Time after time churches, ministries and missions experience unforeseen disasters from the inside out. No one pays attention to the enemy within their gates.
Well-meaning but untrained congregants and church boards place highly educated individuals into positions of authority. These men and women are likable. Their sermons are inspiring. Their personalities are alluring. These new individuals are quickly given great responsibility over people, budgets and tasks. Credentials are examined. Applications are reviewed. Resources are checked. However, maturity and relational skills are never discussed.
Oftentimes, questions about maturity are not asked because we don’t know the language, vision and steps to maturity. No one ever asks, “Let’s discuss your personal maturity. Can you tell me about your earned maturity? Have you learned to tame your cravings? Can you return to joy from the six negative emotions? How well can you care for one or more people at the same time? Do you have young children at home? How do you intend to both keep joy levels high at home and effectively serve and foster maturity in our church?”
[Tweet “No one ever asks potential leaders, “Can you tell us about your personal maturity?””]
These questions go unanswered because they are never asked. In five minutes these simple questions could be the impetus to preserve legacies, protect communities and pioneer lasting character change for the church. One of the more common disasters a maturity review prevents is the abuse of power. Scripture tells us the earth shakes, rattles and rolls when ill-equipped and unprepared people are placed in positions of power.
“Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maid when she succeeds her mistress.” Proverbs 30:21-23
The abuse and misuse of power comes in the form of spiritual abuse, sexual exploitation, embezzlement, fraud, lying, greed, cheating, stealing, fear-based guidance, intimidation and more.
These behaviors are avoidable when maturity is brought into the limelight. Maturity provides a lens to examine the character and capacity of leaders so we learn realistic limitations. Maturity means we know what to expect from ourselves and each other. Maturity is a simple solution that is frequently overlooked and underestimated. Let’s look at seven steps to model maturity and avoid the abuse of power.
1. Remember the Titanic – Assess earned maturity.
What we see is not always what we get. The iceberg that ripped and sank the Titanic was partially visible. The bulk of the iceberg lay hidden beneath the surface of the ocean. The 900 foot-long passenger liner described as indestructible did not stand a chance against the icy mass. Recognition was too late.
The same is true for leaders and missing maturity. It is not so much what we see but what remains hidden that makes communities vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Unfinished growth tasks and deprivations stunt growth. Unresolved wounds hinder forward progress. Unprocessed pain leaves a gaping hole in personal development. Trouble lurks beneath the surface when gifted but immature leaders are given great responsibility.
Similar to the Titanic, the recognition of problems come too late. The result is irreversible damage that erodes trust and destroys congregations and communities. People are left asking, “What happened? How could our trusted leader do this? What was he thinking?”
When we assess our maturity and the maturity of our leaders, we shine a spotlight on the iceberg in order to change course and avoid a catastrophic collision. Missing maturity shows up during moments of pressure and times of distress. The Titanic’s vulnerability became clear in a time of crisis. Water filled what was supposed to be watertight compartments. In the parable of the ten virgins and the lamp oil, for example, five were wise and prepared while five were foolish and unprepared. The unprepared paid a hefty price and missed the wedding.
Focusing on maturity formation prevents problems and prepares us to navigate difficulties in a relational manner. People with earned maturity, who have grown, developed and nurtured personal growth over time with hard work, know how to keep relationships bigger than problems. Mature leaders, when pressures mount, are able to learn from trouble and increase their wisdom.
2. Address A and B traumas.
Two responses can kill a flower. Step on it or starve it. We lose our natural progression of growth when bad things happen or we lack essential nutrients to grow. Without healing our damaged places or feeding malnourished areas, we wilt under the first signs of strain and pressure. Sadly, we try and hide the bad things that have happened to us and we are unaware of the essential nutrients that are missing in order for us to mature.
According to the Life Model, two types of trauma strongly influence our development. Left unchecked, traumas cause enormous costs in time, emotions, damaged relationships and lost productivity. One, Type B, is usually kept a secret even though the results are visible while the second kind, Type A, is often unknown to the person. Both are deadly.
