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Stunted Growth: Has the Church Neglected the Power of Transformation?
Often there is concern about the growth of the church population or its bank account. But what about the spiritual growth of the Body?


It is easy to tell new life when you see it. The excitement that surrounds the birth of a baby, as well as the gifts that are given in celebration, are indications that someone has set out on a journey of growing up. Everyone watches in wonder as a little life reaches each milestone in childhood. Sitting up, crawling, first steps. Each landmark is noted and treasured.

On occasion, there is cause for concern. Perhaps a routine trip to the public health nurse might indicate that little Jack is not progressing as he should. Perhaps he is not showing the usual signs of age-appropriate mental development. More often than not, however, little Jack has just decided that he doesn't really want to perform for the nurse right now and would rather relax in mom's arms after an exciting morning of playing with his toys.

Although most of us are quite confident that our children are normal and healthy, the first indication of stunted growth sends us into a slight panic. We are well aware of the benchmarks from reading numerous books and magazine articles on child development. Consequently, we expect that our children should reach these benchmarks at the indicated age. Any delay we notice causes us to become concerned enough to spend some extra time helping them "catch up."

Each developmental stage, from infancy right up to the golden age, is a transformation that is evidenced by changes in behaviour, actions and thought processes. A 20-year-old man who will not drink his milk unless it is just the right temperature and in his favourite baby bottle would draw some pretty strange looks from his girlfriend, if not land him in a mental institution. There are age-appropriate behaviours at every stage of life and, as a society we expect that healthy individuals mature accordingly.

Could it be that we are not quite so troubled about growth in the church? Often there is concern about the growth of the church population or its bank account. But what about the spiritual growth of the Body? Shouldn't we care if there is an apparent lack of transformation when the Bible teaches it should take place?

By definition, a transformation is a change in form, appearance, nature or character. Growth implies change. If change doesn't occur there is cause for concern. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"*1) Not only are we as believers expected to change, we must become completely different from what we were before we accepted Christ. We are to leave our old attitudes, ideas, desires and habits behind and allow Christ to transform us by the renewing of our minds.*2)

But how many of us have actually left the old nature behind? For too many, the extent of our Christian life was kneeling at the altar and accepting salvation. We often forget that, while the change in our souls is immediate, the change in our lives takes time, discipline and prayerful effort. The transforming work accomplished at Calvary was complete but in order to allow that work to take effect in our lives, we need to make room for it by crucifying our own flesh.

Yet we are still spending our time in the pursuit of success, our money in the pursuit of status and our energy in the pursuit of worldly satisfaction. We still judge the worth of our lives by our careers, our houses and how many church programs we are involved in. We give very little thought to the indicators of spiritual maturity in our lives and could often not care less about the degree to which we are "growing in the knowledge of God."*3)

The very things we wrestle with, argue over and spend our time being consumed by are evidence of our spiritual growth or lack of it. Many of us still spend our time debating whether or not an activity traditionally considered sin is really sin at all, instead of spending our time being the salt and light that we were created to be.*4) We are called to become separate from the world, yet we are consumed with the desire to see how much like it we can become and still make it to heaven. Our goal, like a newborn baby, is still to gratify the insatiable desires of the flesh instead of denying it as we are called to do.

… we are still thinking like spiritual children.

These are indications that we are still thinking like spiritual children. Paul exhorted the church in Corinth, as well as the church of today, to grow up and stop thinking like children. We are told instead to think like mature people.*5) According to the second chapter of Philippians, the more we become like Christ, the more we will display such behaviours and attitudes as wholehearted agreement, humility, interest in others, submission, patience and obedience. We will leave behind the old attitudes of selfishness and the consuming desire to make a good impression and earn approval. When we allow the Holy Spirit to enable us, this transformation will become evident to all who know us.

Change doesn't go unnoticed in a child. In fact, even the lack of it raises concern. How much more should the Body of Christ display evidence of change from the inside out? All the elements we require are at our disposal: the power, the wisdom and the instruction. All we need is the desire to submit our will to the Master and allow Him to change us. God will take a life of endless, empty pursuit and make of it something truly remarkable - a life of freedom; a life of submission; a life of transformation!

"Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God." (Hebrews 6:1, NIV)

Heather Newbury, B.Sc., B.Ed. lives in Mount Pearl, NL with her husband Scott and two daughters, Emma (5) and Kate (3). Heather and her family attend Cornerstone Ministry Centre in downtown St. John's.

Endnotes

1. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

2. Romans 12:2

3. Colossians 1:10

4. Matthew 5:13

5. 1 Corinthians 14:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11

Heather Newbury is a high school Science/English teacher and has recently accepted a teaching position at a Christian School in Ontario. Her husband, Scott, will also be teaching there. They have two beautiful girls, Emma (5 in 2007) and Kate (3 in 2007).

Originally published in Testimony, May 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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