Not long ago, I had coffee with an old acquaintance. It had been years since we’d seen each other. We first met while our children were active in the same church youth group. We co-hosted sleepovers, car-pooled to retreats, and even co-vacuumed popcorn from the youth room carpet. As he sipped a latte, he reminisced, “Those were fun times, but now that the kids are grown, I’ve stopped going to church.”
Sensing my confusion, he went on to say that after decades of faithful attendance, he wasn’t leaving a particular church. Instead, he was leaving church altogether.
“I’m sure it’s great for some people, but it never worked for me. It seemed like all the church leaders wanted me to do was show up, pay up, and shut up.” He added, “I’m tired of playing that game.”
The sad truth? He’s not alone. Recent surveys reveal that most churches are either losing members or membership is not keeping pace with population growth.  As my friend put it, “Those church leaders never really cared about my family or me. They just wanted me to care about them, their programs, their agendas, their budgets, and their building campaigns. Now, many of those buildings are sitting empty.”
I understand his frustration and confusion, but I disagree with my friend’s conclusion. I meet often with church leaders from a variety of traditions. Most show deep concern for their flocks and agonize over the best ways to address needs. The current problems stem not from lack of concern or commitment. The underlying issue is about a lack of discipleship. According to one survey among reformed and evangelical pastors, eighty-one percent said there was “no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church.” 
Today’s church leaders know how to teach the Scriptures, but they often don’t know how to help people like my friend grow to maturity. Unfortunately, immature people are self-centered. They can only see the world from their own narrow perspective. They fail to see the challenges and obstacles others face. And when things don’t go their way, they take their Bibles and go to another church—or, like my friend, stay home.
And sadly, church leaders often give up hope of seeing parishioners grow to maturity. John Ortberg tells the story of a church member who exhibited immature behavior most of his adult life. “He was once a cranky young guy, and he grew up to be a cranky old man. But even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one seemed bothered by the condition. It was not an anomaly that caused head-scratching bewilderment. No church consultants were called in. No emergency meetings were held to probe the case of this person who followed the church’s general guidelines for spiritual life and yet was nontransformed.” 
As we mature, we are transformed. We develop the capacity to see others’ needs and display the courage and wisdom to help them—even if it means sacrifice and suffering. God demonstrated this type of love for us, and it’s also what He expects from us.
Jesus summed it up by saying, “This is My command: love each other” (John 15:17). And later, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Even among Christians, that sort of love is hard to find.
In his enduring passage on the superiority of love, the Apostle Paul links the capacity to love others to an adult (mature) perspective:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self- seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It al- ways protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man [mature], I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:4- 7, 11).
The Scriptures clearly teach that believers need to be trained and equipped to grow up—to become more and more like Christ and able to love as He loved. Paul urged young Timothy and the other leaders in Ephesus to keep this in mind as they discipled their fellow believers:
“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work— which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-5).
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-15, emphases added)
My friend’s been a Christian since high school, but he still needs to grow to maturity. If he does, he’ll develop a better understanding of how the kingdom of God functions. He’ll recognize his need to remain committed to and involved with a community of believers.
As we address the matter of immaturity in the church, more believers will grow in the faith and knowledge of God. And as the church becomes filled with mature Christ-followers, we’ll do a better job of addressing the issues in the surrounding culture. After all, Christians are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). But if we want all these things to occur, church leaders also need to make some changes.
Unless believers grow to maturity we tend to become more like the Pharisees than like Christ. Ortberg warns, “The great danger that arises when we don’t experience authentic transformation is that we settle for what might be called pseudo-transformation. We know that as Christians we are called to ‘come out and be separate,’ that our faith and spiritual commitment should make us different somehow. But if we are not marked by greater and greater amounts of love and joy, we will inevitably look for substitute ways of distinguishing our- selves from those who are not Christians. This deep pattern is almost inescapable for religious people: If we do not become changed from the inside-out – if we don’t morph – we will be tempted to find external methods to satisfy our need to feel that we’re different from those outside the faith.”  According to one survey this “pseudo- transformation” characterizes most Christians in America and explains the problem many non-believers have with the church. 
For decades, Worldwide Discipleship Association (WDA) focused on discipling college students. Our staff poured their lives into young men and women to help them apply biblical truth. We’re grateful most of our alumni are walking with Christ and providing spiritual leadership in their homes and churches. But after graduation, they share a common lament: “Our local church doesn’t seem to know how to help people grow to maturity. Can you help?”
After sensing the Lord’s prompting, we launched The 28/20® Project, an effort to help local church leaders teach people to put Christ’s commands into practice. Its name came from what the church calls The Great Commission, our Lord’s charge to discipleship in Matthew 28:20a, “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
As we began the project, we knew we’d heard from the Lord be- cause we experienced a sudden, dramatic increase in spiritual war- fare. In spite of the fierce opposition, we knew God had taught us many truths that will help local churches facilitate maturity. Our plan of action looked like this:
• We began with a maturity philosophy. We knew Jesus had a plan for building mature leaders. His Great Commission assumed this “pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13), and the early church employed it to help people grow in Christ-like- ness. Of course His plan would apply to the contemporary church, as well.