Type A traumas come from the absence of necessary good things we should all receive, things that give us emotional stability. These absences create difficulties in relationships. Type B traumas, on the other hand, come from bad things such as physical and sexual abuse, natural disasters, combat and war-related exposure and so on. Trauma and its results, saturate our schools, churches and families. Unprocessed traumas leave us and our leaders vulnerable to addictions. In our immaturity we are prone to responses that do not line up with our values and faith.
One of the greater problems with unprocessed trauma and the lack of joyful relationships come down to how these absences and bad things keep us emotionally stunted. Our body continues to grow but emotionally we stay stuck at the age of the trauma. Without intervention, we are left to run on fumes and go through the motions of life rather than transform with each new life stage. This agonizing gap in development often goes undetected and is overlooked. The ship appeared unsinkable but its vulnerabilities lie beneath the deck, just out of sight. We can turn to Immanuel for healing, restoration and intervention any time we notice a drop in our peace and joy.
3. “Not even God can sink it.” Recognize blind spots, strengthen weaknesses.
The builder of the Titanic told reporters when asked about the ship’s durability, “Not even God can sink it.” Believing our churches or ministries are immune to disaster sets us up for failure. When we lack the language and “big picture” understanding of maturity, we are at risk for unanticipated tragedy. Like the Titanic, disaster not only damages the ship, but hurts the people who rely on the ship for guidance, direction and safety.
As trusted leaders and members of congregations and ministries, when we discover areas of unfinished growth, individually and corporately, we start by sharing our weaknesses with trusted people. Hiding vulnerabilities makes us more susceptible and drains our capacity. We invite Immanuel to share pass along some perspective and peace about the situation. As with any GPS navigation system (that works the way it is designed to), when lost it should reroute us to find the most direct path to reach our destination. In the case of our weaknesses we turn to trusted colleagues and friends to become the guideposts to encourage us along in our journey toward joyful growth and wholeness.
As we learn to respond to our own weaknesses with tenderness and invite others to do so, we address critical vulnerabilities. We review areas of our life where fear guides our decisions. We look at the places unprocessed pain pushes us beyond our emotional and physical capacity. We explore the ways our expectations (or the expectations of others) contribute to our problems when we discover stunted growth. We evaluate, is this place safe to share weaknesses? How can we promote joyful character change as a high value? These questions move us closer to clarity for an accurate assessment of our abilities and next steps.
The process of maturity formation is expressing the life of Jesus Christ both individually and corporately, in a broad range of ways with each stage of life. Growing up and reaching our God-given potential is good! Hebrews 5 puts it this way,
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.” (12-14)
Maturity allows us to express the best of ourselves under increasingly complex emotions and situations. While we cannot escape the consequences of Adam and Eve’s fall we can interact with God and each other to learn how respond with grace, style and poise when life produces pain and adversity. Scripture admonishes us to be fully alive, for we are created to be sources of life to those around us. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are designed by God in Christ Jesus to do good works. Good works are not a means to an end, rather the expression of our Creator through our words, actions, relationships, character and presence.
One painful sign of immaturity is trying to produce results rather than responding to situations in a way that reflects our values and “takes care of all involved” the best we can. We know maturity is absent when we feel someone in authority is looking out for themselves at the expense of others around them. At the end of the day there really is no shortcut to the formation of character and maturity that is slowly cultivated over time and nurtured in relationship with one another. Trying to microwave a crock pot meal does not end well.
Addressing deficits and blind spots become opportunities to grow. As we mature we learn to express the life Jesus gives us in new ways and under increasingly complex situations. Sometimes we want to wear masks to hide our weaknesses or pretend blind spots aren’t there. Hiding only keeps us stuck. When disconnected from joyfulness authenticity and transparency in fellowship with other people, we become stagnant. Much like a cesspool of stale water, communities without mature leadership are unable to sustain much life. Activities and programs dominate the landscape over relationships and joy. People feel lost and disconnected. Immature leaders talk about relationships while they themselves remain isolated and internally feel burned out and alone.
