- Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:10-12)
- He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice (Isaiah 42:2-3, ESV, bold mine).
- I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [draws upward], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-2, ESV, bold mine, brackets mine for dynamic equivalence).
- I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16:12 ESV, bold mine).
- And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal…” (1 Cor.3:1-4 NKJV, bold mine).
- And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, ….preach the word… reprove, rebuke and exhort with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim. 2:24, 4:2, ESV, bold mine).
- For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, foreveryone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:12-14, ESV, bold mine).
On any given Sunday, many pastors mount the pulpit, and many more people in the congregation begin to feel the weight of human pressure put upon them in the name of God. The pastors want the sheep to grow, to take what they think are steps in spiritual maturity. They often corrupt their God-given responsibility, either guilting the innocent or domineering and exerting control. Both stem from the clergy’s misplaced fear of failing God and others in their duty. I have heard name calling, passive aggressiveness, shaming and guilting, spiritual threats of disaster and loss, and forceful commands—all observably from frustration or desperation with sheep. I’ve witnessed manipulation & emotional blackmail, fear-mongering, social and professional posturing, meddling, and projections of power for the same reasons. Whatever the manifestation, it cannot be called leadership. These are examples of impatient pushiness.
The Inescapable Principle of Spiritual Capacity
Overbearing and pushy pastors either do not understand or do not regard the inescapable principle of spiritual capacity.
Spiritual capacity has to do with maturity; but more than that, it has to do with the necessity of process in spiritual progress. “….But you cannot bear them now,” said Jesus to His 12. God is more interested in the authenticity of our spiritual lives and our mental/emotional stability than the speed at which we are “finished.” He must widen us and broaden us before we can receive His “next.” One cannot go from point “A” to point “C” spiritually, without first going through point “B.” One cannot successfully fight spiritual battles before he or she learns to grow in grace, having been “rooted and grounded in love.” In other words, God does not provide level skips or cheat codes for his program of transforming believers into being like His Son.
A. W. Tozer writes similarly regarding spiritual receptivity in his book The Pursuit of God:
Failure to see [believers must develop a “lifelong habit of spiritual receptivity”] is the cause of a serious breakdown in modern evangelicalism. The idea of cultivation and exercise …has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals…. The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.
The Proper Response to Perpetual Immaturity
If we are to lead like Jesus, much less be like Jesus, then we must observe and respect the principle of spiritual capacity—the ability of the Father to grow His own.
Maturing spiritually takes a lot of time, healing, failure & restoration, and renewal of mind before believers consistently & naturally speak the words of Jesus and do the works of Jesus. Some things the Father and husbandman of the branches has to teach and work into people’s lives—through trials and everyday circumstances of living in a fallen world—to grow their spiritual capacity and readiness. We must rest in the Father’s ability to do that work, just as Jesus entrusted His Disciples to the Father’s care for the branches (John 15, 17).
The Savior understood spiritual capacity with His Disciples; [they are ALL His disciples]. At any given time, He not only noticed their capacity but also never pushed them beyond their spiritual limitations. Our Lord was born to exude the proper kind of leadership. He never snapped off the bruised reed or snuffed out the smoldering wick. Rather, as Isaiah prophesied, The Messiah steadied the wobbler and fanned the struggling ember.
Likewise, the Apostle Paul apparently understood the principle of spiritual capacity with the carnal Corinthians; and the writer of Hebrews conveyed what capacity could have been known by the lifelong learners, who should have been teachers.
All of this is not to say pastors should refrain from correcting and guiding believers in their care. Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews all corrected their audiences regarding perpetual disbelief, carnality, inability to receive spiritually, and resultant immaturity.
But, instead of name calling, passive aggressiveness, shaming and guilting, spiritual threats of disaster and loss, or forceful commands; instead of manipulation & emotional blackmail, fear-mongering, social and professional posturing, meddling, and projections of power, …let pastors correct and guide as Jesus, Paul and the writer of Hebrews.
“So Much More:” the Remedy
The repeated biblical example for correcting perpetual babes is to create hunger in them. One can only drive the sheep when pushing and prodding them from behind. Biblically, we see true leaders being out front and calling to the sheep in wooing tones about unknown plenty.
Jesus did strongly condemn the disbelief of the Disciples at times, but He never resorted to fleshly tactics to do so. He simply told them what was the problem—disbelief or thinking as men think, not as God thinks. When motivating them after the correction, He never went into a frenzy. Instead, He told them He had much more to give them. He pointed out what was hindering them from untold blessings, because He wanted to see them succeed and be as blessed as possible… with blessings that were kept behind what they did not know they didn’t know. He created hunger in them, and he treated them like—at any moment and all at once—they could set aside what hindered them to have his “next” for them.
Paul told the Corinthians they were carnal. Yet, like His Lord, Paul did not frustrate disciples by satirically pointing out their problems without providing solutions. “Until now you were not able to receive it,” he says, creating a sense of hope and hunger while correcting them at the same time. Paul gives the Corinthians the realistic goal of leaving their carnality behind in order to move in to the solid food of the Scriptures reserved for those who are mature. And, one gets the sense that Paul is the biggest fan of the Corinthians. He actually believes in the disciples he is given (Philippians 1:6-7).
The ever-learning Hebrews are no exception to being tantalized and coaxed by a leader out of immaturity. They know the holy temptation of becoming powerful in discernment and skilled in the “word of righteousness.”
At every turn, biblical leadership exemplifies and invites the immature to ‘move on to maturity,’ and they do so by communicating there is so much more to be had than spiritual babies can know.
Give the “Yes”
No one should stay immature, not as a believer and not as a spiritual leader. The shortcut to maturity in both roles is to say “yes” to God’s Design for expanding your spiritual capacity, to welcome trials of faith and by exercising discernment; and ultimately, to readily turn away from being a pushy pastor in order be so much more… the grand opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in how He loves and leads believers.