How to Visualize Spiritual Maturity

Now that we have established the basis for our two major growth dimensions, loving God and loving others, we can begin to discuss how to measure and visualize maturity. For now, this post assumes that there is a means by which we can measure maturity (granted, a big assumption) and focuses of visualization for the purpose of reinforcing the concepts already discussed.

There are four views discussed in this section. The first is mostly a basis to begin with…a simple bar chart reflecting the current state of a disciple in terms of how far they have progressed along the knowledge, character and behavior dimensions.

Here we see that this person has grown most in knowledge, second in behavior, and third in character…a pretty typical distribution. It is not depicted, but one can easily see where phases of maturity can be drawn at various levels. If the range of maturity values is 0 to 5, perhaps phase 1 is 0-2, phase 2 is 2-4 and phase 3 is 4-5?

Now if we were break down each dimension into smaller parts using the cross-cutting themes (or categories) discussed earlier, this bar chart might look something more like the following.

Here we can see inside each of the major dimensions to understand the component pieces. This tells us what areas of knowledge, character and behavior are strong and which are weak. In the graph above, we see that this person’s attitude is very humble but not very persevering. With this information, a faith coach can target this area of weakness with disciplines aimed at building self-confidence and steadfastness unto overall perseverance.

Other views can be helpful as well. By stacking the values, we can get an aggregate view of knowledge, character and behavior.

This is basically the same data as the earlier chart, only the bars are stacked one on top of one another rather than being side-by-side. The value of the previous chart would be able to see phase levels of each theme within each dimension independently; i.e. I can clearly see that this person is a phase 3 disciple with regard to a humble character but only phase 1 with regard to a persevering character.

The value of this stacked bar chart is to see keep the aggregate knowledge, character and behavior scores (and phasing) and yet add the component pieces to see relative (as opposed to absolute) strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, it’s important to see end-to-end measurements of each of the themes.

This chart looks similar to the last chart, but you’ll notice that the themes and dimensions are reversed so we can see maturity by theme rather than by dimension. I can see were my disciple is with regard to joy, including each component piece of knowledge, character and behavior.

What is the point to all this visualization mumbo jumbo? The point is that in order to be effective as a disciple and a disciplemaker, we must have some way of understanding where we are, where we are going and how we’re going to get there. The assessment tool can be used to gain a subjective understanding on where a disciple is in their walk; graphs like these can be used to visualize the conclusions; and discussions on what activities are appropriate to strengthen weak areas may then take place. At the end of the day, it’s simply about being more intentional about becoming more like Christ.

Deeper Dive on Growth Themes

In my last post, I introduced the concept of a growth theme.  Think of themes (joy, compassion, humility, perseverance) as the more concrete sub-components of the growth dimensions (knowledge, character, and behavior).  And remember, growth on these dimensions within the themes is a result of hearing, believing and obeying God.  Later, I’ll go a little deeper on hearing, believing and obeying God…the things we do.  But first, lets look a little closer at what we are trying to become (increasingly joyous, compassionate, humble, and persevering).

Joyfully forget yourself and focus on others forever.

The above statement is something I made up as a kind of personal mission statement.  Notice how it includes each of the four growth themes…joy, humility (forget yourself), compassion (focus on others), and perseverance (forever).  We are followers of Christ if we do this increasingly, genuinely and in the context of God’s truth.  Note that I did not say we are “saved” because of it.  We’re “saved” because we professed faith in Christ and He gave us life by His grace alone.  What I’m taking about here is actually following Christ after we have been regenerated.

Now, let’s look under the hood.  Are four themes really enough?  What about love, wisdom, righteousness, contentment, faith, dependenance, generosity, etc?  As I said before, we created a mind map to organize these characteristics so that we could get our arms around the different facets and begin to eat the elephant one bite at a time, so to speak.

Here is a link to that mind map: Themes v0.3

Remember, this is one of an incalculable number of possible arrangements.  This is just one that works for our purposes.  I’m happy to take feedback on it, because I do want to improve it…but, let’s not miss the forest for the trees either.

And so you will see that we’re framing contentment as a joy issue.  If you do not have God’s joy, it is possible that the underlying cause is a contentment issue.  With this kind of vocabulary, we can use it in a number of different ways to help people.  Here are a few:

Assessment: Helping Disciples Know Where They Are

We can develop a means of helping people understand where they are in their walk with regard to joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.  This then drives where/how they spend their time addressing areas of weakness (rather than simply ammassing knowledge by an endless stream of “bible studies”).  The intent of “assessment”, would be to help someone understand that contentment is a bigger issue in their life than say generosity.

