Parking Lots to Pathways: Spiritual Maturity is a Journey This sermon was prepared and preached by Pastor Mike Rose

at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday, January 13, 2008. Copyright © 2008, First Federated Church Today, I am launching a seven-week series titled: Parking Lots to Pathways: Spiritual Maturity is a Journey. The series is a joint effort by Pastor Joe and me to confront some negative trends that are affecting the evangelical church and to layout a pathway whereby First Federated Church can break out of the “spiritual stagnation” that strangles many churches and experience the abundant joys of true life transformation that our Savior died and rose again to give us. Today’s message is an introduction to the concepts and an overview of the series. Then beginning next Sunday, the studies in our Adult Bible Fellowship groups will complement what will be presented in the morning message. If you’re not presently part of an ABF group, you may want to consider attending one of our 13 groups, which are listed on this Web site. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit for His help in communication and understanding this morning. PRAYER No. 1 -- Why a series on Spiritual Growth/Maturity? A. Because spiritual growth is commanded. Many Scriptures in the Bible speak of the command to growth/maturity as a disciple of Christ. Romans 8:29, New King James Version, For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son … Ephesians 4:11-15, New Living Translation, He is the One who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ, 13until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.14Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. 15Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of His body, the church. Both passages clearly show that growing in the likeness of the person and nature of Jesus is God’s expectation, His command, upon our lives. Later we’ll talk briefly about how that’s done B. Because Spiritual Growth isn’t the “norm.” It would be natural to think that since spiritual growth is God’s expectation that we would all be growing. But investigative work into the thoughts and behaviors of “professing believers” demonstrates that not much is taking place in the growth department. In his 1998 book titled The Second Coming of The Church, George Barna, wrote the following:
Parking Lots to Pathways: Spiritual Maturity is a Journey | FFC | 01.13.2008 1

“Having devoted the last eighteen years of my life to studying the American people, their churches and the prevailing culture, I’ve concluded that within the next few years America will experience one of two outcomes: either massive spiritual revival or total moral anarchy. As a committed Christian, I am urgently praying for revival. As a rational social scientist confronted with a warehouse full of behavioral and attitudinal data … well, the prospects are not encouraging.” What are some of the “behaviors” and “attitudes” that Barna is talking about? 1. “People are desperate for spiritual truth, but they can’t find the answers they need in Christian churches.” That is a stinging indictment! According to studies conducted by Barna in 1998, “… a majority of people who made a first-time ‘decision’ for Christ were no longer connected to a Christian church within just eight weeks of having made such a decision.” Barna goes on to write: “While the evangelistic efforts of some … ministries have garnered positive results, the sad fact is that most of those efforts are wasted because new believers are not being effectively absorbed into a healthy community of believers …” Question: Does FFC have an effective way to integrate new believers into our body? Do we have an effective way to help them progress in their spiritual growth? 2. “Ethnic diversity is here to stay, and reconciliation is a national concern, but the church remains our most segregated institution.” Speaking of the wall that was broken down through Jesus, Paul writes: Galatians 3:27-28, NKJV, For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 3. The church was called by Christ to care for the least of all people, and to be known by the quality of its love. Yet poverty is prospering in America. James 1:27 – NLT - 27Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. What do these “behaviors” and “attitudes” identified by Barna tell us about spiritual growth in the church today? They tell us that the church is failing to create an environment that says growing in your faith is expected/ You see, if the people who make up America’s churches were truly growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, the issues Barna raises would not be prevailing in the church. Furthermore they tell us that the church is failing to understand that spiritual growth (maturity) is not only about “learning.” It’s about putting into practice what you’ve learned. FACT: Until you put your “learning” into practice, you’ve not yet LEARNED. In other words, you can have a head full of “knowledge,” but without a heart full of “application” you’ve really got nothing. 1 Corinthians 8:1, NKJV - Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. Notice that knowledge alone only causes one to be arrogant, but couple knowledge with LOVE, which is action, and you have something of value.
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C. Because Spiritual Growth must become the “norm” at FFC. As we’ve seen, spiritual growth/maturity may not be the “norm” in most churches, but it must become the “NORM” at FFC. That’s why Pastor Joe has been working on a model for discipleship/life transformation, and that’s why I’m giving eight weeks to lead us through it. We want to have a systematic, measurable plan to help people progress in the journey of spiritual maturity. So why a series on spiritual growth? Because spiritual growth: • • • Is a command is not the norm. Must become the norm for FFC.

No. 2 -- What’s up with the title and the picture? Parking Lots to Pathways – the title is born out of an analysis and the experience of how things are in the average American evangelical church. Both research and the obvious decline of the church in America tell us that the majority of churches have no systematic, comprehensive plan to help people continually move from one level of maturity to another throughout their lives. Literally, the church is like a parking lot – get’m saved, get’m on the church roles and then do what is needed to keep them “parked” in your church. For the conservative evangelical church, fill their heads with abundant amounts of Biblical information, but do not insist that they use any of it, because if things get too demanding, they may leave your parking lot for another. I believe this pattern grieves the heart of God. God’s revelation was given to us, not just so we can know, but that in knowing, we do (put into practice). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – NLT - 16All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. Do you see it? God gives us revelation so that we can “know,” and in “knowing,” we can “do.” John 13:12-17 – NLT - 12After washing their feet, He put on His robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. 14And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. 17You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing. This picture helps us visualize the concept.