• Using Jesus’ approach as a template, we designed a process for producing maturity in the church that included a progressive, intentional architecture for growth.
• Building on this process, we developed practical programs to support maturity. These can be implemented in local churches through lay leaders.
• Next, we produced a progressive curriculum that provides the content and training needed to support the programs.
• Finally, we built partnership prototypes in a few local churches that have implemented our process.
This book represents an explanation and overview of what we’ve learned so far. We’ve reached a critical intersection. Christians need to be trained to think, feel, and act like Jesus (Luke 6:40).
God commands this for the glory of His name. In addition, our culture has a desperate need for mature people.
This project is much larger than our small organization. It will require collaboration and cooperation among all believers, especially Christian leaders. The declining Western Church needs restoration. The Church in other nations needs to be better equipped. If we hope to achieve these goals and follow Christ’s commands, we must work together.
The maturation process may seem daunting and uninviting. After all, we don’t like it when someone says, “Grow up!” But living a mature life of service to others is essential. Remember the last time you encountered that rude driver or the over-zealous rival fan? What about the surly shopkeeper or the mud-slinging politician?
We know maturity is important. But we don’t always understand the best way to harness the processes that produce it.
We know maturity is important. But we don’t always understand the best way to harness the processes that produce it. If you’re a church leader who feels this way, you’re not alone. In this book, we’ll present practical, biblical approaches for producing maturity. As you read and study this material, we hope you’ll grow—and join a movement that urges others to do the same.
Everybody needs to grow and mature, but this book is aimed at Christians who realize something has gone terribly wrong in the Western societies that once embraced biblical Christianity. These believers sense, even suspect, that underlying issues exist within the church that connect to the cultural decay and the shift of worldviews.
And they’re right. God has placed the church—along with the family—at the center of the maturation process. By strengthening the church, we bolster the family and, in turn, our society.
Our enemy understands this. That’s why, in our postmodern culture, all these institutions find themselves under siege. We need mature leaders who will stand against the evil one and retake lost territory in our homes and churches.
I believe God is allowing time for Western cultures to repent, or at least time for His Church to prepare for hardship and increasing persecution. But since time is short and precious, we must act wisely.
Most Christian leaders lead busy lives. That’s why we designed this book to be read in a few hours, providing an overview of core concepts. The Epilogue shares an invitation to join an ongoing conversation about implementing the suggested programs. Information- packed Appendices will meet the needs of those who want still more information. If you want to learn even more, we hope you’ll contact us.
Today, many believers hope and pray for an outpouring of God’s grace and mercy to yield a worldwide spiritual awakening. I join them in asking God to bring into churches the kind of revival that spills into the surrounding culture.
But while we wait and pray, we can also act by installing processes and programs that produce maturity. And we don’t need to choose between prayer and action. As Scripture reminds us, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6).
The solution to the widespread immaturity found among believers today is achievable, but not simple. A clear display of God’s sovereign rule in the hearts and lives of His followers requires wisdom and knowledge, a realignment of priorities, and an application of Kingdom principles.
Leaders must understand, balance, and apply all the dynamics that contribute to progressive growth and sanctification. This requires both a strong faith and a new focus. As we fix our eyes on things un- seen, the outcome will be a deeper faith, drawn in part from church leaders who consistently equip believers. As we help them put truth into practice, faith grows. The rewards are both temporal and eternal.
Unfortunately, some church leaders don’t invest the necessary effort to “equip his people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). Others have their own leadership agenda, one that doesn’t include maturity.
When Christ returns, He will hold all leaders accountable for their stewardship. That will spell blessing for some and embarrassment (or worse) for others.
But many leaders have made a commitment to honor Christ by helping His people grow to maturity. These men and women have “ears to hear” (Mark 4:9). They’ll discover and implement maturation processes within their local churches that produce Christ-like followers. They’ll celebrate the traditions that support such growth and help change any that don’t.
To accomplish this maturity-minded goal, wise leaders are willing to embrace the challenge of intense spiritual warfare. I’m praying God will sound His trumpet of restoration in these dark days, calling people to “rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” (Isaiah 61:4).
I hope you’re one of those He calls. May His grace and power rest upon you for the glory of His name.
Bob Dukes –
from the Introduction
Maturity Matters: The Priority and Process for Disciple Building in the Church
Get a copy now at the WDA Store!
1. Chaves, Mark. 2011. The Decline of American Religion?
(ARDA Guiding Paper Series). State College, PA: The Association of Religion Data Archives at The Pennsylvania State University, from http://www.thearda.com/rrh/papers/guidingpapers.asp.
2. Ref. Dr. Richard J. Krejkir, Into Thy Word Archive: Statistics on Pastors:
3. John Ortberg, “The Life You Always Wanted”, (Grand Rapids,
MI: Zondervan, 1997) p.32. 4. Ibid, p.33
5. https://www.barna.org/culture-articles/611-new-barna- study-explores-trends-among-american-donors