Spiritual immaturity is one of those problems within the modern Christian church that is known, discussed, and programmed with little fruit to show for all of the myriad efforts. Cultural forces have allowed the intentional pursuit of discipleship to fall from favor in the Church, only to be replaced by a more casual approach, maturity by osmosis. Spiritual muscles have gone soft with a commensurate lack of influence in the world.
Alan Nelson’s contribution to the library of spiritual development is his newest book, Spiritual Intelligence. Borrowing loosely from Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, SI is measured by the ability to translate the Christ-likeness that we hear about in sermons, talk about in small groups, and even occasionally encounter when opening our bibles into transformative application in our day to day lives. Just as many social problems are attributable to a low EI, lack of spiritual maturity reflects deficit SI.
Nelson doesn’t offer a quick three-step solution to this problem. True spiritual maturity with meaningful depth is not gained by watching a DVD series with your cell group followed by some obligatory conversation and snacks. It requires an intentional workout, one that takes time, effort, and dedication with none of the social status that comes with being seen at 24 Hour Fitness. The path to growth that he advocates mirrors the rigorous investment that Jesus made in His original disciples. The ‘travel team’ is the modern equivalent of Jesus’ band of brothers ( now brothers and sisters ), and intentional assembly that are in covenant agreement with one another to travel the challenging terrain of discipleship together. They will love you and hold you accountable as you will them for consistent gains in spiritual fruit, humility, and the demonstration of a lifestyle that is consistent with the faith your profess.
One of the fine attributes of this book that will also turn off many readers is that Nelson states that there is no single path or experience that will culminate in maturity. He rightly recognizes that, like the original disciples, we are all vastly different people who will each follow a slightly different road to growth. The book offers a wide variety of mapping strategies, suggestions for the inclusion of a Pathfinder, and strategies for avoiding the inevitable plateaus and days of back tracking. Unlike a 40 day schedule that excites the church for a month and a week, SI emphasizes that the methods of Jesus apply to the whole of our lives, from “pampers to depends.”
When you turn the first few pages you will be tempted to put it aside as I did. You have encountered everything you will read in SI in little bits here and there and the temptation will be to dismiss this as derivative of everything that came before it. Pick it up though and read it again. There is a rigorous demand that supports the ideas, a program of growth that will drain all that you can offer just as the Disciples were drained by their three year internship with Jesus. He took his band on a road trip of epic proportions experiencing joy, disappointment, frustration and love along the way. When it was time for them to display their SI, the individual disciples made an imprint on the world that is still being felt today. Isn’t that what you want to do with your life?
I’m grateful to Baker Books who supplied this copy for review.