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Christianity is not to be a parking lot where people sit and hear the same Bible lessons over and over again, and sing the same songs time and time again. The Christian life is like a highway with many NEW things to experience, many mile markers to cross – It’s a journey that keeps moving us forward until the Lord calls us home or He comes to get us. Dr. W. A. Criswell was a renowned pastor and leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of his accomplishments include: • • • • • • • • Built First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, during his pastorate, to be the nation’s largest church. (24,000 members). Wrote 54 books. Twice elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Earned a doctorate, and received eight honorary doctorates. Founded KCBI Radio. Founded First Baptist Academy. Founded Creswell College. Instrumental in leading the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This man was very accomplished, very educated, very effective. Yet, according to Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, Dr. Criswell understood that the Christian life was about a life-long journey. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was a group of pastors that met once a year. They were all pastors of churches that had attendance of 10,000 or more. Warren was invited, and during one of the sessions, he had the privilege of sitting next to Dr. Criswell. Warren was amazed. There was a very young man lecturing on church growth. Certainly this young man did not hae nearly the experience that Dr. Criswell at nearly 90 years old had, but Criswell was focused and taking notes feverously. During the break, Warren asked Dr. Criswell why a man with all his credentials and all his accomplishments, at almost 90 would so interested in what another pastor, who was less than half his age and had less than half his success, had to say. And Dr. Criswell said this: When I stop learning, I stop being effective. At 89, Dr. Criswell was still on the journey, still moving forward, still maturing, still seeking to become more effective for Christ. That’s what God desires for each of us – that we keep growing, keep changing, keep being transformed, moving closer and closer to the image of Jesus, so we can be used to make an ever increasing impact for His Kingdom. No. 3 – A process for helping people in the journey of spiritual transformation. Question is, How does it happen? What has God revealed through His Word that gives us a clue about the spiritual growth process? - Romans 12:1-2, NLT, 1Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Notice, God’s will is that we no longer be conformed to the image and mentality of this world’s system, but that we be “transformed.” The word “transformed” comes from the Greek, from which we get our word metamorphosis – a changing that takes place from the inside out.

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Conforming to a religious system is not transformation. That’s an external change. Spiritual transformation must be on the inside. How does this metamorphosis take place? By the renewing of our minds. The word “renewing” carries with it the idea of a process, a journey, if you please. It’s a continual, never-ending quest. Just when I think I’ve mastered one part of my faith, there’s another and another and another. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-14 – NASB, 12Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The man who wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament, understood that the Christian life was a journey not a parking lot. We need to grasp that also. So let me quickly reveal the progressive model that was presented by Pastor Joe and adopted by the elders and myself to help us be a church that runs in the spiritual maturing lane, rather than standing stagnate in the spiritual parking lot. From a “big picture” view, Pastor Joe has identified seven key characteristics of spiritual transformation – these will be the basis of the next seven sermons and of our discipleship model in the years to come. The Journey toward Spiritual Maturity begins with: 1. Passionate commitment to Jesus Christ. This will come as a surprise to some, but Jesus demands a wholehearted abandoning of my heart and will to Him as Lord and to His will as my command. My commitment to Jesus comes first. 2. A Life that is Biblically measured. Letting God guide my life through His Word and the Spirit’s use of the Word in my everyday choices. The Bible gives me the instructions for life. 3. Choosing moral purity. Making choices that are consistent with my life in Christ. I am responsible for living up to God’s standard. 4. Choosing to be family-centered. Making choices that are consistent with my “design” to live and grow in vital relationships, including marriage, family and Biblical community. Without relationships, I am not complete. 5. Financial faithfulness. Making financial choices that are consistent with the gracious heart of God. I am a manager of the resources God provides. 6. Socially responsible. Choosing to reach out to others with works of service in Jesus’ name.
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I grow as a servant by engaging my community. 7. Evangelistic boldness. Choosing to reach out to others with words of hope in Jesus name. I glorify Christ and help others see Him by telling my story of how Jesus saved me. Beginning next Sunday, we will dig deeper into each of these individually, sharing relevant Scripture, giving specific application points and challenging us all to get out of the parking lot and on to the pathway toward life transformation and spiritual maturity. Now, before I close, what do I want you to do with what you’ve heard today? During this week, I ask you to pray, asking God Where am I? Spiritually, am I stagnate in the parking lot, or am I making progress down the pathway toward spiritual maturity? You may need to ask Him several times, because your ears may not be tuned to hear His reply. But if you sincerely want an answer, He will give it. If you’re in the parking lot, ask God to reveal to you in the coming weeks how to get out of the parking lot and onto the pathway. If you’re on the pathway, ask God what the next step is for you to advance in your quest toward maturity in your faith and conformity to the Image and nature of Jesus.

The First Federated Church copyright, above, is for the sermon itself, not for any items quoted in the sermon, unless otherwise stated. All quoted items are done so in good faith, and the source is attributed when it is known.

Parking Lots to Pathways: Spiritual Maturity is a Journey | FFC | 01.13.2008

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