As we face the new millennium, we acknowledge that the state of the Church is marked by a paradox of growth without depth. Our zeal to go wider has not been matched by a commitment to go deeper.
The Eastbourne Consultation on Discipleship (England, 1999)
It was almost 2,000 years ago that the Apostle Paul wrote a letter that undoubtedly prompted reflection and prayer among Jesus followers in and around the large commercial city of Ephesus. After painting a magnificent portrait of God at work in the world through Christ (Ephesians 1-3), Paul urged them to live a way of life worthy of God’s gracious and powerful work (4:1). He challenged the community’s leaders to foster maturity in its members (4: 11-13). Then Paul wrote,
We must no longer be children.… But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Eph.4:14-16)
The need for spiritual maturity gripped the Apostle Paul over 2,000 years ago. It was urgent work then; it is urgent work now.
One is hard pressed to find a time in history when the Church has gone more places, provided more resources, and proclaimed the gospel more widely than over the past several decades. Yet amidst all these efforts, there is a growing realization today that we are just skimming across the surface.
When people have recently asked me this question –“Who is The Journey for?”–I have found myself responding by pointing to this Christian developmental path diagram we have been using around our offices.
We’ve found it helpful (without prescribing a rigidity) to show where our VantagePoint3 Pathway fits within a broader understanding of a person’s growth toward maturity in Christ (Eph 4:14-15; Col 1:28-29). Each chapter along the journey needs attention from an adult discipleship and development perspective. So whether the person asking the question is thinking about the people in their community or about their own particular development, unpacking this path helps identify the discipleship and developmental needs. People at all six chapters along this path regularly participate in the VP3 Pathway.
Here are some talking points on each developmental chapter. See what you notice about your own place on the path, but also prayerfully consider those in your sphere of influence — what sort of discipleship needs are you noticing?
TALKING POINTS FOR A CHRISTIAN DEVELOPMENTAL PATH
How are we helping people learn how to share their faith with people “pre-Jesus”? How can we enter into loving relationships with those whom the Lord is wooing to himself? How do our discipleship efforts help people turn toward God through the work of Christ?
Once we have made a commitment to follow Christ we enter another place of growth where we sink our roots into the fundamentals of what it means to live the Christian life. How do we learn to read Scripture and pray? What does it mean to become a part of a church community? What about worship, serving, tithing, community, etc?
Do you remember the Peanut cartoons? The old TV versions had a scene that played out rather often. Lucy would have a football. She would encourage Charlie Brown to attempt to kick the ball while she held it for him. Lucy assured Charlie she would not move the ball. Charlie would buy in and back up to make the run up for the kick. Just as he got to the ball, sure ‘nuf, Lucy would yank it out of the way. Charlie’s foot would fly up into the air and he would land on the ground with a thud. As he lay there staring into the sky, his discouragement would be rather evident. He had been duped again.
Sometime ago I heard a speaker say in passing that “God is not Lucy with the football.” I had an immediate emotional reaction to that seemingly benign comment. I thought, “That’s it! That’s how I see God right now!” I was rather shocked. I know this is not true. I know our God does not do a “bait and switch” on us. I know he does not set us up for a let down. Our illusions do that for us. But still I was feeling duped. My emotions did not portray reality, but they did reveal my heart to me. As I have journeyed into my 8th year with chronic illness, I have wrestled deeply with God over it. I know he can heal me. I know he can resolve this. But he hasn’t, and it does not appear he will. I have felt varying degrees of “crummy” for the past 2500 days in a row. No exaggeration.
Some years ago I sat with a man who was providing me spiritual direction. I spoke candidly of my deep desolation over my chronic illness. The first comment he made after I had spoken for several minutes was, “I have never seen a conversion apart from suffering.” By “conversion” he did not mean coming to Christ as a new believer. Rather, he meant a significant, inner transformation; a profound inner shift to a deeper arena of spiritual depth and insight. That statement alone ought to stop us in our tracks. He repeated it emphasizing the word never, “I have never seen a conversion apart from suffering.”
In the eighth century, Christian theologians began describing the relationship among the persons of the Trinity as a dynamic communion, a dance of three persons. God’s triune and dynamic presence creates space within that presence, a space into which we can be drawn. The Son, who is both God and human, reaches out to us, taking hold of our hand and welcoming us into this dance, this perfect love of God.
Debra Rienstra 
At every level, the Christian gospel begins with God’s initiating love: creation, incarnation, redemption, and consummation. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God takes the first step over and again inviting us into his dance, his loving life. The Spirit of Jesus moves toward us freely and graciously and with full knowledge of our particular frailties, resistances, indifferences, vices, and virtues. And he makes space for us to share in this Trinitarian community of perfect love.
Jesus describes our relational responsibility when he implores his first disciples to “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4). The Message translates his invitation—“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.” Christian maturity is not a technique or program or formula, but it is a life of learning to keep company with Jesus. Gordon Smith writes,
Without an emphasis on union with Christ, spiritual formation will be a frustrated effort to become like Christ. It will eventually become nothing more than self-development. The grace we seek is not so much to be like Christ as to live in dynamic union with Christ, abiding in him as he abides in us (John 15:4).
Might some of us be trying to live the Christian life without actually involving ourselves with God? It is foolishness and frustration to strive after an ideal life of Christlikeness without opening ourselves to God’s gracious friendship. God intends to transform our lives—yes—but more fundamentally, God desires to share his very life with us. Our maturity then becomes a by-product of immersing ourselves in this relationship with Jesus. As C. S. Lewis concludes in Mere Christianity, “The whole purpose for which we live is to be thus taken into the life of God.”