December 2014/January 2015 - Vol. 77

Reversing the Juvenilization of American Christianity: Fostering Spiritual Maturity in Congregations,
 presentation by Thomas Bergler, at Huntington University, Huntington, Indiana USA
From Here to Maturity
A new insightful book on overcoming the juvenilization
of American Christianity  

A Guest Author Interview with Thomas Bergler

"This book explains what spiritual maturity is, why we should pursue it, and how we can reach it. Readers are treated to a compelling vision of what mature Christian discipleship looks like and at the same time given practical means to implement that vision in real life... A significant contribution to a hugely important subject for the church today."

                                                     - Dr. Daniel Keating, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
The following interview was originally published by Eerdmans Publishing Co. in their blog: Used with permission.

What makes From Here to Maturity such a unique contribution?

There are lots of good books on spiritual growth and lots of good books on leading churches. Some books focus on youth, others on adults. Meanwhile, much research suggests that American Christians of all ages do not understand what spiritual maturity is and are not sure how to get there. This book provides a focused look at spiritual maturity as taught in the New Testament and a straightforward, practical process for helping individuals and whole congregations grow to spiritual maturity. And it shows how adolescents, emerging adults, and older adults can all work together to help one another mature in Christ. A growing body of research shows that the right kinds of youth ministries can help the whole church grow up, and this book provides practical advice for how to create that kind of youth ministry in your church.

Whatís one thing that not enough people know or understand 
about spiritual maturity?

According to the New Testament, spiritual maturity is attainable (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 3:2-16; Hebrews 5:11-6:1). The exhortations to grow up that we find in these passages clearly assume that the readers should already have become mature. Such exhortations make no sense if maturity is impossible to achieve in this life. We would be more faithful to the biblical witness if we started thinking of spiritual maturity as basic competence in the Christian life. It is the foundational stage of spiritual formation that makes further growth in holiness possible.

Whom do you envision reading From Here to Maturity?

The book is designed for pastors, youth pastors, and other church leaders. My dream is that church leadership teams would read the book together. The last chapter provides a step by step process for assessing the current state of spiritual maturity in your congregation and discerning some strategic next steps to take together. I tried hard to make realistic recommendations and to describe a process that could be implemented with a reasonable level of effort. Some books establish a rigid paradigm and suggest that church leaders need to change everything they are doing. Thatís not the approach here. Instead, my hope is that church leaders will look at everything they are already doing through the lens of spiritual maturity and make targeted changes. Churches are more like gardens to be cultivated than they are like math problems to be solved. Small changes made consistently over time really do make a big difference.

What difficulties did you face in writing From Here to Maturity?

I knew that it was important to talk about emotional maturity in the book, but the topic of emotions in the Christian life is vast, confusing, and sometimes even contentious. Even so, given the fact that I think disordered emotions are among the most common manifestations of spiritual immaturity in our age, I wanted to provide some substantive guidance on the topic.

As it turns out, I found a growing consensus among philosophers, psychologists, and Christian spiritual formation writers regarding what is being called the cognitive theory of emotions. This way of understanding how emotions work is actually very ancient, and is the dominant way that Christians have thought about emotions throughout the ages. For example, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley both taught about emotions in this way.

Understanding emotions not as fundamentally irrational and opposed to thinking, but rather as being in constant, dynamic interaction with our thoughts and our will, helps us make sense of our lived experiences with emotions. Even more importantly, this understanding of emotions leads to better approaches to spiritual formation. As we do our part to submit to his working in our lives, God can and does transform our emotional patterns so that they become resources for, rather than obstacles to, spiritual growth.

Whatís next for you?

In the first chapter of From Here to Maturity, I provide a sketch of the extremely difficult and perhaps even broken process of growing from adolescence to adulthood in America today. For my next project, Iíd like to dig deeper into this problem to discover what exactly has changed in the process of growing up, why it has changed, and what that means for the church. There has been a lot of interest in recent years in the problem of emerging adults leaving the church. I think that problem is just one symptom of a deeper sickness in our society that makes it harder for Christians in all stages of life to become the human beings God wants us to be. There is a scholarly conversation out there about changes in the patterns of human development and in how peopleís identities develop, but I have yet to see that conversation translated into terms that can guide pastors, youth pastors, parents, and other concerned Christians in their work. Thatís the kind of writing I love to do, so Iím looking forward to seeing where that research leads me.

Also see related article  > We're All Adolescents Now

book cover
From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler, published 2014 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,  Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.
, paperback, 189 pages. Book can be ordered from publisher.

Thomas Bergler is professor of ministry and missions at Huntington University, Huntington, Indiana, U.S.A. He is a frequent speaker for Kairos and Sword of the Spirit conferences.

His 2012 book The Juvenilization of American Christianity was featured in Christianity Today and Preaching and won an award of merit from Christianity Today.

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