Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Although modern tools for measuring spiritual growth have some uses, they are deficient in several areas.

Does the Bible provide us with methods of assessing spiritual maturity, and if so, what are they? 

Instead of focusing solely on activities, we need to pay more attention to inner transformation.

In his article A Developmental Model for Stages of Growth in Christian Formation,” Steve Fortosis argues that “the true measure of spiritual growth is motive based. A Christian may possess great biblical knowledge and exhibit many right behaviors, yet the master motive may be self-seeking. Movement toward purer motives is imperative if the Christian development is to be authentic.” The question remains, how do we evaluate inner transformation? 

By themselves, self-assessments are unsatisfactory, and may even be misleading. It appears that better, more biblically-sensitive, methods and standards of evaluation of spiritual growth are needed. How do some of the New Testament writers evaluate spiritual maturity? 

One helpful example of indicators of growth toward spiritual maturity is analyzed by Don Willett in 1 John 2:12-14 with its “discrete stages of faith development: Childhood, Young Adulthood, and Parenthood.”  

This metaphor of maturity is also used by Paul and the writer of Hebrews in evaluating spiritual development. Infancy is associated with spiritual immaturity and is based on such things as the inability to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14), and expressions of jealousy and strife (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). 

When it comes to the Gospel of Matthew, are there any clues to how Jesus evaluated the progress of his disciples? As we survey Matthew, I propose there are at least four aspects of evaluation: relationships, goals, fruit, and, questions. 

Relationships

The first element of evaluation is a close relationship

How do you evaluate the development of people with whom you enjoy close relationships? These people may include a spouse, brothers and sisters, children, good friends and neighbors, or long-time workmates. We are close to these people. We are with them frequently, getting to know their personalities and moods, strengths and weaknesses, desires and dislikes. 

The less we are with people, the less we know about them, and the less we can gauge what is happening in their lives. 

It may seem obvious, even trite, that Jesus and the Twelve were close, if not constant, companions for at least three years. Jesus invited them with the words “follow me” (4:19, 9:9), not “meet with me periodically.” 

We often acknowledge that making disciples is relational and involves face-to-face time. We seem to underestimate how relational making disciples needs to be if it is to be effective. Meeting periodically over a cup of coffee to study the Bible, or chat is a good start, but it is far short of the closeness of relationship between Jesus and the Twelve.

Here is one comment of Jesus that indicates the relationship he had with his disciples: 

“Pointing to his disciples, [Jesus] said, ‘Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (12:49-50).

You will probably react by saying something like, “This just is not practical in my busy life.” Fair enough, but that is more a comment on your current lifestyle and how it is limiting your ability to make disciples effectively. We will deal with this more when we respond to common criticisms of The Matthew Paradigm.  

There is no getting around the fact that relationship, close relationship, is an integral component of making disciples effectively, and being able to evaluate their growth. 

How does a close relationship enable an accurate assessment of the progress of a disciple? We will explore that question in the next post.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Matthew Paradigm: reclaiming an ancient way for being and making disciples. To get further resources and news subscribe here.

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