Photo Courtesy of Patrick Scriven
We desperately need adults at General Conference. The idea has passed through my head on a couple of occasions already, and it is a strange one to have considering the demographics of the room.
But I’m not really reflecting on age. What my mind, heart, and soul long for is spiritual maturity.
So much of General Conference is spent debating who is right; which person or group holds the truth. There is certainly some value to this as any organization without direction is designed to fail. I only question our constant conflation of ideological purity with God’s will for the church today.
In my humble opinion, to get at God’s will, we need less truthers and more individuals of significant depth to navigate and live in real difference; we need people with spiritual maturity.
The spiritually mature person, to my valuation, isn’t guaranteed to be right…
The spiritually mature person, to my valuation, isn’t guaranteed to be right on all of the issues and topics facing the church today. In fact, I strongly suspect that we have spiritually mature and grounded individuals with radically different understandings amongst the delegates at General Conference this year. There are spiritually mature people who are conservatives, moderates, progressives, Africans, Asians, Europeans, Americans, old, middle-aged, and even quite young.*
Our problem is that we also have spiritually immature people amongst us and nothing about one’s maturity seems to impact one’s volume.
What does it mean to be spiritually mature?
So what exactly does spiritual maturity look like? Since it isn’t located primarily in one’s being right, we have to look for other tells.
Spiritually mature people are empowered to have respectful conversations with others who hold radically different positions. While they understand the innate value of relationships in changing hearts and minds, they seek out the Imago Dei in the other not to advance their agenda but simply because it is a thing we are called to do.
Spiritually mature people seek compromise as it allows each person to find their place in a way forward together.
Because of this, spiritually mature people seek compromise as it allows each person to find their place in a way forward together.
Spiritually mature people aren’t rigid, but that doesn’t mean that they are absent of principle. When there are lines they can’t cross, a spiritually mature person will take time to explain through vehicles of commonality rather than by appeals to an external source of truth. Simply put, they own the difference as theirs and don’t shove it off upon God, Scripture, or an immutable understanding of justice.
Spiritually mature people’s hearts are strangely warmed but they tend to their spiritual fire so that it is not too quickly exhausted. Put another way, they don’t allow their passions in the moment to undermine their future, or compromise their actions in the present.
If there is one piece of good news, it is this. General Conference could be a great training ground for one seeking to increase their spiritually maturity. Theological differences aside, the opportunity to break bread with sisters and brothers from so many parts of the world is both beautiful and rare. If one orients their heart towards openness, they will find many opportunities here to engage in conversation with others who hold very different views.
But it is a dangerous place as well. There are some in the room who lack the current capability to respect those who hold honest disagreement. Some operate out of a fear of change; others are burdened with layers of legitimate pain.
A Common Table?
When we arrive at a common dinner table, the first thing we do is sit down; we must lower ourselves and increase our vulnerability. I respect the reality that some people have been hurt, and that they can’t go through that again; I would never ask them to. I can’t even begin to understand the love for this church that has kept so many people desperately holding onto their corner of the table and I hope that something will change.
One of my favorite stories of Jesus is the one where he was approached by the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). I am so drawn to the story because it presents a Jesus that is so distinct from the dominant image we often receive in the church where the complexities of trinitarianism give way to the demands of simplicity.
The Jesus of Mark 7 changes his mind. His first answer to the Syrophoenician woman was perfectly appropriate for the culture and faith he received. But he changed; through his reversal, Jesus acknowledges that he was wrong. This woman humbled herself deeply and Jesus’ heart was moved. This reflects a deep spiritual maturity on his part.
The church is not Jesus, but it is who we are called to be…
The church is not Jesus, but it is who we are called to be for each other and for the world.
In Mark’s short pericope, we don’t gain perfect knowledge of why Jesus changed his mind. Because of his quick turn towards compassion, we don’t get to witness an extensive debate. We don’t learn how many times this woman would have returned to beg our Messiah for her daughter’s healing, for the crumbs that fell off the table.
We do learn that Jesus could change his mind and be an adult. May we all find ways to do the same.
* I am well aware that age and spiritual maturity, while not completely disconnected, are far from perfectly aligned. Some older members are quite spiritually immature; some younger folks are spiritually wise beyond their years. Tangentially, I would remark that the sheltering, safe, form of discipleship most churches “equip” their young people with does them a disservice towards the end of producing the thoughtful, adaptive disciples the church needs to serve the world today.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated lay person working professionally in church. Patrick serves the PNW Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries. He blogs over at After.Church