When it comes to growing disciples, we’ve been led to think we must choose between quantity or quality. I’m not sure where that line of thinking began, but it needs to stop. God calls our churches to multi-dimensional growth; discipleship is about going both deeper and wider. We aim to make spiritually mature disciples.
Mature plants produce fruit. The same goes for disciples. The truth is, there are church people who have attended church their whole lives and have never taken a single step forward in spiritual maturity. I don’t mean to stand in judgment of any one person or parish. It happens here at Nativity too – it will never disappear completely. It just means this is a job that needs to be ongoing and intentional. Here are four steps we currently take for growing spiritually mature disciples.
Spiritual maturity happens through a series of steps. One of the most common metaphors the great Catholic spiritual masters, like John of the Cross or Theresa of Avila, used was a ladder. Why? Because it had steps, or rungs. Figure out where you want people to go in their faith, and then outline steps to take them there.
Maturity only happens through further commitment. It’s a lie our culture sells when it tells us to commit to nothing – leave your options open because something better might come along. That doesn’t produce healthy marriages or careers, and certainly not healthy disciples. Have ministers sign covenants for their ministry: it’s a personal covenant they are making with God to serve with consistency and integrity.
Only spiritually mature disciples can produce others. That seems obvious, but parish leaders get this wrong all the time. We give responsibility to people who aren’t ready, which can stunt their spiritual growth. It’s not their fault – they just lack a certain kind of wisdom and need guidance. Don’t rush to fill a position just because you need a warm body – you could stunt the growth of a whole group. One recent trend here at Nativity is toward training ministry coaches who spend one-on-one time with new member ministers.
A sign of growing spiritual maturity is the move from just a Sunday to a daily practice of prayer or devotion. Daily Mass is an excellent practice we promote at Nativity, as many parishes do, but we also realize that this just isn’t an option, at least consistently, for many working people with families to take care of.
What easy and accessible practices does your church promote that encourages their prayer lives during the week? Our parish believes small groups are essential for weekly spiritual growth. At Nativity, we also share a daily devotional email called “Worship Fully” that anyone can subscribe. It’s a brief unpacking of the weekend’s message every day of the week that only takes a couple minutes. It’s not the pinnacle of spiritual devotion, but it’s a great start to the day for anyone, or accessible to those not ready for more intense, traditional devotions.