The saying goes, “You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.” The Apostle Paul understood that a maturing life with Christ is not inevitable. He said as much to the Corinthians, chiding that their worldliness reveals them to still be infants in faith.
Most often we talk about practices that contribute to spiritual growth. Praxes such as regular times of studying and internalizing Scripture; prayers of praise, confession, lament, petition, intercession; serving; fellowship; worship; tithing; and more, are familiar and indispensable.
But maturation comes not just from spiritual practices. It also comes from spiritual influences. In Ephesians 4 Paul says there are five influential voices that move us forward: the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the pastor, and the teacher. Paul says God uses a combination of these influences in the process of our maturing.
Parenthetically, some interpreters combine pastor and teacher into one grand role of pastor-teacher. The Greek is fuzzy. Certainly it is not rare to find those two traits combined in a single person (a shout out to the caliber of Covenant clergy). But we have all known gifted pastors who are not really teachers, and gifted teachers who are not really that pastoral. Yet both have influenced people toward maturity.
Are those five influences present in your life?
Apostle literally means one sent on a mission. She or he is a catalyzer whose calling is tied to expanding the mission of God. What voice in your life consistently challenges you to think beyond your own life and congregation to other places and populations where God is at work? The chief mark of immaturity is self-centeredness. The same self-absorption can stunt our ability to join God in God’s mission to see more disciples among more populations in a more caring and just world.
Be attentive to the practices of maturity. And listen for the influences.
A prophet is one who represents God in bringing to bear what people have forgotten or neglected to the point of grossly distorting the heart and truth of God. Some who claim to be prophetic these days are really not—they co-opt the term as cover for being opinionated without concern for relational damage. An authentic prophet knows the pathway into the hearts of the audience. Take Nathan confronting David in his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. It was not harshness that drove Nathan’s point home; it was the tender telling of a story about a stolen lamb that pierced the heart of the king. Do you have voices that help you confront hard things, uncomfortable things, that you would rather not face or even acknowledge? At times part of maturation comes from confrontation.
The evangelist is passionate about people coming alive in Christ. Evangelists help us feel a burden for the spiritual condition of others. One of our affirmations in the Covenant is “the necessity of the new birth.” At times we act as if it was “the nicety of the new birth”—nice, but not decisively important. That’s why we are seeking to raise the temperature for evangelism through initiatives such as BLESS. Nothing accelerates spiritual growth like being used by God in another person’s coming to faith.
The word pastor is literally one who tends the sheep. The shepherd guides, protects, and cares for the well-being of the flock. I appreciate that we use the title pastor in the Covenant. It is a perpetual reminder that soul-care stands at the center of the ministerial vocation. Sometimes the most pastoral influences in our lives are not clergy but friends and laity whose attentiveness to us causes us to want to grow in our responsiveness to others.
Finally, teacher. As we know more about the heart, wisdom, promises, and principles of God, the more we see God at work around us. We find all of that in Scripture. As Paul would say, we need teachers who “rightly handle the word of God” to keep us from being deceived by the whims of the age and to help us see the hand of God more clearly.
Five voices that contribute to our maturity. The apostle to broaden us. The prophet to deepen us. The evangelist to send us. The pastor to care for us. The teacher to anchor us.
Yes, be attentive to the practices of maturity. And also listen for the influences.