Guidance: Helping Disciples Know Where to Go and How to Get There

Guidance can be attached to the same vocabulary.  Guidance (e.g. passages of scripture, teaching, books, podcasts, disciplines, ad-hoc experiences and advice, etc)  can be provided on how to become more generous, for example, and loaded into a shared repository.

Search: Helping Disciples Find The Best Stuff Fast

Now that guidance has been loaded against a specific vocabulary, and a person understands their need using the same vocabulary, an extremely efficient search capability can be put into place that helps a disciple find exactly what they need almost immediately.

There is alot more to be said, but alas…it will have to wait until next time.  Until then, I will continue to pray for all of you as you strive to become more like our Savior.

Themes of Spiritual Growth

Let’s pick up on a thread that I started several days ago re: spiritual growth.  Remember that we discussed two basic principles:

  • spiritual growth occurs along three dimensions: knowledge, character and behavior.
  • growth on these three dimensions occurs by iterations of hearing, believing and obeying God.

And, we used the following as a picture to illustrate the basic concept.

Iterative Growth Model
Iterative Growth Model

Now let’s break down the components of knowledge, character, and behavior so we can get to something that each of us can use in our daily lives and help others to do the same.

Several months ago, some faithful buddies and I brainstormed “christian attributes”.  We asked, “what are the characteristics you would expect to see in a follower of Christ?”  Obviously, many attributes came to mind, including wisdom, righteousness, humility, generosity, love, contentment, etc.  We then organized them into four major themes: joy, humility, compassion, and perseverance.

Therefore, when we talk about growing in knowledge, we’re really talking about growing in knowledge of what it means to be joyous, humble, compassionate and persevering.  When we talk about growing our character (internal attitudes and unseen behaviors), we’re talking about developing a joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering character.  When we talk about growing in behavior (externally observable behaviors), we’re talking about acting joyous, humble, compassionate, and persevering.

Clearly, there are many, many ways to organize these attributes.  This is just the way we did it, and I think it works pretty well.  In future posts, I can share the detailed “mind map” that describes how we organized the attributes and dealt with “super-themes” like righteousness and wisdom.

Now, remember the second principle that describes how we grow in the three dimensions and their four components.  Generally speaking, we grow in knowledge by hearing God; we grow in behavior by believing Him; and we grow in behavior by obeying Him.  Therefore, we grow in our knowledge of what it means to be joyous by hearing what God has to say on joy; we grow in chracter with respect to joy by genuinely believing these truths from God; and, we grow in joyous behavior when we obey these new truths that we genuinely believe.

I have lots of examples from Scripture and from my own experience to share, and will do so over time, but for now let’s start with one from Acts.  Do you remember Paul and Silas in prison (Acts 16)?  They behaved in an extraordinary way.  First, rather than grumbling (which I’m sure I would have been), they are singing and praying.  Then, when the earthquake hits and the prison doors are busted open, they did not flee.

Now look, I’m excited by the growth God has caused in me over the past several years, but I am nowhere near this level of mature behavior.  Paul and Silas were so focused on the welfare of their guard, they essentially sacrificed themselves for him…a non-Jew and a non-Christian.  Why on earth would they a) be singing in prison; and b) not leave when God “obviously” was trying to set them free by way of the earthquake?  In the first case, they had learned to be “content in all circumstances” (we bucketed contentment within the joy theme).  In the second, they had serious compassion for the jailor and knew what “the right thing to do was” (see my previous post).  Why were they so joyous and compassionate?  Because they knew the promises of God and they genuinely believed them.  They had already invested years into knowing God’s word and practicing the disciplines required for training themselves for just such a moment.  Of course, Paul (at least) had the additional experiences of supernatural encounters with God, but these are not necessary to grow to the point Paul was.  We can all get there by studying God’s word, proactively training ourselves to believe it, and them acting upon it in any circumstance.

And so my encouragement is simply this: know God’s word, believe what you know, and obey what you believe.  Over time, learn a little more, believe a little more and obey a little more.  Just keep moving forward and never stop. 

If you need help, please raise you hand.  I, and many others joining this community, are here to help you!