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Summary: This message examines the different stages of Christian growth.

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People have the tendency to use word pictures to help others understand difficult concepts. This is quite common in the church. The church has often been compared to a business, a farm, a team, a school or a hospital. However, none of these analogies have the ability to adequately convey what God has intended His Church to be. Scripture has chosen to illustrate the church as a family. When you stop and think about it, all congregations have a definite life cycle just like individuals. If you chart a congregation’s history you will see that as it progresses toward growth and maturity it goes through definite ages and stages. In fact since we are on the subject of spiritual growth, we need to realize that this same truth holds true for individual believers. Once we are born into God’s forever family, we are called to embark on a journey of growth from spiritual infancy to adulthood. This morning we are going to examine the growth process that God has intended for the church and individual believers to experience. Some of the information my really disturb us but if we honestly take it to heart and apply it to our lives not only will we begin to change and grow, the church will as well.

I. Understanding what it means to be a mature Christian.

A. Mature Christians display a commitment to a consistent walk with Christ.

1. Paul defines Christian maturity in Ephesians 4 as “being like Jesus.”

2. A maturing believer’s life will be marked by wisdom, self discipline and commitment.

3. For this growth to exist in our lives there must be a commitment to daily prayer and Scripture reading and a determination to obey God regardless of the cost.

4. Our goal should never be simply one day arriving at Heaven’s doorstep. It must be to grow into the person that God intended when He created us.

B. Mature Christians seek to reach out to those who are outside the church.

1. Mature Christians are disciple-making Christians. They seek to reach and care for others regardless of if they are friend or foe.

2. There must be an intentional decision made by the church to invest in the reaching and growing of people.

3. Mature Christians carry their share of the ministry responsibility with a contagiously positive attitude.

4. God is working in you and you must work as God works. It’s a partnership. You do what you can and God adds the rest.

5. We discipline ourselves and allow the Lord to discipline us. We work and allow Him to work through us.

II. The Bible chooses to characterize the church as a family.

A. Images of the Church as a family in Scripture.

1. There are no verses that directly use the term family in connection with the church. However, there are numerous instances where local congregations are compared to or described in terms of a family unit.

2. Consider the terminology that Paul uses in the qualifications for an elder.

3. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (1 Timothy 3:4-5—NIV)

4. We need to pay close attention to two Greek words in this passage.

a. Prostemi is the word that is translated manage, it literally means to stand in front of.

b. Epimeleomai is the word that is translated take care.

c. The use of these two words reflects the idea of a leadership style that reflects loving care.

5. If the leaders of the church must manage their families well it stands to reason that the church is to resemble a family not a business, team or school.

6. In fact Paul urges Timothy to treat fellow believers as you would members of your natural family.

7. Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2—NIV)

8. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. (Ephesians 3:15—NIV)

9. These and many other Biblical examples demonstrate that the Lord views the church as a family.

B. There are three significant lessons we can learn from how Scripture characterizes the Church as a family.

1. If Christians are family then we should not treat each others as strangers by displaying prejudice or forming cliques.

2. If Christians are family then they should relate to one another as loving family members do.

3. Although Christians are family they are still responsible for their own growth toward maturity.

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