Stages Of Spiritual Growth and Maturity – A Spiritual Reflection (Part 1)
Recent studies, both in Catholic and Evangelical churches, have been able to determine that one can actually measure spiritual “maturity” and spiritual “growth.” A definition of “Spiritual Growth” can be drawn from Matthew 22:37-40 and defined as “increasing love of God and increasing love of neighbor.” Thus, it is possible to empirically measure “the heart” (spiritual growth and maturity) in terms of examining a person’s concrete behaviors as they model “loving God” and “loving neighbor.” This would involve:
- A person’s spiritual beliefs and attitudes.
- A person’s spiritual practices.
- Participation in organized church activities.
- Spiritual and pastoral activities directed with and towards others.
These studies have also provided the following important information concerning spiritual growth and maturity:
- Participation in church activities (and sometimes even regular church attendance) is a poor indicator of long-term spiritual growth.
- Many consistent “church-goers” are actually apathetic non-believers who are unlikely to ever accept Christ fully.
- Even devoted Christians fall far short of living out the mandate of Christ to “Love God and Love Neighbor.”
- Nothing has greater impact on spiritual growth than reflection on Scripture and engagement/reception of the Eucharist.
- Spiritually “stalled” and spiritually “dissatisfied” people account for as much as 25% of all active church parishioners.
- There is no “killer app” or “magic-bullet” program for spiritual growth.
- Leadership matters.
Two substantial studies from Chicago-based Willow Creek Church found that , spiritually, people can be placed within one of four segments along a “spiritual continuum.” They outlined their findings in two books entitled, Reveal and Move. In addition, they found that there are three significant “movements” from one segment to the next and that specific spiritual actions, activities and attitudes need to be in place before a person moves from one segment to the next. These findings mirror five spiritual “thresholds” mentioned by Sherry Weddell (Catholic author and Founder/Chairwoman of the Catherine of Siena Institute) as outlined in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples. Other very recent systematic nation-wide Catholic studies across a number of varied (arch)dioceses are revealing similar results.
This is critically important to me as a Pastor since certain programs will only appeal to people in one particular “spiritual stage” and have no impact or appeal to parishioners who are in a totally different spiritual stage in their lives. Thus, our spiritual programs need to be more specific and “targeted” to certain believers and let people know for which spiritual stage each program is intended.
In January, St. Monica will roll-out three adult faith spiritual programs. Each will be targeted to people in different spiritual stages in their lives:
- One program will focus on searchers, seekers, skeptics and even long-term believers who just aren’t sure about their faith, God and the church any more.
- More mature believers who are looking to grow their relationship with Christ especially through prayer will be the focus of a second program.
- finally, a more challenging program will be aimed at believers who are more advanced in their spirituality and wish to be “pushed” in their faith, are willing to invest significant time and effort in growing their relationship with Christ, with others and with the Church, and are looking to be held accountable in this growth path.
One might naturally ask, “Well, in which stage am I?” Next week I shall begin to outline some characteristics of each stage as well as the specific spiritual actions, activities and attitudes that need to be in place as a person moves from one spiritual stage to the next. Also, “watch this space” for exciting news on a series of 2016 spiritual programs which will hopefully offer something for everyone.