There are things in life where our experience is relative to the experience of others around us. For example, I’m not considered rich where I live. At least not according to the time and place where I live. But I just plugged my household salary into a world income percentile ranking calculator and I made more money in the last year than 99.8% of the world’s population.
If you plug in the poverty line for one person in the United States as of 2020 ($12,760) into the calculator, that person made more than 88.7% of the world’s population. They have a color TV and running water, which are luxuries in many parts of the world. As you can see, being defined rich or poor is largely dependent on context.
The same is true for maturity in Christ. When you live in a time and place where the overall maturity level of the Christians in the culture is low, people that aren’t actually highly-seasoned examples of Christ take or are given more recognition, more responsibility and more influence than they should have.
The problem with this is when they inevitably behave like their maturity level warrants, people are surprised. When the local pastor ends up getting divorced because he overworked himself in “ministry” and didn’t work on his marriage, the congregation is shocked.
But he wasn’t in reality what he was perceived to be. He was a 30-something-year-old seminary graduate who could preach elegantly and send you home with goosebumps. Relatively speaking, that seems like a really mature Christian because of the relative scale we’re experiencing right now in our time and culture.
But if you followed them around for a few weeks and experienced them outside of the context in which you know them, you’d see they’re really like a 16-year-old spiritually. And that’s OK. If that’s where he is, then that’s where he is.
I bet you can imagine all the kinds of problems this creates – many ending in crisis of faith for people because the people they put on pedestals weren’t really equipped or seasoned enough to be there in the first place.
Our relativity scale of Christian maturity in America is highly warped, just like our idea of what rich and poor is. I’ve honestly only encountered a handful of people personally in my lifetime that I could attest to being highly-seasoned examples of Christ. When you meet them, it recalibrates the scale for you and you start to discern maturity more clearly.
People go to a school, write some theological essays and they’re slapped with labels that elevate them as some kind of special examples of Christ. Then many of them walk around with their chest puffed out like they’re something, thereby showing they’ve never even mastered the fundamentals of spiritual humility and self-sacrificial love.
Our standards are way too low. If churches are going to see progress in our culture, they must recalibrate an understanding of Christian maturity and be much more careful about how life is done together and the influence that adolescents in Christ are having on people.