4. Disarm fear bonds.
Fear hinders our ability to think clearly, make wise decisions and speak up. Asking hard questions about the relational environment of our communities helps us identify when fear is at work. Do we feel the freedom to speak up, say no and ask questions? When we observe a problem can we discuss this with the people involved or do we keep our concerns hidden? Do leaders listen and invite correction? What areas are people defensive? Where can I expect justification and accusation? When leaders and congregants operate on fear, intimidation and threats, the environment is no longer conducive for joy-filled growth. A community of fear shrinks from joyful intimacy where the weak and strong interact, where joy grows from tender responses to weakness.
Motivated by fear, individuals protect their comfort zones, are people-pleasers, avoid negative emotions and placate leaders. Immature leaders who abuse power rely on fear to produce the desired results. To change fear motivations into desire-driven activities we must examine the ways fears run our decisions, ministries and churches.
The online JOYQ assessment was developed to examine joy levels and discover how ready our environment is for change. Fostering maturity and learning the 19 gentle protector skills to promote an environment not based on fear bonds is how the Life Model describes what is needed to develop a place conducive to safety, accountability and transparency.
5. Watch for icebergs! Use trials as a litmus test.
Distress tests our level of earned maturity. True maturity shows up during the more turbulent times of life. Misunderstandings, accusation, opposition and division reveal the substance of our character both individually and corporately. During and after hardship, it is wise to review the situation with staff and leadership. “What are we learning from this? Where do we observe strain? What indicators show that decisions were based on fear? Are people trying to control or intimidate? Have individuals and families returned to joy and closeness, or are they avoiding something? Who among us was able to keep relationships bigger than the problems? Are hidden addictions surfacing?” These are just a few questions to ask when a crisis strikes.
When the Titanic was sinking, some men were selflessly loading life boats with women and children while other men tried to sneak onto lifeboats in order to save their skin. Mature leaders are willing to help, serve and comfort other people even when the ship is taking on water. Mature leaders give life and continue to extend themselves at the expense of their well-being and reputation. Strong leaders remember what is important when the water is rising. Distress is always an opportunity for growth and transformation. It is no accident the early church spread the most when faced with challenges and persecution. Mature leaders always stand out from the counterfeits in a crisis.
6. Create a joyful environment that embraces the weak and strong.
We nurture solid, unwavering maturity as we interact with people in different life stages. In Joy Starts Here we call this a multi-generational community. As we receive life from people upstream in the form of wisdom and experience, we develop deep roots to keep us firmly planted and secure. For this reason the young “Timothys” rely on the wiser “Pauls” to model staying joyfully connected to people and God under good times and bad. The young “Joshuas” rely on the “Moses” leading the church to demonstrate how to stay relational when feeling overwhelmed, upset, accused and misunderstood. Mature pillars in the community reflect back to others who God meant us to be. These mature “mirrors” use their presence, words, encouragement and actions to reflect being glad to be with us as we discover who we are and grow maturity.
When we lack mature examples ahead of us, we worship our comfort zones, stay rigid and rely on unhelpful coping mechanisms that leave us pursuing pseudo joy, pseudo rest and a lifestyle of incessant busyness and distraction.
We require multigenerational community. It helps us recognize, address, receive, and give what is needed to be fully equipped, navigate difficulties, and avoid unnecessary disasters. Once we develop an atmosphere where leaders, boards and congregants can discuss and grow maturity, disasters can be averted and proactively navigated.
Maturity is not about inherent value, it is about the betterment of life. It means we can openly discuss unmet needs and unfinished tasks in need of attention, all without shame, guilt or condemnation. It means we identify people who model how to advance our personal and corporate growth. For example, if you struggle with anger, who do you know is good at quieting their anger? If you wrestle with learning to quiet, who do know as the most peaceful person in the group? Once we identify our earned maturity level we look around to identify and interact with the people who have what we need, or need what we have.
