, childhood, and the young adult years until they are able to help others grow spiritually themselves.
- The difference between the Server and Leader is the Server wants to simply be a blessing and serve somewhere while the Leader understands the spiritual growth process and is thinking like a parent bringing others along on the spiritual growth journey. It’s like the birthing room at a hospital. When a child is being born you usually have at least five people in the room: the child being born, a doctor, a nurse, a mom and a dad. The nurse and doctor are there to help see the child born and assist and help in any way they can. They carry no sense of responsibility to journey with the child to help them grow through infancy, childhood, young adulthood, and into parenthood. The biological parents do sense a heavy responsibility to help the baby grow and develop over the years.
When a person reaches the stage of a Leader they have a heart of a parent when it comes to helping people come to know the Lord and grow spiritually. They see the big picture of growth. They think like a loving spiritual parent.
Let’s take a look at some spiritual parent language in the Bible.
- 1 Corinthians 4:14, “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children. For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. So I urge you to imitate me” (vs. 14-16, NLT).
- 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 11-12, “Although we could have been a burden as Christ’s apostles, instead we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother nurtures her own children. We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us…. As you know, like a father with his own children, we encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (HCSB).
When a spiritual young adult is ready to become a spiritual parent what they need from disciple-makers is to be released and supported. But like any natural parent, spiritual parents need training and advice along the way. Spiritual parents are usually the spiritual leaders in the church. They oversee ministries that help move people along spiritually. They need some training and equipping on how to do that.
- It doesn’t matter what age you are when it comes to these stages. Just because you are older doesn’t mean you are spiritually mature.
- It doesn’t matter how long you have been attending church. Just because a person has been attending church for 40 years does not mean they are spiritually mature.
- A person may be more spiritually mature in one area than another (young adult stage when it comes to finances and a child when it comes to kind words).
- Once a person becomes a spiritual parent does not mean they will always be a spiritual parent, they can “backslide.”
- The stages help with ministry decisions. Every ministry targets someone.
So, where are you in regarding these stages?