Local congregations go through predictable stages of development from birth, adolescence, and maturity. In the birth phase they are often doing those things necessary for survival. In adolescence, they are finding their way, dealing with internal issues and clarifying their identity. All of us hope that our congregation will get to the place of maturity but what are the marks that we have reached maturity? I would suggest that there are at least five. As you read these, think about your congregation as it relates to these five areas.
First: We understand that it is not about programs but about life change – true spiritual transformation. While programs can serve the purposes of spiritual transformation, the emphasis is on what gets us to our goal, rather than running great programming for the kids and family. Mature congregations have thought through the reasons for their programming and evaluate whether that programming is actually contributing to life change and the mission of the church. Where it does not they retool or kill the program. Mature congregations are after transformation of hearts (where grace is understood and lived out), transformation of our thinking so that it aligns with God’s, our priorities so they reflect a new way of thinking and finally relationships that reflect the grace and truth of Christ.
Second, mature ministries understand that it is not about our brand but about His Brand. They see themselves as part of a larger whole in their community and region – of Christ centered churches that have different names and different denominational affiliations but which are all part of the Bride and they value those relationships, pray for those other ministries, and promote an attitude of togetherness rather than independence. Immature ministries are still focused on themselves while mature ministries are focused on building the Church of Christ in their community and region.
Third, mature ministries are committed to working alongside other believers in the area to reach their area with the gospel. They are willing to set aside their petty differences, theological distinctive that are important to them but not to the gospel itself in order to see transformation come to a whole region. This is what happened in Acts 19 where the Church in Ephesus had such an outward vision that it saw a whole region come to knowledge of the gospel with amazing results in the lives of people who experienced genuine spiritual transformation. This could not have happened without the church in Ephesus both spawning other fellowships of believers but then working with those other fellowships for the proclamation of the Gospel. It was an outward looking church that was committed to His brand rather than its brand.
Here is a visual. When we are concerned only with our own ministries, we are like a dot on a map so in a large metro area with many churches we may be one of 100 dots. When we start to work with other congregations for the cause of the gospel we move from being a dot on the map to a concentric circle that intersects with several other circles. Would you rather have one hundred dots on the map or be one of 100 concentric circles intersecting one another so that there are synergies between churches rather than independent dots sitting in their own neighborhood?
Fourth, mature ministries give themselves away to others. They are involved in community transformation, helping meet needs around them. They are willing to mentor, train and give away ministry expertise to others who are not as far along as they are. They willingly share their facilities with others who can use them. They see beyond helping churches in their denomination and willingly serve those in others. In other words, they are kingdom focused rather than self focused. They are “rich in good deeds” toward their community and other believers and churches. They go out of their way to serve others.
Fifth, mature ministries are generous ministries. They help those in need both within their body and outside. They live out the command of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:17- 19 to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and to be willing to share. This is the inevitable result of living with an outward focus and open hands. Where there is a need they are found there. When they need to get their hands dirty they do. They live out the model of Christ who cared for those in need, even the least of these, and those who don’t fit our natural demographic.
There are many churches who live in adolescence for much of their existence. Has your congregation moved from adolescence to maturity? Actually it is not a matter of time as much as it is a matter of heart and commitment to a vision and lifestyle modeled by Christ himself.