Thomas E. Bergler, From Here to Maturity. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.
In this final review of Bergler's book we examine the fifth and final chapter, the stated purpose of which is "... to explain a process that congregations can follow to move from where they are to spiritual maturity" (113). Hence, this last piece seeks to set down a foundation for the work of creating an atmosphere in the local church culture where spiritual growth and maturity might take place. The process can be summarized in simple steps: assess, create, implement, monitor. Of course, these are worked out in the chapter itself, but I will not review them in detail here.
One specific area of interest is Bergler's discussion on Maturity on Sunday Morning (120–123). The culture that is created in those things said and done, along with those things not said and done, is crucial to the work of creating an atmosphere of spiritual maturity and growth. This is counter-cultural to many of the trends of modern evangelicalism, which tend to be concerned with entertainment-based appeals to the crowds rather than spiritual discipline. "Although it is probably impossible to eliminate all negative or unintended messages in a congregational culture, it can be valuable to honestly assess what the dominant messages seem to be" (121).
This particular discussion revolves around three central roles that the church's weekly worship gathering has in promoting spiritual maturity (all of these are found on page 122):
"First, the teaching and preaching should regularly mention spiritual maturity."
"Second, the way we teach about worship and the metaphors we use to describe it should promote spiritual maturity."
"Third, the music and the leaders should promote maturity."
In each of these areas Bergler provides good challenge to thinking through the messages we communicate (whether it is our intention or not) during our week worship gathering. At the heart of this challenge is the question to church leaders: Is a steady diet of our church's Sunday morning worship likely to produce a spiritually mature Christian? (123).
So much of what happens in the modern evangelical worship service is individualistic, emotionally-driven, flimsy theology. In many ways the benchmark for Sunday success is set by feelings rather than by the Spirit. And this is why so many people feel as though they need to be "charged" or "refreshed" by their Sunday morning experience, in essence creating an idol from that experience than from the presence of Almighty God. It is the Holy Spirit that empowers the believer, renewing their strength as they wait upon the Lord. No matter how emotional or impressive, there is no experience on earth – church or otherwise – that can replace the deepening relationship of discipleship found in Christ Jesus.
Bergler is good to quote on this point: "Both social-science research and my own observations of Christians immersed in romantic spirituality urge me to conclude that slow-dance worship songs are drawing on American cultural scripts about romantic relationships from their emotional impact ... Too many slow dances with Jesus may reinforce immature forms of the Christian life" (132, bold is mine).
There are ways forward, but they will require a frank and honest look at ourselves, coupled with the determination to make serious change, in the face of those who will kick and scream against such efforts. But if we believe that the major problem is a lack of maturity, then we should not be surprised to be met with adolescent behavior when trying to challenge congregations to grow in their faith. There will probably always be part of us that will long for the days of our youth, but that does not mean it is right for us to hold on to our youthful behavior and ignore the demands of our faith in the present. Parents that do not grow up create children that have no concept of adulthood, and the same is true in our faith: disastrous results will come when we do not make serious disciples of one another in this life – indeed, disastrous results have already taken up residence in our culture.
One of the final challenges that Bergler provides is the (increasingly large) task of reaching into such a broken culture for the sake of the gospel. This will require effort on its own part, for we cannot simply wish these changes into existence. There will be resistance, but not all of it for bad reason. Immature people do not understand the process of growth, and so this can be a daunting and overwhelming path to face. Those who are going to help bring about this type of discipleship will need to work in building these bridges. Bringing people into the faith will require that they find their place in their world, as well as in the church community: "They will need to learn to be bilingual – to speak the language of their own culture, but also the language of Christian faith" (140).
If each person in the local congregation were to take seriously the call of making disciples – the specific work that Jesus gave to his followers – and took the opportunity to play their part in walking alongside one another, then we would see a dramatic impact in the life of the church, and a radical shift in how Christians can impact their world. Discipleship is no quick-fix or relational trend. Discipleship is, as Eugene Peterson would remind us, a long obedience in the same direction.