7. Be complete. Foster the formation of maturity.
Let’s review a short lesson about two brothers in Genesis 25:27.
“So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.”
Here are two growing boys with two different temperaments. We learn Esau was a skillful hunter while Jacob dwelt in tents. Scripture contrasts these two brothers and paints a picture of Esau as an agitated man. A hunter in Scripture is not a godly trait, compare Nimrod a hunter against the Lord1. The book of Hebrews tells us Esau was a fornicator. A brief examination of Esau’s life tells us he was unstable, fleshly, restless and interested in satisfying his immediate cravings and lusts (Hebrews 12:16). Jacob, on the other hand, is described as mild. The Hebrew word for mild, tam,2 means complete, finished, sound or whole. The adjectival form of tam is a verb is used in 1 Kings 6:22 to describe the finishing of the temple when there was nothing else to add. Scholars associate tam’s reference to Jacob as descriptive of his maturity. Not that Jacob was by any means without defect in his own character and life. However, a picture emerges of these two brothers as an example of what can happen when we pursue maturity or disregard it altogether.
Maturity does not mean we are perfect in the sense of never committing error or sin. Maturity does not add value to our self-worth. Rather, maturity refers to being complete in terms of the life stages we are in and tasks we should be able to do. Children become adults not simply because their bodies grow bigger, but they earn their stripes as they learn to tame their cravings, do hard things and practice personal satisfaction. Children complete specific tasks that enable them to emotionally grow and develop. When children learn what brings personal satisfaction, they no longer invest time and resources eating, drinking, smoking, buying and consuming. Adult maturity has learned from previous experience what is good and satisfying so behavior, choices and lifestyle reflect this reality. Leadership disasters frequently happen because people with infant and child maturity are at the helm of the ship.
The painful failure to learn about genuine satisfaction looks a lot like Esau who was focused on killing and consuming. Without the experience of genuine personal satisfaction, we focus our resources on feeding ourselves. Everything must feed us. We sell our birthright for a pot of stew. We give ourselves away for momentary pleasure. We live in the moment with little regard for consequences. Our minds are focused on what we think will satisfy our cravings and save our self.
We recognize the painful absence of earned maturity when we observe people in big bodies behaving like children. This makes for great television but is excruciating for marriages, families and organizations where immaturity wreaks havoc. Outbursts, unregulated emotions, rigidity, fearful motivations and addictions are just a few of the warning signs.
Immaturity causes individuals to act like a different person in different circumstances or when different environments and people surround us. A dismembered identity develops and we no longer live according to our values. Our feelings and experience fails to match our theology, beliefs and commitments, so we keep the two separate. What we believe and what we do stay detached so who we are at church is different than who we are at home, work and school. Being the same person over time and in all emotions is another clear indicator of maturity and stability.
One characteristic of solid adult maturity is learning to use power in a mutually satisfying and life-giving way. Those who fail to use their power effectively have not earned adult maturity. The boy with the most toys really does not win. Building bigger and bigger barns to store our goods can deprive us of life and joy. When we already have resources it is better to give than to receive.
These are just a few characteristics to identify our vulnerability to the abuse power. For a deeper understanding of the different stages of maturity, every person, parent, leader and congregation should consider reading the Complete Guide to Living with Men by Dr. Jim Wilder. Another good place to explore is the book, Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone. It is a good first step to jumpstart a journey of joy and learn more about multigenerational community, gentle protector skills and the Immanuel Lifestyle. Connexus is a structured training program that brings the weak and strong together to develop maturity in your community using three 12-week training modules. Thrive is a 5-day intensive training focused on hands-on training where existing bonded pairs learn the 19 gentle protector skills.
1 First Fruits of Zion Parasha Toledot, Volume 1 points out this interpretation and the negative connation associated with being a ‘hunter’ both for Nimrod and Esau
2OT:8535 tam (tawm); from OT:8552; complete; usually (morally) pious; specifically, gentle, dear: KJV – coupled together, perfect, plain, undefiled, upright. (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
Register for our in-depth relationship skills training, Thrive