Spiritual Maturity Can't Be Measured by Church Attendance

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Robby Gallaty is lead pastor of Longhollow Baptist Church in Nashville.

In years past, some churches may have wrongly judged a person's spiritual maturity by how many services or Bible studies they attended. They might have selected deacons based on how often they showed up at church. Yet, as we all know, frequent church attendance does not equal spiritual maturity. You can read a book and understand each of the words in it, but that does not mean you understand the concepts or can put what you have read into practice in your life.

Understanding what a book says goes deeper than reciting the words or even abstractly grasping the concepts. There is a deeper level of understanding where you grasp what the author is trying to say, the motivations of the characters, and what makes the plot move forward. In the same way, learning biblical information doesn't automatically produce spiritual growth. Having the right information is necessary, but it is insufficient. True growth must also involve repetition and reiteration of deep spiritual truths and their application to one's own life.

Some churches have a problem we can call "Bloated Christian Syndrome." In this syndrome, members are fed lots of great information every week. If you were to add up all of the facts and data that some people have accumulated from attending church services over several decades, it would surpass the level of a biblical scholar. And yet many people emerge from this experience having retained almost nothing of what they have heard. Why?

Let's pretend that you are heading to a typical American church this Sunday morning. You hear some music followed by a forty-minute message about a topic. Perhaps you also head to Sunday school where you hear another lesson from the Sunday school curriculum. By doubling the amount of content you've heard, you've now cut the impact of the message roughly in half. You return that evening after lunch and your Sunday nap to hear the pastor's next topic as he works through a book you've been studying together. Now you've cut the impact of the morning message by four. On Wednesday night you come back to church to have a prayer meeting and you hear a devotional that one of the members prepared throughout the week, cutting the impact of that message by eight. Maybe you wake up early on Tuesday or Thursday to attend a Bible-study group you've joined, where you study something entirely different. This is all in addition to your daily Bible reading, scripture memory, and discipleship group, since you're one of the faithful ones.

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(Photo: Zondervan)Cover art for "The Forgotten Jesus" by Robby Gallaty, 2017.

Can we see where there might be a problem? By the time you get around to Sunday again, you won't be able to recall a single point from the previous week's sermon, let alone remember all of the biblical truth you've been exposed to that week! Am I saying that too much Bible is bad for you? No. The Bible is God's Word, and it is life and nourishment for a hungry soul.

The problem is in how we engage the Bible. We have bought into the fallacy that we grow by the introduction of new information alone. We focus on new teachings and more information, rather than allowing a single teaching to saturate our minds by meditating on it and applying it to our lives. Jewish rabbis taught much differently. They believed that rehearsing older lessons was just as important as, if not more important than, learning new ones. Jews read through the Torah day after day, year after year, repeating the words of God throughout their lives. They were in their Bibles all the time, but their goals were typically different than ours. The Mishnah, a commentary on the Scriptures, says, "He who studied his lesson 100 times is not as effective as he who studied it 101."

This perspective on implementing what we've learned helps us focus on living out the words of Jesus rather than becoming bloated with more and more knowledge that we may or may not apply. We can adopt the method that allows us to internalize and act upon God's word. My hope is that we would be a people who get into the Word until the Word gets into us.

This is an excerpt from "The Forgotten Jesus" by Robby Gallaty. You can pick up a copy here.

Robby Gallaty is lead pastor of Longhollow Baptist Church in Nashville.